Long before the novel coronavirus shut down gyms and caused the cancellation of road races, trail running was on the rise. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s 2019 Topline Participation Report, trail running numbers were up 9.4 percent from 2017, with more than 10 million participants.
“Getting on a trail is the most important way to transition to trail running,” says Megan Lizotte, U.S. trail marathon champion and founder of Athlete Mamas. “Trail running has a great, welcoming community, and I feel like any time you purposefully put yourself in nature, your senses are heightened, and it feels good for soul and body.”
But unlike other technical activities (think: skiing and mountain biking) where instructors walk you through the steps of exactly what you need to do to crush it, trail running has typically followed the similarly succinct advice of its road counterpart: Just get out there and run! You’re not likely to find a course in trail running for beginners, but that’s no reason not to start. If the reason you’ve avoided trails is because you’re not totally sure what you’re doing, it’s time to fix that. With more people discovering how fun it is to explore new places, challenge themselves in different ways, and get dirty, we wanted you to have the beta you need to hit the trail with confidence.
Trail Running for Beginners: Finding Your Form
Lizotte, who also competes on the road and is a two-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, developed her appreciation for running trails by growing up in Colorado. And she sees the experience as a welcomed change of pace for the body that can benefit any runner. She uses the same foot position whether she runs on the road or trail and often does the same workouts, but she modifies her expectations about pace, because trail running is generally slower depending upon the terrain.
When it comes to your form, Lizotte, who is a running coach, recommends shortening and quickening your stride on the trail. A shorter stride allows for faster reaction time and means less time on your feet, which is less fatiguing.