Tips For Getting Started in Trail Running

In 2016, Salomon’s Greg Vollet launched “How To Trail Run” workshops around Europe and the US. Vollet’s presentations aimed to introduce trail running to new runners and grow the sport. It was a huge success.

Through the workshops, novices and people familiar with the sport could get expert advice from the pros. By making trail running accessible for everyone, they’ve had an incredible impact.

In recent months, I’ve attended and led workshops in Chamonix, France and Oiselle’s Big Birdcamp. The workshops covered hiking, uphill running and downhill running and attendees ranged from trail runners brand new to the sport to 100-mile trail finishers. The excitement was palpable when new trail runners realized the sport wasn’t as scary as they thought.

Full disclosure: I’m a Salomon-sponsored athlete. The workshops are great opportunities for trail runners but they’re not the only path to the sport. Trail running is a sport that everyone, regardless of ability, can participate in. Here are some tips to become more confident about hitting the trails.

Photo by Steve Wiesner on Unsplash

Fast Feet

Fast feet move over the terrain quicker and spend less time in contact with the ground. When the footing is poor, this is crucial. Avoid stop and go movements that slow you down, waste energy and can even make the terrain harder to pass through.

If the terrain you practice on isn’t similar to what you will be racing on, use an agility ladder, practice taking shorter strides during your daily runs and learn to study the ground while running.

Run on Your Toes

To avoid catching your feet on roots, rocks and minor bumps in the trail, run with a light, quick and on-your-toes approach. This can look a little funny, but with proper footwear, a shorter stride and good knee lift it shouldn’t be an issue for anyone.

Good trail shoes protect your feet and keep you upright while running. Find a shoe that provides a secure heel fit. Once laced to comfort, you should not be able to slide your foot out of the shoe. The last thing you want is your shoe rolling from side to side or your foot moving in the shoe.

The shoe tread matters, so make sure your shoes have a tread pattern that can handle the technical trail. Lugs help you climb hills, rocks and muddy slopes. They also help you brake on steep descents. A good tread pattern will clear mud as you run won’t hold onto water after you cross a stream or a river. Good tread patterns are unique to the terrain. You don’t need big lugs for a buttery smooth trail, but they will likely save a fall on a muddy, rocky descent.

Hiking is Not Walking

Probably the biggest misconception in trail running is that we run up every mountain and charge up every hill. While that may be the case in a 10k cross country race, most trail runners spend a considerable amount of time hiking. On steep terrain, hiking a hill can be faster than running.

Still, you’d be wrong to confuse hiking with walking. Power hiking a trail run is different from your average hiking motion. An efficient ultra hiker stays low to the ground, using their hand on their knees to propel themselves forward. Hiking during a trail run should be done with intent, keeping a heart rate high enough to still claim the hike as a run. Hiking as a trail runner is a skill that takes time to learn and adapt to. To improve, follow a friend and practice.

Embrace the Downhill

Successful downhill running requires practice and confidence That means accepting and embracing the slope with a strong, purposeful gait. Running on your forefoot with short steps and a high cadence provides natural braking mechanism and make it easier to react to obstacles. A confident stride coupled with quick feet is a recipe for successful downhill running.

Relax

Trail running is often referred to as zen running. It should be relaxing, it should feel good and it should be fun. Schedule your training on time and effort rather than distance and pace. Straining to keep a certain speed is a surefire way to make the experience fairly miserable. Instead, relax and have fun with it.

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