Slow down and smell the roses. Running on trails can be a lot more demanding than the roads, especially if it’s a technical singletrack trail with roots, rocks, and other fun obstacles. It is best to avoid comparing your pace, as you will be slower than your normal road-running pace. Instead, slow your pace and develop a trail tempo. Run by your effort level, by your heart rate and by the tune of your body. For new trail runners, that may mean walking the hills and running the downhills and flats.
Keep your eyes on the trail. It can be tempting to look at the nature around you, but doing so can quickly lead to tripping and falling. If you want to enjoy the sights, walk it out or stop; otherwise, focus on looking three to four feet ahead to create a line of travel, or where you going to step for the next few strides. This will keep you focused and in the moment — one of the true gifts of trail running. You will begin to instinctively know where that line is as you become more comfortable running on the trails.
Know the rules of the trail.Yield to other trail users (equestrian, hikers, mountain bikers). Uphill runners should yield to downhill runners. Stay on marked trails and run through puddles, not around them (making the trail wider). Leave no trace, and don’t litter.
Keep it safe. When heading out to the trails, make sure to run with your buddies or dog, tell someone where you are going and which trail, and take a cell phone with you for safety. Leave a note with your planned course and bring fuel and fluids. If possible, take a trail map, cell phone, and ID with you, and keep track of where you are along the trail as you go. If you’re run alone, wear pepper spray, download one of these safety apps for your phone, and always be mindful of what’s going on around you.
Leave your ego at home. Running off road can be exhausting at first, and it may take you up to twice as long as your normal run, especially in the early stages of training. It’s wise to leave your ego at home, slow your pace and focus on finding a new rhythm. In a matter of weeks, you’ll be running up hills you used to walk, and you’ll develop a sense of being one with the terrain.
No single trail is the same. One of the many things I love about trail running is that every trail has its own unique terrain and challenge. There are groomed trails that are wide, limestone-based, and often even in surface, which make for a great introduction to running off the road. And then there are narrow “singletrack” trails with a variety of obstacles, including tree roots, rocks, sand, hills, mud, and more. Singletrack trails tend to be more challenging in nature and offer a dynamic running experience.