City Fit Girls Guide To Trail Running
By Takia McClendon
Have you been thinking about switching up your regular routine and hitting the trails for some (or all) of your runs? If you find yourself itching to escape the roads or the treadmill, trail running can be a great option for you.
In fact, according to Scott Douglas, the author of Running is My Therapy, studies have shown that running in nature can be very beneficial for our mental health.
I wrote this post to help cover some of the basics of trail running. Here's what we'll discuss:
- What is trail running and how is it different from road running?
- Where you should trail run
- Finding the right trail running gear
- Safety on the trails
- What to eat before, during and after a trail run
- Recovering after a trail run
If you're feeling nervous or anxious about trail running, you're not alone. Trail running will definitely take you out of your comfort zone but I can assure you it will be worth it.
The Very Basics...
What is trail running? Trail running is running (with some walking and hiking) over hilly, mountainous terrain through non-technical or technical trails.
How is trail running different from road running? Road running is a little tougher on our bodies and can lead to common overuse injuries because of the harder surface. Since trails are usually softer surfaces (dirt, grass, gravel), the impact on your body is a little less severe. In addition to the differences in the physical terrain, the trails are a little more peaceful and give you a chance to get away from the busy roads.
Where Should You Trail Run?
This depends on how long you'd like to trail run and how far you're willing to travel. Use the resources below to find a trail that works for you. If you're new to trail running, you may want to find a trail that is less technical, meaning there are less obstructions in the trail and the terrain is not as hilly or uneven.
Local & State Trails: Whether you live in the city or in a rural area, there is likely a trail system near your home. One of our favorite resources for finding trails is Trail Link. All you have to do is put in your city, state or zip code and Trail Link gives you many options to choose from.
National Park Systems: Grand Canyon anyone? If you're up for a challenge, consider going for a run in one of the National Parks during your next road trip or vacation. The Find Your Park website is a great tool to find out which park is close to you and meets your needs.
Your Guide To Trail Running Gear
After you've selected the trail you plan to run, you'll want to make sure you're equipped with the right gear. When deciding on gear, it is important to consider price, quality, ease of use and practicality.
Trail Running Shoes: If you're on the fence about investing in trail shoes, we understand your hesitation. Although trail running shoes usually come with a hefty price tag (sometimes over $120), they are worth the investment if you're planning to run on technical trails. Unlike a road shoe, trail shoes are usually water proof or resistant, they have a tougher tread and are sometimes built with a rock plate to help you keep your balance. We recommend getting fitted for running shoes to make sure you find the best ones for your feet but we're huge fans of the Brooks Cascadia, Nike Wildhorse, Hoka One One Speedgoat and Saucony Peregrine.
If you don't have trail shoes, use your road shoes for now and make the investment for trail shoes if you decide trail running is something you'll like to add to your normal routine.
Pick The Best Trail Running Apparel: Like trail shoes, sometimes trail running apparel can come with a hefty price tag. If you already have an extensive running wardrobe, most of your road or gym wear will work on the trails but there are a few things you want to keep in mind for your trail running apparel:
- Wear moisture wicking fabrics: Moisture wicking fabrics will pull moisture away from your body to help you stay dry. This will help avoid skin irritation and chafing.
- Durable materials are key: Your favorite pair of cheap running shorts or tights will get you through your gym workouts but on the trail, the last thing you need is to rip your tights after getting snagged by a tree or falling over a rock. Invest in at least one high quality pair of shorts or tights that you can use over and over again.
- Wear higher socks: If you're running through a grassy area or near a river or stream, you will likely be exposed to bugs and maybe even plants that may irritate your skin. Wear a moisture wicking sock that covers your ankle to reduce the risk of itchy feet after your run. Synthetic fabrics or wool will work.
- Prepare for the weather: If it's a rainy day, carry a breathable water proof/resistant jacket. If it's just windy, a windbreaker will get the job done too.
- Wear a good, supportive sports bra: Let's just say there's a lot of bouncing around out there...
Choose The Accessories That Meet Your Needs
- Hydration pack: If you're considering long distance trail running, you may want to invest in a hydration pack. Hydration packs typically hold 1.5-2 liters of water (some hold more and some hold less). They fit over your shoulders like a backpack and you can store other personal items like your keys, wallet or a poncho while you run.
- Handheld Water Bottle: If your runs aren't going to be really long, a handheld water bottle will get the job done. A handheld that can hold 12-18oz of water will keep you hydrated as long as you drink enough water leading up to your run.
- Headlamp: If you plan to run at night, a headlamp will be useful to help you navigate the trails in the dark.
- Strobe Light: This will allow you to be seen from afar by other runners or cars if you're trail runs along the side of a highway or road.
Stay Safe While Running on the Trails
Scan The Ground in Front of You: Even if you don't think you're accident prone, running on the trails requires excellent coordination and every step has to be almost perfect. Scan the ground ahead of you to look for sticks, branches, rocks, uneven terrain and debris to reduce the risk of falling or twisting your ankles.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings: Watch out for bears. Ok, fine. Unless you're running the Appalachian Trail, you probably won't come across a bear in your city's trail system. Still, that doesn't mean you shouldn't look out for them and other things on the trail. Look for loose/fallen tree branches, animals, hikers, cyclists, other runners, rivers and streams, etc.
Don't Wear Earbuds/Headphones: Yes, Drake may give you the motivation to run but there's no need to risk falling over a cliff or getting hit by a cyclist because you wanted to listen to 'Nice For What'.
Safety Gear: In addition to the strobe light and head lamp listed above, you may want to consider keeping a safety vest and a small first aid kit to leave in your hydration pack or car. You'll also want to grab some sunscreen to protect your skin and maybe even spray yourself with bug spray before you head out.
Pace Yourself: Trail running is all about pacing yourself and taking it easy. Because of the terrain, you'll need to slow down your usual pace to conserve more energy. After you're run, you may feel like you did a full body workout so be sure to take it easy.
Run with Friends: If you can run with a friends or with a group, that would be great! If you're running alone, let someone know where you're going and maybe even share your location via GPS with a friend or relative.
Know Where You're Going: This isn't 'Into The Wild', make a plan, follow a route, and know about the trails you're running through so you don't end up too separated from humanity.
What to Eat Before, During and after Your Run
This will vary depending on the distance you plan to run but for our purposes, let's assume you won't be out for more than two hours.
Hydration: Be sure to hydrate before , during and after your run to avoid dehydration.
Before Your Trail Run: In the few hours leading up to your run, granola, fruit, oatmeal, etc. will give you enough fuel for a few miles. There probably won't be any bathrooms along the trail so don't try experimenting with new foods for the first time before your run.
During Your Trail Run: We've talked about the importance of fueling during your run. You can try energy gels, blocks and other running fuel to keep you going. If you think you'll lose electrolytes, we recommend trying Nuun tablets. In the event you are really hungry, bring a protein bar along in your pack or pockets.
After Your Trail Run: Everything is pretty much fair game, however, you'll want to eat a meal that assists with recovery. Meals that are packed with carbs and protein are great after a trail run. Check out this blog about post-workout nutrition for more info.
Recovering After Your Trail Run
How To Recover: After your trail run is complete, you'll want to eat a meal that will help you fuel properly. You'll also want to stretch and foam roll to help your muscles recover. If you're new to trail running, you'll probably wake up feeling sore from engaging different muscles. Give yourself time to rest and you'll be back on the trails in no time. This handy guide to help you recover after a run will definitely be helpful.
That's it! Although there's a lot more to discuss about trail running, this should get you through your first few runs. If you have any questions or tips about trail running, feel free to drop them in the comments below.
Takia McClendon is the co-founder of City Fit Girls. She's a shoe expert and manager at a running store in Philadelphia and a Certified Level 1 USATF Coach. Follow her online at @takiamcclendon.