Trail Running For Beginners: Everything You Need To Know About Trail Running

Are you ready to take your running from the treadmill (or pavement) to the dirt? If you are, I am absolutely stoked for you! But, trail running for beginners can be overwhelming; what equipment do you bring, where do you go, how do you train…there are a few more steps than just your regular run.

But don’t worry, everything you need to know about trail running is listed below. Let’s dive in so you can hit the trails confidently and safely!

Most Beginner Trail Runners Miss This Step! Prep In the Gym Before the Trails

Even before you think about running the trails, we have to do some work in the gym (or at home). And this is an important step that a lot of beginner trail runners miss.

Anything could be happening under your feet. You could be on crazy rocky terrain, there could be lots of switchbacks, aggressive inclines…there are a lot of different forces that are happening on the trail so we need to prep your body for:

  • Uneven terrain,
  • Soft surfaces,
  • Inclines and declines and,
  • Trail obstacles.

To prepare your body for the trail, you’ll want to focus on building a strong core, glutes, and ankles.

Think of your core and glutes as your base. Having a strong base allows your feet (and ankles!) to move any way they need in order to get you over the terrain.

Exercises To Prepare for Your First Trail Run

The Best Bodyweight Exercises for Runners

If you’re really looking to step up your trail running training, check out our 8 Week Trail Running Ready Programs!

Expect Slower Runs On The Trails Than On The Road

Running on trails is a very different experience than running on the pavement or treadmill. With the different types of terrain, elevations, and obstacles, your pace is going to be very different than if you are running on a solid surface.

Because we’re running on softer surfaces, there’s less power translating into the ground to push you forward. Right off the hop, your pace is going to be slower 

I see a lot of beginner trail runners get really hard on themselves when they can’t keep the same pace on the trails as they do on the road. 

My advice is to not use pace as an indicator of intensity or how you determine the “success” of your run.

When you’re starting out with your trail running training, plan for slower, low-intensity runs. These are really important for helping change your physiology when you are a beginner runner. And that is going to make you a better runner in the long run (get it?) At WILDR, we use Heart Rate Training to understand the intensity of our workouts and runs. Learn more about using your heart rate to improve your running!

Don’t Rush To Buy Gear If You’re a Beginner Trail Runner

Most guides for beginners trail runners begin with what gear to buy. And, I’m here to say, don’t immediately run to the store to start buying gear. You likely already have everything you need to get started.

Keep it simple to start so you can change one thing at a time.

What Shoes Should You Wear?

The first piece of gear to look at is what you have on your feet. If you’re starting on flatter surfaces, without a lot of obstacles, your regular road-running shoes are going to be ok to start.

As you start to progress into different terrains and elevations, that’s when you want to look at a trail running shoe. This type of shoe is going to offer more traction and ankle stability when you’re running.  

There are so many types of trail running shoes out there so it’s hard to recommend just one. REI Co-op has a great overview of picking the right type of trail running shoe when you’re ready to upgrade to a new pair!

What Should You Carry?

Something I didn’t have when I was a beginner runner was a running vest. I actually didn’t get one until after I did my first 50 km trail ultra (which I learned some things from as well!)

While you do not need a vest to start, as you start to increase your time out on the trails, a vest is going to come in handy. In your vest you’ll want to carry:

  • First aid kit (one meant for the injuries you could experience on the trail),
  • Sunscreen, 
  • Base Layer (Wool),
  • Waterproof Layer,
  • Phone and/or personal locator device,
  • Bear spray (if required),
  • Water, 
  • And snacks! Do not forget the snacks!

How you pack your vest will depend on the type of run, and where you’re running.

For example, if you’re always going to be in cell phone service, you won’t need a satellite phone—something I have to carry on the trails of Southern Alberta! 

To help you plan your pack, review your trail ahead of time on apps like All Trails or the National Parks website. The trail reviews will give you an idea of what and how much to bring.

A Note On Safety For Beginner Trail Runners

If you’re wanting to become a serious trail runner, I highly recommend taking a wilderness first aid course or at least a basic first aid course.

When you’re outdoors, there’s a lot that can go wrong and it’s going to take longer for help to get to you if you are injured.

Dedicate some time to understanding how to keep yourself and others safe on the trails (if running with a friend). 

Ready to Run? Here’s How You Prep For Your Trail Run

Ok, you’ve done all the prep and now you’re feeling ready to hit the trail! 

Here’s how to prep so you can enjoy your trail run, fully and safely.

Review the Trail Ahead of Time

Review your trail a couple days before you go so you know what to bring and how long you might be.

  • Decide Your Turnaround Time: Part of getting off the trails safely is deciding when you’re going to turn around. Sometimes, this isn’t going to be at the top of the trail or at the end—you sometimes don’t know how the trail is going to feel that day. It can be really tempting to push for 5 or 10 or 15 more minutes to get to a specific destination. And that might put you into a situation where you’re pushing into the dark. If you pick a turnaround time beforehand, you are setting yourself up for a safe and fun run. 
  • Sharing Your Trail Run Details: Make sure that you have a trip plan and you leave it with someone who is not coming with you and who cares if you come back. I have a Trail Run Details Sheet that you can post on your fridge or send to a friend with all the details of your run. If you’re not back by the time you’ve indicated without letting them know, they will know to contact someone.

Fuel Before Your Run

One thing I learned the hard way was not fuelling enough the day before my run (and trust me…my lesson came right back up). The best way to fuel the day before a big day out on the trails is just to increase the volume of your carbohydrate rich fuels by half a serving before and then see how you feel and go from there.

Warm Up Before You Start Running

Including a warm-up has massive benefits when you actually start running because your muscles, ligaments, heart, and lungs are now ready for what you’re about to do. And, you’re going to get more out of that run.

A trick I sometimes use is to warm up at home before getting to the trailhead. Once you get your heart rate up and introduce some movement to your joints, those benefits are going to stay with you for at least an hour

So as long as you’re not driving more than an hour to your trailhead, you’re good to go. 

Embrace the Walk-Run Trail Experience

Remember that tip about pace? Don’t hold yourself to the same standard you would on the treadmill or pavement or your trail run isn’t going to be fun!

Running involves walking up a lot of hills, especially if there’s a steep incline. And it also involves walking if there’s terrain that you’re feeling a little bit nervous on.

There’s a higher consequence if you roll an ankle five kilometers into a trail, and so you want to make sure that we feel safe. 

Embrace the walk run trail run experience. Stop when you need it. Have a snack and enjoy the scenery! 

Fuel Along The Way

Now this mainly applies if your run is more than an hour to 90 minutes.

You’re going to want some things out on the trail that you can take in easily. Something like a Gatorade-like fluid or gummies are great. 

There are a lot of store bought options, but I prefer to make some things at home. I recently started making my own like gummies and I’m able to control the amount of carbohydrates and the other added micronutrients that I have in there. 

Download My Gummy Recipe

Cool Down After Your Run

And finally, don’t forget the cool down after!

Even if you take a few minutes to scan your body and pick one area that you’re going to do a little recovery on, that is going to help you massively on your next time out. 

Here are a few of my favourite six-minute mobility routines.

Finally, Remember. Trail Running is a Skill!

I think it’s one of the most important tips especially for beginner trail runners.

Running is a skill! 

Pacing yourself, in particular, is a skill. And the only way you’re going to get better is by going out there and doing it.

You can consciously work on your pacing and review your runs for things you’d like to try next time. If you include some skill-building runs into your training, these will help you test your body and you’ll find that it helps your running in the long run. 

And I’ve found that with beginner trail runners, skill-building runs make a massive difference in accelerating progress. Running is mental as well as physical and so knowing how to push yourself is important! 

I hope you have a WILDR day and I can’t wait to see you on the trails!


If you’re wanting to get into Trail Running shape, check out our WILDR Trail Running Ready 8 Week Online Programs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.