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Trail Running 101

The smell of the earth, a sense of adventure or the desire to escape the city: there are many different reasons that more and more road runners are swapping the asphalt for natural trails.

Trail running has been growing in popularity for years now. Want a change of scenery? Try running in nature!

two people running in the forest

Being outside in nature also takes you outside your comfort zone. The brain works differently since the path ahead is not linear. You have to constantly scan the ground three to five metres in front of you and watch for obstacles, protruding rocks, debris, bodies of water and roots. As a general rule, if you run 10 km in under an hour on the road, it could take you twice as long to cover the same distance on a trail. Before rushing out to master trail running, ease in gently by choosing a rolling path that is not too technical, this will give you time to find your footing in this new sport.

Basically, trail running is quite simple. If you want to run, go for it. If you prefer walking some sections, that’s great too. Try to live in the moment and take the time to stop and appreciate your surroundings. You’ll discover new and beautiful scenery when you go at your own pace. 

A few benefits of trail running:

 - the network of trails in Canada (and elsewhere) offers a nearly unlimited number of fantastic routes for all levels that will allow you to reconnect with nature;

 - you don’t need a stopwatch, because rather than focusing on a finish line, you will be focused on the experience itself; 

- it’s easier on the joints and ligaments than running on hard pavement; 

- the variety of terrains helps you develop your stabilizer muscles and strengthen some underused muscle groups.

Adjust your stride

Remember that uneven and irregular paths present different challenges from those you may have come to expect on pavement. By keeping a shorter stride, you’ll be able to avoid obstacles quickly and move through technical sections more easily.

two trail runners

Climbs

Always feel free to walk during a steep climb (or at any other time) if it feels overwhelming. In fact, most trail enthusiasts make a point of walking some sections as a way to conserve their energy. The common term used for this practice? Power hiking.

Climbs mostly work your cardio. If you choose to run up an incline, lean slightly forward to shift your centre of gravity and shorten the length of each stride to minimize the risk of injury. Also, use a swinging motion with your arms to gain some extra momentum. 

Descents

Most people assume the descents are the easiest parts of a trail run. While this may be true for your cardiovascular system, a descent is very demanding on your quadriceps and hamstrings as they have to contract repeatedly to slow your stride and keep your body in control. To avoid hurting yourself or falling down, shorten your stride and try to keep your weight on the balls of your feet. Pay special attention to slippery sections where you may lose your footing more easily. Also, avoid leaning back and be sure to engage your core to keep your balance. Lastly, keep your arms lifted and spread out (like a tightrope walker) for better balance.

trail running shoes

Basic equipment

Shoes

As is the case with any new sport, it’s best to try trail running a few times before investing in new equipment. If you’re starting out on marked trails, your road running shoes will be just fine on the well-trodden paths. But, if you go for trails that are more technical or steep, you’ll need a more robust shoe that has an outsole with good grip and offers better protection against rocks, roots, and debris.

Socks

Opt for synthetic or Merino wool socks that are comfortable, durable, and offer better protection and support.

trail running socks
women trail runners with appropriate clothing

Clothing

When the weather is warm, wear light and breathable clothing that wicks away moisture. Merino wool or synthetic fabric are good options, while cotton should be avoided because it absorbs moisture, cools down the skin and takes a long time to dry. In cooler weather, throw on a light raincoat or windbreaker.

If you’re planning to run longer distances, bring multiple layers so that you can stay comfortable as weather conditions might change while you’re out.


> Clothing for women
> Clothing for men

Backpack

A small backpack lets you carry all your essentials: water, snacks, change of clothes, cellphone, first aid kit, and headlamp. Depending on the time of year, don’t forget to bring sunscreen and bug spray.

man running on a path with his backpack

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