2015 Bay of Fundy. Photo: Joe McGurn

How to Get Started as a Trail Runner

Trail running provides all of the health benefits of traditional road running and more while connecting you with nature. Getting started as a trail runner is easy. You need to know where to run, what type of gear to use and some basic trail running skills. In this article I’ll review the very basics you need to get started as a trail runner.


The great thing about trail running is that it can be done anywhere, on any trail. Trails will vary from wide carriage trails to very narrow fun and twisty animal paths. To find trails in your area check on-line and look for local parks, fire trails, ATV and hiking trails. Check with local clubs or try the excellent trail by state database at the ATRA American Trail Running Association.



In trail running the right shoe can make all the difference. You wouldn’t use your cross country boots with your downhill skis and you shouldn’t use your road shoes on the trail.

Trail running shoes are specifically designed for rugged terrain and they are significantly different from running shoes made for the road. Shoes for the trail fall in two main categories: light shoes for racing, sturdy and rugged shoes for the more recreational runner. Knowing how you’ll be running and the type of terrain you’ll be tackling will help you determine which shoe is best for you.

Trail runner, Joe McGurnFor recreational use or rocky and uneven trails, a shoe that is sturdy and rugged is the best choice. These shoes will have a heavier, beefier chassis with added protection around the toe box, heel and ankle. These trail running shoes also feature thick tread with a pattern well spaced to distribute mud, sand and other loose surfaces.

For smooth, hard packed, dirt trails a lighter, flexible trail running shoe with good cushioning is a great choice.

If you’re just getting started and run for recreation, a good rugged shoe like the ASICS Women’s Gel-Kahana 6 Trail Running Shoe or the ASICS Men’s Kahana 6 Trail Running Shoe is an excellent choice. I have been running on Asics for years and, for my foot, nothing is better.


For clothing wear a wicking breathable top, loose comfortable shorts, and breathable socks to stay cool and dry. For colder running, add gloves, hats, thermal compression pants and other protection. Be sure everything is breathable because even when it’s cooler you’ll work up some good body heat.



The right mind set about trail running helps you enjoy the sport. Trail running is like life, it’s not a race. Enjoy your time along the way. Think “it’s more about the trail and less about the run” and it’s ok to walk.

Walking for the first few minutes of every run is a great way to warm up and get a feel for the terrain. Walking when things get more technical is smart and an excellent way to ease into trail running. The same is true of up and downhill sections that are particularly challenging. In fact, many experts will tell you it’s more efficient to walk, briskly, up a hill than it is to run.


Use a smaller, shorter stride. If you’re converting to trail running from the road your natural tendency may be to take longer strides. On the trail, where you need to make quick, fast moves on uneven terrain, a shorter stride allows you to be responsive.

Using a longer stride is a common mistake road runners make when trying trail running for the first time.


Trail running requires focus and attention. Make it a habit to scan the trail 8 – 10 feet ahead so you’re prepared for obstacles with time to react. The first time you get caught day dreaming you’re likely to take a tumble.

Trail running is an excellent outdoor activity that’s fun, exciting and can help keep you in great shape. Finding trails is easy and getting started doesn’t require a huge investment in time or money. With some good shoes and basic skills you’ll be ready for your first run in no time. Get out there and give it a try. I bet you’ll be hooked after your first run.

— Text: Steve Stearns. Steve is a blogger who writes about health and nutrition. He is interested in fat biking and mountain biking, and  lives in Bowdoin.



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