How Do You Train for Trail Runs?

A trail run is not your typical run. There are more obstacles, twists, and turns on the path and many unknowns. But they’re completely worth it! You’re out in nature, getting fresh air, and Vitamin D. You’re taking on a whole new challenge.

Key takeaways:
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    Trail running can be intimidating but with proper work done beforehand, the experience is worth it.
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    There are 4 things to keep in mind when training for a trail run: understand the trail, mixed training, wear proper gear, stay present.
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    Have a navigation backup plan before running.
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    Add a combination of strength training, plyometrics and speed and agility drills to your training.
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    Dress appropriately and always be aware of your surroundings.

But it doesn’t stop there! The ground is softer so it’s easier on your joints. You are not only working your primary muscles, you're activating your smaller accessory muscles for support and stability. Lastly, it’ll improve your proprioception.

Sounds great, right? So how do you prepare and train for a trail run? Here are 4 points to get you out on the trails.

Understand the trail

First off, understand the trail you want to run. With a little research, you can find the elevation, markers, and distance of the trail. It is highly recommended to find and study a trail map for guidance beforehand.

If you’re running on a trail with blazes, and markers for different routes, determine which route you want to take. Typically these are color-coded by length and intensity. Know the color options of the trails you are on and how they intersect. If you get lost, this information will help find your way back.

Pay very close attention to the markers once you are running. If you lose the markers, more than likely, you’ve made a wrong turn.

Another option is using digital navigation tools. There are many smartphone apps with downloadable maps and GPS. Some even feature voice cues! While these are a great option, always have a backup plan in case your phone breaks or the battery dies.

Topographical maps are also a very useful tool in preparing for a trail run. These maps illustrate the shape of the land, specifically elevation. These are represented by using contour lines.

Mixed training

As with any training, it’s more than simply going for runs to prepare. Ideally, you want a combination of strength training and plyometric training. This is to increase your muscular power and speed.

Naturally, focus on your lower body muscles, specifically your hamstrings and calves. Begin with bodyweight exercises such as lunges and squats. With experience, add resistance bands and weights. Consider adding speed runs to your routine, about once a week. Think sprints and strides.

Next up is speed and agility drills. These will help dodge obstacles on the trail. These can be anything from large rocks in the way to tree roots growing in the middle of the trail. You want to be quick on your feet to avoid these, especially in unfamiliar territory.

Agility ladder drills are a great example of a speed and agility workout. There are quite a few variations that you can choose from! A few examples are one foot in each square, zig-zags, or sideways shuffles.

Another example is jumping rope. Not only is it a great cardiovascular exercise, but practicing complicated footwork patterns can be beneficial to staying upright on uneven ground.

Lastly, another joy of trail running is that it’s not flat. More than likely, you’re going to experience some elevation so you need to be prepared. Practice running up hills using interval training. But it’s not just uphill! Depending on where you are, the elevation could be steep downhill too. Be prepared for both.

Wear proper gear

Before heading out on your run, check the weather. Is it going to be hot? Cold? Rainy? Know beforehand and prepare for everything.

Dress appropriately. While your body temperature will rise with exercise, it may still be too cold for short sleeves.

Wear sunscreen and bring along proper eyewear. You may want a hat instead. Figure out which is most comfortable for you without inhibiting your vision.

You know that footwear is important, consider a pair of trail-specific shoes. While you can wear other types of running shoes, these are specifically designed for trail running. They are lightweight sneakers with more traction and support around your foot and ankle. Most are created with breathable fabric but will still protect you from rocks.

Stay present

Once you're out on the trail, focus on a few steps ahead to avoid trips and falls. Speaking from experience, it’s imperative to keep your eyes open and moving. Constantly assess for obstacles, especially around turns.

Always be aware of your surroundings. More than likely, you’re not the only person out on the trails. Look out for other runners and sometimes bikers. If you’re wearing headphones, keep your sound down enough to hear what’s going on around you.

It’s not all serious. Trail runs are beautiful. Stop. Appreciate your time in nature. Enjoy the view.

Admittedly, trail running can be intimidating. But with preparation, you’ll be comfortable hitting the trails!

To recap, before heading out, research the trail and prepare for navigation. Always have a backup plan in case you get lost.

Add strength training, plyometrics, and speed and agility drills to your workout routine. You want to be nimble on your feet in case of obstacles on the ground.

Wear proper gear, dress for the weather, wear sunscreen.

Lastly, trails usually lead to a view worth the effort. Enjoy yourself!

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