Running is not only a great way to burn fat and increase endurance, but the level of mental—as well as physical—solitude one can obtain while running is seldom found elsewhere. However, there are those who wish to push their bodies and their spirits further and head into the woods and backcountry for a bit of trail running. I, myself, love to run trails, but, like any other sport, it takes a bit of preparation to properly hit the trails safely and efficiently. Here are a few tips for any aspiring trail runners out there that will get you started on the right foot.

First and foremost, the right footwear can be the difference between a healthy trail run and an injury such as a sprained ankle or blisters. If you’re thinking of hitting paved, wood chipped, or flat dirt trails to start, then a normal pair of running shoes will be fine. However, once you begin to brave the rocky, obstacle-ridden paths, then it is definitely worth it to invest in a solid pair of trail running shoes. Good shoes for the trail are equipped with lugs and treaded soles to keep you securely gripped to rocks and other precarious terrain.

Often, people will want to go all the way right off the bat when trying a new activity. While this sort of spirit is awesome, it is possible to bite off more than you can chew sometimes. Trails aren’t like treadmills or flat roads and it’s advised to start with baby steps. Start out with 10-15 minutes on the trail the first few runs and then increase that time by about five minutes each week. Pay attention to your body and know your limits until you become used to the change in terrain.

Focus is an integral part of trail running, and includes numerous elements. One thing that is good practice when running trails is to lift your feet more than normal. This doesn’t mean you have to high-step the entire trail, but lifting your feet slightly higher than you would on a tread mill or the road will help you avoid tripping over rocks and other objects. Remembering to lift your feet will also enable you to keep your eyes on the trail ahead, and not on your own feet, which will go a long way towards avoiding potential hazards.

Be sure to slow down if needed, and even walk when faced with obstacles such as rivers. It isn’t a race, after all. Also, one important thing to possess, in all life’s activities, not just trail running, is courtesy and respect. Stay to the right of the path and announce yourself if passing another runner.

Trail running is a little more intense than jogging, in a few ways. Not only does the sometimes slippery or precarious terrain engage your leg muscles more, but hopping over obstacles, and climbing steep inclines burns more calories, improves your balance, and boosts your agility. However, as fun as it can be, running trails requires focus and dedication. The tips listed above are the first steps towards fully enjoying running America’s beautiful and peaceful trails, and will help prepare any runner looking to make the transition to trails. 

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