This article only addresses the basics of beginning trail running. You should be aware of area hazards: snow storms, flash floods, predators, snakes, high winds, etc. You can acclimate your body to uneven terrain by running in parks on the grass, off the sidewalk, next to tree roots, and on fire roads.
Ready, Smile, Go!
It’s easy, really. Wear regular running clothes, bring a friend, and a smile, and you’re ready to go.
What, no gear? No heart monitor, gels, hiking poles, or trail shoes? Some people use those things and more, but to start, your attitude is the most important thing.
Pick an easy trail you have hiked before so it’s familiar and you don’t get lost. Bring a printed map if there are many junctures. Plan to turn around after 30 minutes and stick to the plan. Tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back. Start early, just in case, and to increase the chance you will get parking. Sign the hiker log at the trailhead.
Walk the uphills, jog the flats and the downhills. Don’t worry about mileage. Trail running is about enjoying the experience of being outside, away from technology, surrounded by growing things.
Don’t have any other goals other than to start, to enjoy, and to smile. Don’t take pictures on your first trail run. Just soak in the sounds, smells, and how you feel. Don’t try to filter or capture it with a selfie. You gotta come back for that.
You will fall. That’s okay. You will get dirty. That’s good! Gravity is the great equalizer so watch your step. Stand still if you want to look up and around else roots may catch your feet.
Be aware of your breathing. Hear the birds, the scrape of your footfalls, the leaves conversing with the wind. Be in the moment. The trail under your feet, the air and the green all around. This is your gift to yourself at this moment. The rest of your life will return soon enough.
Back at your car, high-five your trail buddy. Write your finish time in the trail log. Be thankful for a good start to many more runs, miles, trails, and moments.
A human does not need water during 60 minutes of moderate exercise, but bring some just in case. If you drink half your water before the 30 minute turn-around time, TURN AROUND NOW. If your first half hour is downhill, turn around at 20-25 minutes because the return trip will take longer.
Use common sense. Stormy, pick another day to start trail running. Hear odd things, get a weird feeling, turn around. Listen to your instincts. Wear bright, find-my-body colors. Just in case. Sign the hiker log. Do not go off the trail if you are alone. Help rescuers find you. Just in case.
Supplies for Boy Scout level preparation and 1-3 hour trail runs
- at least 1 L water (better to have too much than not enough)
- Running pack that won’t chafe
- Fully charged phone, cord, extra battery
- Toilet paper
- Trail map
- Handkerchief in bright color
- Small trash bag
- Snacks during and after (I like honey sticks or dried fruit during and boiled egg and coconut water or hot green tea after). Try to avoid eating during because it increases the chance you’ll need to poop. Try to train yourself to poop before you go out as running and relaxing tends to encourage BMs.