Six Ways to Become a Better Trail Runner

©istockphoto/thinair28

Trail run­ning allows ath­letes to enjoy the beau­ty of nature, get or stay in shape, and have a great time in the process, but many would-be trail run­ners find the idea of leav­ing the roads behind in favor of the wide-open wilds daunt­ing. Whether you’re a road run­ner look­ing for a change of pace, an expe­ri­enced trail run­ner, or a new­bie to run­ning alto­geth­er, these six tips will help you hit the trails with con­fi­dence and speed.

Gear Up
You can run trails in the same clothes and shoes you wear while road run­ning, but a bit of spe­cial­ized gear will improve your trail run­ning expe­ri­ence and per­for­mance. Trail run­ning shoes will pro­vide the trac­tion and sup­port need­ed for the some­times rough ter­rain found on the trail. Cloth­ing made of wick­ing mate­r­i­al will keep you dry and com­fort­able in the woods. Last­ly, a GPS watch will help you find your way back if you make a wrong turn.

Build Core Strength
The impor­tance of bal­ance in trail run­ning can­not be over­stat­ed and it’s your core mus­cles that keep you on your feet when the going gets tough. Whether you’re climb­ing a steep grade over fall­en leaves, cross­ing a creek full of slip­pery rocks, or scram­bling down­hill over a bed of soft­ball-sized stones, your abil­i­ty to stay upright is con­stant­ly being chal­lenged on a trail run. Adding exer­cis­es like planks and clam shells to your post-run stretch­ing rou­tine will improve your bal­ance, speed, and sta­mi­na and help pre­vent injuries.

Reward Your­self
Every­one needs a car­rot at the end of the stick; some­thing to push you when fatigue or a tough climb or down­hill has you ready to hit your knees. A cold beer, choco­late bar, or some oth­er favorite indul­gence wait­ing at the car will make you feel good all over again at the end of a long, hard run. Enjoy your reward. You’ve earned it.

Throw Your Watch Away
Road­run­ners tend to get caught up in their stats: mea­sur­ing dis­tance, pace-per-mile, and race times with pre­ci­sion and care for detail typ­i­cal of a med­ical test­ing lab­o­ra­to­ry. Trail miles are slow­er than road miles, peri­od. Accept the fact that hilly ter­rain and the tech­ni­cal nature of most trail runs will result in slow­er times, but pro­vide a bet­ter expe­ri­ence, then enjoy yourself.

Join a Club
Sur­round­ing your­self with like-mind­ed trail run­ners will make you run far­ther and hard­er. Run­ning with peo­ple faster than you will help you push your own pace and become faster over time. Also, hav­ing a num­ber of run­ning part­ners will ensure that you have some­one to run with even if one of your club’s mem­bers gets sick or injured and is unable to run. Aside from the per­for­mance ben­e­fits of join­ing a run­ning club, run­ning with oth­er peo­ple is just plain fun.

Embrace Your Inner Dirtbag
To be a good trail run­ner, you can’t be afraid to get a lit­tle dirty. See that creek up ahead? Splash through it. Same goes for the mud pud­dle that’s com­plete­ly cov­er­ing the trail. If you fin­ish a trail run and your legs aren’t at least a lit­tle mud­dy, you know you’ve done some­thing wrong.

Trail run­ning will take you places most peo­ple nev­er see or expe­ri­ence and allow you to cov­er more ground than hik­ing in the same loca­tions. Use these tips to become a bet­ter trail run­ner and you’ll enjoy your time in the woods even more.