Transitioning To Trail Running

Trail
Ryan Delany
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Ryan Delany

Ryan is a Salt Lake City based trail and ultra runner who loves sharing his passion for trail running with others.He originally started running to lose weigh and now 6 years, 9 half marathons, 1 marathon, 3 50 milers, 1 50k and 60 pounds lighter he is a full fledged ultra runner and is always looking for the next challenge.When he isn't working at his day job at one of the largest computer security companies in the world, he's blogging about trail running, GPS watches, and zero drop shoes on his blog, runallthetrails.com.
Ryan Delany
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Most runners I know started out running on the roads and paved bike paths, myself included, but many of them never make the leap to trail running, and continue to miss out on one of the most rewarding types of running out there!

Certainly some people aren’t fortunate enough to live near any trails, and that’s understandable, but I live in Utah where we have as many, if not more trails than paved places to run, and many of my friends have never experienced the beauty and joy of running on trails.  I’ve also found in my travels, even the most urban areas have trails if you know where to look.  Forest Park in Portland, Oregon comes to mind as a great example of a trail network nestled within the city limits.

It turns out there are a number of excuses I hear from people that keep them from experiencing the joys of trail running, so I thought I’d share a few tips to help you overcome those excuses and get out there!

Finding Trails

Knowing where to run can be challenging if all your friends are road runners and can’t show you around the trails, and you aren’t learning about the available trails through other activities like hiking or mountain biking. There are numerous ways to locate trails in your area, here are some of my top tips.

  • Check your local running stores for group runs or trail recommendations. They may offer a weekly/monthly trail run.
  • Join a trail running group on Facebook. There are numerous groups to choose from, some local, some national, and some global.  I’ve found people to be pretty helpful when it comes to trail suggestions if asked, and it’s something I take advantage of when I travel to a new area.
  • Search for trails online, and don’t limit your search to just running sites. There are many hiking and mountain biking sites with a lot of great trail information, and in most places, trails are multi-purpose so you can run on them. Some sites to get you started:
  • Strava is a great resource as well for finding trails using the Segment Explorer feature which is available on the website and in the mobile app. This may not always be the best resource for finding complete routes since it’s segment-based, but it can point you in the right direction.
  • Get on your mountain bike. The great thing about a mountain bike is that you can cover a lot of distance quickly, so it’s the perfect way to explore trails and learn your way around before setting out on foot.

Gear

For the most part, your normal running clothing and gear will work just fine for trail running.  While trail running may require gear/equipment you don’t have, it isn’t always necessary and you’d be surprised that you may have everything you need to get started on some basic trails. Here are some tips on additional gear you may want to consider though.

  • Shoes – Trail running specific shoes are nice and generally have better traction and durability, but if you are running on dirt roads, smooth trails, or bridle paths then road shoes will work just fine. Once you decide you love trail running, I recommend investing in a pair of trail running specific shoes.
  • Water – Water isn’t as readily available on the trails, so you’ll want to invest in a handheld or hydration pack depending on how long you plan on running for and the availability of water. Handheld bottles come in many sizes and capacities and are typically available in the 6oz to 24oz range.  Hydration belts and packs can range up to 2 liters or more depending on the brand and style.
  • Nutrition – Often times trail running involves more hills than your typical road run, so you may want to bring extra nutrition since you’ll be burning more calories.
  • Headlamp – If you plan to do any trail running at night, I recommend investing in a high quality, bright light to avoid outrunning your light which can lead to tripping and injuries.
  • Whistle – Many hydration packs come with an integrated whistle and it can be a great tool for scaring off animals or summoning help. If you don’t wear a hydration pack, or don’t have a whistle, you can pick one up pretty cheap at outdoor retailers.

Safety

It’s difficult to provide universal tips on safety since every location is unique, but here are some general tips that will help keep you safe out on the trails, and give you more confidence to venture in to trail running.

  • Run with a friend – The old saying “safety in numbers” certainly applies to trail running in many ways. If you run in more remote areas abundant with wildlife (moose, bears, mountain lions, etc.), a larger group will be more intimidating to the wildlife and keep them away from you. If you run in more urban areas, particularly for women running solo, having one or more friends with you will keep you safer. If you happen to get hurt out on the trails, having someone with you to act as a crutch, carry you, or contact help could literally be a lifesaver.  Bringing a friend who knows the way can help prevent getting lost, and of course having someone to talk to may help the miles go by quicker!
  • Carry pepper spray or bear spray – I frequently hear about runners getting attacked by dogs on their runs, and pepper spray can be an effective deterrent in this case. If you happen to run in an area with abundant wildlife, bear sightings may be common, so bear spray can come in handy.
  • Don’t listen to music – This is personal preference, but a pet peeve of mine when I see other people listening to music on the trails, even if they are listening with only a single headphone in. Being safe on the trails really boils down to awareness of your surroundings, and when you listen to music, you reduce that awareness, make it difficult to hear approaching danger, and you become dangerous to other trail users.  For instance, if you don’t hear a mountain biker coming towards you and don’t move out of the way, they could collide with you injuring both of you.
  • Tell someone your plans – It’s always a good idea to let someone know where you will be running, your expected route, and how long it may take you. You never know when something may happen, and if someone is expecting you and you aren’t back in time, contacting help quickly can make all the difference.

I hope you find this information useful, and I look forward to your comments below. See you out on the trails!

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