Trail Running 101

What’s Included?

  • Shoes & Gear
  • Pace & Progress
  • Technique & Form
  • Tips & Tricks

What is Trail Running?

Trail running comes in many shapes and forms – but when it comes down to it, trail running can be defined as pretty much ANY running that takes place on a natural off-road terrain (sand, dirt, mud, trails, mountains, etc). Trail running can range from easy to extremely difficult depending upon the type of terrain you’re on, the evenness or unevenness of the terrain, how loose the terrain may be, the elevation, the weather, and more. When compared to road or treadmill running, trail running can oftentimes be seen as more challenging due to the constant changes, uneven ground, and the number of muscles being recruited.

If you’re someone who’s curious about trail racing, there are a few considerations before you jump in:

  • What gear to wear
  • The challenge level & how that
  • impacts your pace
  • How difficult the trail may be/how
  • experienced you are
  • Your technique and form

So let’s dive into each one a little further…

Gear & Shoes


You’ll want shoes with more grip than normal road shoes. They’ll also feel a bit heavier and more stiff than your normal road shoes – this is important because it keeps your feet and ankles secure on the uneven terrain. In addition, you’ll want to find some shoes that are more water resistant in case the weather turns while you’re out there. There are many different types and styles of trail shoes, depending upon the types of trails you typically run. Some great brands to check out would be: Merrell, Saucony, Hoka, and Altra.


You’ll want socks that come above your ankles to help keep things out of your shoes! You could also get gaiters, which can be placed over your shoes and ankles.


Make sure to wear gear that matches the weather & the type of trail you’re on. Does it have a lot of brush? A lot of sun? Are there a lot of bugs? Is there access to water? These are important questions to ask when figuring out whether you’ll need to pack bug spray, a hat, a hydration pack or handheld, sunglasses, or other items!

Pace & Progress

Trail running will usually come with a slower pace – this is completely normal. The increased challenge level, balance requirement, and uneven terrain require us to focus on our step while trying to maintain our pace – naturally causing us to go a bit slower. In addition, increases in elevation, hills, and other obstacles can slow us down. However, trail running is a GREAT way to train for your road races. The uneven terrain can be helpful for strength building, endurance, and stabilization. You may notice improvements to your core strength, your balance, your leg strength, and your mood!

One thing to be aware of when trial running, however, is the potential for injury. If you’re new to trails, it’s important to check it out ahead of time to ensure that it’s something you feel comfortable running on. You’ll want to go slow so you can watch your step & avoid any ankle injuries while you’re out there.

While it depends on the trail, difficulty, and your experience level – you can expect to finish trail races about 10-20% slower than normal road races.

Technique & Form

Trail running can require a different technique and form than road running or treadmill running due to the varying terrain. Keep your stride short and controlled so that your feet stay under your body the entire time – this helps to ensure your balance stays strong and spread across your body (reducing the risk of injury to an ankle or foot).

Keep your eyes locked on the trail instead of in front of you (a little different from road running advice) – you should be looking ahead and constantly scanning the environment 10 20 feet ahead of you. Check for upcoming rocks, branches, roots, animals, and wet mud. Don’t forget to USE YOUR ARMS. Your arms offer a counterbalance when trail running – so use them! It’s okay if your arms occasionally get lifted up to your sides in an effort to balance, especially as you get more experienced with trails.

Tips & Tricks

A few additional tips for trail running…

  • You can find trails near you using websites and apps including Trail Link, Trail Run Project, All Trails, Strava, and more!
  • Make sure to check out photos if they’re available on the website or app. If not, do a quick google search of the trail to ensure that it’s a good match for you challenge/experience wise.
  • If you’re new to trail running, start with a shorter trail that has more even terrain with less obstacles, twists, and turns. As you gain experience, you can move up to trails with more elevation, obstacles, curves, twists, turns, and more!
  • Don’t skip the warm up! The risk of injury is much higher on trails, so it’s CRUCIAL that you warm up. Incorporate a few balance exercises & dynamic warm-ups to ensure that you’re prepared to run.
  • Slow down! Trail running and racing is entirely different from road and treadmill running. It’s okay to walk, rest, and slow down in order to keep your form in check & avoid injury.
  • Enjoy it! Have some fun out there – trails are such a beautiful place to connect with yourself, nature, and your run. Embrace it!

Amy Haas
Run with Aim, LLC
UESCA Certified Running Coach
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
NASM Certified Nutrition Coach