6 Essential Trail Running Tips for Beginners

Are you seriously thinking about giving trail running a try?

Then you’ve come to the right place.

Hitting the off-beaten path can open up a whole new world for you beyond the pavement and paved surfaces. Some of the benefits include new scenery, no car-exhaust, safer on the joint, more challenge.

But taking the first few steps can be quite tricky. As a beginner, you’ll be surprised by how different trail running can be.

Fret no more.

In today’s post, I’ll provide you with the exact guidelines you need to make a smooth and easy transition to the off-beaten path.


1. Start Slowly

Your first-time trail running is likely going to be like the first time you went running—it’ll probably suck.

And this is the case even if you’re an established ‘road runner.’ When you’re running on a paved surface, your foot plant and stride rate stays almost the same throughout your gait cycle.

However, once you tackle the trails, your foot movement pattern will change—almost every time. And if things go wrong, you might sprain your ankle, or worse, fall flat on your face.

Don’t lose sleep over a slow pace on the trails.  Instead, focus on finding your trail running rhythm. That’s what matters the most.

On your first few runs, aim for 60 to 70 percent of your usual pace, paying attention to landmarks, and watching for obstacles along your way.

As you get savvier, work your way up to 100 percent effort—but remember that it takes a lot of time to hone the technical skills of trail running.

2. Run by Time, Not Distance

It’s key to understand that a 5K on the trails feel drastically longer and more challenging  than covering the same distance on paved and level surface.

High altitude, technical terrains, or steep hills can drastically slow your pace and make it much more challenging then covering the same distance around your neighborhood.

For example, a three-mile run might you, say, 25 minutes on a paved surface, but well over an hour on challenging and technical trails.

3. Wear the Right Shoes

Trail running shoes work very well on roots, rocks, slippery mud, etc.

These shoes are specifically designed to protect your feet from rocks and other debris encountered on the off beaten path. They also tend to emphasize traction, stabilitiy, and foot protection.

What’s more?

Trail shoes tend to be lower profile—meaning lower to the ground—which can cut your risks of ankle twists and sprains.

Therefore, if trail running is going to be a part of your training routine, you’d better invest in a pair of trail running shoes.

Just keep in mind that you don’t have to invest in a pair if you just want to try trail running. You still can get by with your road running shoes.

4. Build better Technique

The unpredictable, often demanding, trails surfaces are more challenging to tackle than paved and flat terrains. Common obstacles include protruding roots, trippy logs, and sharp rocks.

Improving your running trail technique can help you overcome the adversity—and come on top unscathed.

When tackling the trails, you’ll have to pay more attention to your foot placement and readjust to the terrain quickly. You’ll have to think on your feet on every step.

Here are the basics :

  • Keep your stride short and quick when going up hills. Walk the uphills if you have to.
  • Hinge slightly from your hips toward the incline. This should help bring your center of gravity forward.
  • Lean into the downhill for gradual downhill on smooth and groomed trails, letting the hill pull you down.
  • Keep your feet underneath you at all times to keep your balance and coordination.
  • Lift your feet a little higher off the ground than you’ do on paves surfaces.
  • Keep your eyes open, scanning down the trail 10 to 20 feet ahead of you for obstacles. Never stare at your feet.
  • Keep your elbows a little wider for more balance on super technical trails with rocks and roots.
  • Use your arms to help propel upward as you climb. Drive the swing both forward and back.

5. Find Trails Near you

Even if you live in an urban area, it’s not that hard to find nearby local trails.  Reserves and parks are a great venue to get started.

Here are a few tips:

  • Check the local network of gravel roads and dirt trails that many towns and cities
  • Get in touch with local running clubs, running stores, events or opt for a service like Sunnto Heat Maps to help map out new places to venture into.
  • Use Google and Google earth, or online resources like Trail Run Project.

What’s more?

Do your research on the specific nature of your chosen trail, including obstacles, hazards, pit stops, and of course wildlife, such as mountain lions, bears, spiders, snakes, as well as poisonous plants, and anything else.

6. Stay Safe

By nature, trails can be more remote and distant than pavement or roads, so getting help in case you run into trouble—getting injured or lost for instance— is more of a challenge.

This is actually one of the reasons so many runners shy away from the trails—they’re afraid of ending up in such dire situation.

And it’s that fear that might be holding many runners from venturing into the off beaten path.

Although the risks of something bad happening are small, prevention is always better than cure.

Here are the safety precautions you need to take:

  • Tell a friend or family member about your planned course and when they should hear back from.
  • Enroll your running friend or partner, or someone from your running group.
  • Carry your ID, map, and your phone.
  • Pack a headlamp if you’re running at dawn or toward the end of the day. At least if it gets dark too quickly, you’ll be happy you came prepared.
  • Take more water and food with you than you think you’ll need.
  • Leave your headphones at home—or at least leave one ear out so you can what’s happening around you.
  • Use apps. Use safety one these safety apps to keep you safe out there.
  • Stay alert. Be mindful of what’s happening around you. Trail running is not the best time to be completely zoned in a while ignoring your surroundings.
  • Watch out for wildlife, especially dogs, mountain lions, bears, deer, snakes, etc. check out this post.


There you have it. The above tips and guidelines are all you need to get started with trail running. Now It’s up to you to take action on what you have just learned. The rest is just detail.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Keep Running Strong.

David D.