Guide To Becoming A Trail Runner

Our newest blogger shares how to make the switch from the roads to the trails.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 8.45.22 PM

Have you ever been disappointed in a run because there was no real scenery and the only thing that kept you engaged in the run was dodging aggressive drivers and in-the-zone, mute cyclists?

I happen to live in a beautiful, mountainous part of Georgia and there is gorgeous, stunning running to be had everywhere, both on the road and on trails. But I love running trails more than anything, even more than the treadmill, and I LOVE running on the treadmill. I know, bizarre.

I love trails. There is a freedom and connection to nature on the trail that you simply cannot replicate anywhere else. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to do a run on a trail, stop whatever you’re doing and get yourself to the nearest trailhead immediately! You won’t be sorry and you’ll fall in love, promise! Here are some tips to enjoying your first few trail runs:

  • Sign-up for a local trail race. I like to familiarize myself with new trails by doing events. There are tons of 5ks, half-marathons and *gasp* ULTRA-MARATHONS to be run on trails. The great thing about events is that courses are usually well marked, there are awesome aid stations (with PB&J sandwiches, M&Ms and gummy bears!) and friendly volunteers, and very often there is imbibing at the end of the race, if you’re into that…did someone say IPA
  • If you’re not doing a race and even if you are, make sure you’ve read and are familiar with a map of your trail/course. It’s fun and all to get lost and then find your way back to the trailhead, but it’s even MORE fun to have your family not imagine that you’ve been eaten by Bigfoot.
  • If you’re a road runner who is accustomed to cruising at a blazing pace, take a breath and slow down. You’ll need to, if you are hoping to remain upright for the bulk of your run. Trail running is a full-body and full-mind exercise. You’ll spend lots of physical energy running, hopping over large boulders, ducking under low hanging branches, squeezing yourself between large boulders, and balancing yourself in general. This takes a lot of mental energy too. You will be tired but exhilarated at the end of your trail run, even if it is 31 miles long!
  • You may want to invest in a good, sturdy pair of trail running shoes after you have fallen in love with the sport, which will happen. There are a ton of different types of shoes for all kinds of trail running: non-technical trails (well groomed, less rocky, likely flatter), technical trails (may be well groomed, lots of rocks and roots, some scrambling) and straight up it-might-as-well-be-called-mountain-climbing types of trails that take you right up the nose of a mountain. Visit your local running store to get fitted for the shoe that’s right for you.
  • Know that you will probably trip and fall. This is totally normal and par for the course. While it is scary for some falling is also appealing to others who like to show off their battle wounds at the office the next day. You will fall. Practice NOT freaking out if you lose your balance. Grab a branch (not a bunch of poison ivy), steady yourself and prepare for landing. The great thing about trails is that the surfaces are typically softer (usually a combination of dirt, rocks, leaves so they’re not as, um, hard as asphalt or concrete. That is, unless you’re running on a rock-face. But then there are other things to worry about…
  • Walk. In long trail races (even in shorter ones) many people choose to walk/power-hike at some point, especially up steep hills. Power-hiking is a way to reserve those big energy pushes for the glorious flat and downhill parts of trail.
  • Finally, take in the scenery. This is one of the joys of trail-running. Whether you are in the Northeast, Southwest or somewhere in between there are gorgeous trails everywhere. Take pictures, write a trail haiku in your head and use it as a mantra for when the going gets tough. Or, simply look at the beauty around you, smile, and keep running.

Learn More About Our New Blogger, Fat Girl Running!

Meet Mirna Valerio, a.k.a. @TheMirnavator. She is a native of Brooklyn, NY and current resident of Northeast Georgia. She is a Spanish teacher, diversity educator, cross country coach, marathoner, ultrarunner and blogger, writing about all things running and living life to its fullest while being a larger gal on my blog, Fat Girl Running.