By now, we all know how important diet and exercise both are to living a healthy and well-balanced life. The medical community and pop culture alike both talk about how necessary it is that all of us be “healthy,” though of course, what healthy means is open to wide interpretation.
While I’m not qualified to talk at length about exact diet specifications, I can talk a lot about exercise, and specifically, running. People seem to have a very mercurial relationship with running. In other words, they either absolutely love it, or they just hate it with the fire of a thousand suns.
I understand, either way; running is hard work, no doubt about it. Even if you’re “good” at it, there’s nothing easy about it.
Here’s the thing: for those of us who don’t particularly enjoy running, I think there’s at least one specific type of running from which most everyone can find joy. It connects us to our youth and to nature, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find it boring.
What am I talking about?
Before you quickly dismiss the notion that you could become a trail runner anytime soon, please hear me out.
Not every trail runner is canvassing through mountainous passages in Colorado or Nepal. In fact, I’d wager that there are tons of trail runners right underneath your nose, folks who routinely take to the local woods or forest preserves near you instead of the local jogging path.
There are tons of benefits to running trails, but admittedly, it can be intimidating to get started. Below, I’ll describe some guidelines for aspiring trail runners.
Think of it as your free and handy guide to help you get started with trail running. It’ll be a journey that you won’t soon regret and one that you’ll wonder, in retrospect, why it took you so long to do.
Connect with local trail runners.
When you’re brand new to trail running, one of the best resources that you could use is other trail runners, folks who have been doing this sport for a long time and who thus know tons of ins and outs.
Local trail runners can be especially helpful to you because not only can they entertain your thousands of questions (it’s ok!), but they can also help you not get lost when you run trails for the first time!
In time, you’ll become more well-acquainted with your local trail running scene. When some novices come along, you’ll be able to “pay it forward” and help them out, just as you were helped out when you were the new kid on the block.
Don’t buy all new gear.
While running is a pretty inexpensive sport and one that doesn’t require tons of equipment or specialized instruction, especially compared to other sports, runnersdo like their stuff.
Particularly if you’re coming from a road running background, you may be tempted to go buy all new everything for your burgeoning trail running career.
While new gear is fun and exciting, I implore you: save your money! You may find that your road running gear actually works quite well on the trails you run.
The best way to figure this out is by good ol’fashioned trial and error: see what happens if you wear X shoes, or Y socks, and so on.
You may surprise yourself and find that most of the stuff you already owns works just fine and that the purchases that you do have to make are relatively inexpensive, in comparison (on things like taller socks, for example, or a hydration vest).
Let go of pace expectations.
Trail running is super fun and super challenging, but one of the biggest hang-ups for a lot of runners is getting used to a potentially much slower pace. It’s critical to remember that when you’re running trails, your environment is going to dictate your pace.
Sure, you may be able to run an 8 minute mile comfortably around your (flat, paved) neighborhood, but when you’re running trails with gnarly ascents and steep descents, your comfortable 8 minute pace may very well reach times in excess of 10 minute+ miles. That’s ok!
Put your ego aside, and trust that the work you do on the trails will make you incredibly strong, particularly if you continue to run roads.
Time on your feet rules supreme in trail running, and thinking about your running with this mindset will help you let go of any idea of what “fast” should be or what “fast” looks like. It’s all relative to the scenery.
Enjoy the scenery.
That’s the other thing about trail running: sure, it makes you incredibly strong, and it works muscle groups you didn’t know you had, but more importantly, it’s also an amazing way for you to proverbially stop time, slow down, and reconnect with nature and the environment.
Sure, there are absolutely some professional trail runners out there who are all business when it comes to running in the woods, but for the rest of us laypeople, don’t be above stopping mid-run to enjoy a spectacular sunset, some beautiful flora, or a peaceful river.
It may sound super hippy-dippy — and hey, it sorta is — but part of trail running’s allure is the opportunity to just enjoy your surroundings in a meaningful and intentional way.
Sign up for a race.
Finally, as you’re getting into trail running for the first time, do some research and talk to other local trail runners to learn about some of the trail race options nearest you.
It’ll be a fantastic way to meet other people, and runners generally enjoy racing environments (though trail racing often has a different vibe than road racing).
After you’ve been training for a time and feel pretty comfortable, sign up for a local race and see what you can do! What have you got to lose?
Final Key Points…
Trail running is a fantastic thing to do for your mental and physical health. I can all but guarantee you that once you do it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
It can be intimidating to get started, but with these tips and guidelines, you’ll have an upper hand and can get off on the right foot, so to speak.
Happy trails to you (until we meet again)!