Spring is a great time to add trail running to your training to take advantage of spring weather and enjoy nature. Here are my basic tips for getting started with trail running.
First, find a good trail. No single trail is the same. From wide, crushed rock trail like the airline, or rail trail, to single track cutting through trees, trails offer a wide variety of running surfaces and scenic options. In Connecticut, we are lucky to have an amazing trail system including the blue blazed trails, Joshua’s Trust trails, and a variety of town-maintained trails. Get to know your trail by researching online, or by asking other runners and hikers.
Once you’ve found a good trail, prepare for the hazards you might find on the trail. If it has tall grasses or thick underbrush, consider wearing pants or tall socks to deter ticks. If your trail is sandy or has small, loose stones, tall socks or gaiters will help keep debris out of your shoes. While many trail runners use specially made trail running shoes, which have more aggressive tread and a closer to the ground feel, they aren’t always necessary. Consider how “technical” your trail is when selecting your footwear and gear. Generally, a more technical trail is one that is, more narrow, winding, steep, or has trail hazards like roots and rocks. Use good judgment in planning your trail run in order to match your trail with your ability.
Next, focus on safety. Take your dog or a buddy, or write your route out and share with a loved one. Make sure someone knows where you are going and how long you’ll be gone. Consider carrying water and a snack. Carry your cell phone and identification for emergencies. Once on the trail, keep your eyes on the trail so avoid rocks and roots. Focus on looking three to four feet ahead to create an imaginary “line” of travel, a plan for where you going to step for the next few steps. This will keep you focused and alert to potential hazards. Finding a line will become easier as you become more comfortable running on the trails. Make sure that you’re alert and be aware of landmarks and trail markings.
When trail running, it’s best to run by time, rather than distance to begin. Trail running can be exhausting at first and it can take much longer to cover the same distance on a trail than on a road. I generally add one to two minutes to my pace per mile, even on trails I know very well. Slow your pace and take time to look around and enjoy the beauty of the trails. Run by time, effort level, or heart rate and avoid comparing your trail pace to your road pace.
Finally, work to improve your trail running performance by including strength and balance exercises into your training two to three times per week. Exercises that strengthen the calves, ankles, and feet are particularly useful. Consider adding lunges on a pad or stability disk, single leg squats, bridges, dead lifts, calf raises, and other exercises using a wobble board or stability disc to develop foot and ankle strength and stability.
Once you’ve tried trail running, grow your confidence by running on the trails at least once per week. Try new trails and make friends with other trail runners. As you grow in your confidence and strength, tackle more technical trails, or sign up for a trail race. Trail running can be a great way to see new sights, meet new people, and enjoy Connecticut’s natural beauty.
Enjoy the trails!