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Trail runner Mimmi Kotka.

Ready, Set, Trail! 10 Tips To Prep For Trail Running

While trail running is all about enjoying the moment and having fun, taking a low-key approach to trail running doesn’t necessarily equal no preparation whatsoever.

Trail running is an easy way to explore and enjoy the nature, suitable for just about everyone, but there a few key things to keep in mind before heading out there for the trails.

Everyone can run trail – with the right preparation.

1. Pick a trail in a familiar area

Especially if you’re new to trail running, stay in an area you’re familiar with or stick to well-marked trails and bring an offline map.

Also prepare for the possibility of getting lost by bringing along some extra water and snacks. Stick to well marked trails unless you have a solid knowledge of the area and make sure you have the gear and skill set needed for where you plan to go. 

2. prepare for getting lost

Whether you plan to run trails nearby or somewhere more remote you’ve never been before, make sure you know where you’re going and can find you’re way back.

Marked hiking trails are a safe way to start, but as it can be tricky to find your way around in new places and the markings on trails are not always the best, it’s best to make sure you have some sort of a backup (like an offline map) in case you get lost.

3. Bring extra water and snacks

Before trail running, you don’t need any specific pre-run nutrition – fuel as you normally would. What you can do before you hit the trail is find out if there’s water in wells along the way or if the water in streams is drinkable.

If not, you’ll need to bring enough water to cover your run and then some. Same goes for nutrition – pack a lot of calories in small size, like gels or bars, and make sure you bring enough to carry you through the run and some extra calories for unexpected situations. There’s always the possibility of getting lost or the environment may slow you down and the run can get a lot longer than planned.

4. Be realistic about your fitness level

Before you head out into the wild, you need to be honest to yourself and realistically assess your experience and fitness level.

Exposed and extreme environments require great outdoor experience and specific fitness – of course, this depends on where you plan to run.

Going for a couple hours’ run on a well marked trail in a recreational area doesn’t pose quite as much challenge as climbing some serious mountains. 

5. Adjust the length of your run

If you plan to run in a hilly area, it will be harder than running on flat road. But, the beauty of trail running is that it’s about enjoying the experience so keep in mind that you’re not in a hurry and just take it easy.

Soft trails and hills are easier on the joints than hammering the tarmac, but you’ll still see your heart rate climbing if you’re wearing an outdoor sports watch.

The trail running metrics I track are:

  • Time and elevation (distance isn’t applicable in the mountains).
  • For speed work, I will time an ascent and try to keep improving it.

6. Adjust your expected training time to the terrain

Hilly running takes time and the terrain will slow you down. Even if you’re an experienced runner, you may still need to hike some of the longest and steepest hills.

When you get into it, it’s fun to track elevation gain on your running watch, which can become a key parameter, just as time and kilometres in road running.

Hilly terrain is great for strengthening your running in general. The soft surface of trail running is not as tough on the joints as road running, but your heart and lungs still get to work hard (if you want).

7. Take weather conditions into account

You also need to plan for changing weather conditions, rain and/or wind, maybe bring a jacket. This all adds up and if you plan a longer trail run a running backpack is a great option.

Remember that the weather changes quick in some places, especially in the mountains.

8. Tune into the right mood

Mental prep for trail running means getting ready to relax and enjoy. Don’t obsess about running pace or distance, just focus on connecting with the nature.

Trail running is a chance to experience running wild and free in a more unstructured way than on the road.

It’s a playful form of running so the way to approach it could be: You have this amazing ability to run, so put it to some fun use! 

Essentially, this means:

  • Bring a camera, stop and take pictures.
  • Pick the top of a hill or peak of a mountain and make that the goal of your run.
  • If you get tired, it’s totally fine to mix hiking and running in hilly terrain – even if you alternate between hiking and running, it’s still a great workout. 

9. Essential Trail running gear To bring along

Trail running shoes

  • Buy a pair of durable trail running shoes that offer a better grip than road running shoes. With trail running, it’s all about the grip, as you’ll need to be able to run in mud, on slippery wet stones and gravel.

Outdoor Apparel

  • Depending on weather conditions, bring a small windproof jacket, a full-on rain jacket, rain pants, gloves and buff.

A rescue blanket

  • If you’re going to a wild area, bring a rescue blanket.

A running pack

  • If you plan to go for a long run, take a running pack with you. For short runs, the pockets on your running clothes might be enough to carry what you need. 

10. Last, but not least, enjoy!

Most importantly, just go out there and enjoy!

Trail running isn’t supposed to be complicated or hard – you can allow yourself to let go of the pressure to perform.

Instead of thinking about the training benefit, focus on enjoying the fresh air and being outdoors alone with your thoughts (or in great company).

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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The Kickstart Guide To Trail Running

Here's why and how to start trail running, whether you're completely new to running or a seasoned road runner looking to add trail running to your regimen.

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