Fitness, Health & Wellness, Hobbies

How To Start Trail Running And Actually Enjoy It!

how to start trail running

This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s spring editorial intern Megan Pavek. Find her on Instagram at @megan.pavek. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at

Running tends to get a bad rap. This likely stems from adolescent days filled with gym teachers forcing us to run the mile. Having to run and sweat in front of your peers is daunting, especially in an environment beknownst as a breeding ground for bullies. Running as an adult presents a different set of challenges; trying to navigate the various ranks, techniques, races and gear recommendations of a vast new world. 

From afar, trail running can seem even more formidable. It’s completely new territory – and are you really expected to run up hike-worthy inclines furnished with rugged, uneven terrain? The irony is that mentally, trail runs can seem easier and offer an even greater sense of accomplishment. Better yet, they provide some incredible views and experiences in nature. There’s no time like the present to learn how to start trail running and actually enjoy it!

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Benefits of Trail Running: Why It’s Worth It


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Running in general is a common prescription for stress-relief, but trail running is linked to even more benefits as it’s typically practiced in the remote outdoors. Giving the runner ample opportunity to spend time in nature has been proven to reduce a number of mental and physical ailments. An article published by Fleet Feet cites a series of academic studies which have proven that exercising in a natural environment significantly reduces activity in the brain linked to mental illness. Therefore, runners in nature feel less stress and anxiety than their urban counterparts. 

Additionally, natural plants produce airborne chemicals that are actually beneficial for humans. Scientists report that phytoncideshelp lower stress hormone levels and increase natural killer cell activity in the body, which strengthens the immune response for over seven days”. Credit this research to the recent popularity of a similar activity sans running; forest bathing.

Running on the natural ground instead of pavement is also very beneficial for joint health. Navigating a variety of terrain requires using different parts of your body, which helps spread the impact instead of putting the same pressure on the same muscles or joints. Running up an incline- while admittedly not great- will become easier, grow endurance and increase strength over time.

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1. Practice Hiking Trails First

Feeling overwhelmed or outside of your comfort zone? You are not alone! Professional athlete and all-terrain runner Grayson Murphy advises that beginners hike trails first so that they can familiarize themselves with any unique terrain, inclines or other obstacles. Knowing what to expect can help you feel more comfortable and equipped to start running! 

2. Familiarize Yourself With Different Techniques

According to REI, try to use a short stride to help keep your feet underneath you at all times. This will help you maintain your balance on different types of terrain. Consistently switch between keeping your eyes down and scanning the trail in front of you. It’s important to be on the lookout for obstacles both right in front of you, and in the distance. Remember to be aware of others on the trail around you.

To reduce possible injury, avoid leaning forward on the uphill and leaning backward on the downhill; try to keep your back as straight as possible. As a beginner, it’s also important to remember that many trail runners will walk up steep, hike-worthy inclines. Trust your body and don’t overextend yourself.  In any type of running, there is no shame in walking!

3. Have Fun

As cliche as it may seem, this can be one of the most important tips when it comes to running. Avoid getting in your head or doubting your abilities, and remember to celebrate the small victories! Maybe you’re far from being a pro trail runner, but the fact that you’re showing up and putting in any amount of effort is admirable.

Gear Recommendations

First and foremost, it’s critical to have the correct footwear before embarking on a trail run. You will need to purchase specific trail running shoes that are designed to absorb the impact and help you maneuver an entirely new landscape.

When it comes to clothing, avoid cotton at all costs. Choose moisture-wicking merino wool or synthetics instead. Additionally, opt for breathable layers that will come in handy as you experience changes in altitude and subsequently weather.

Honorable mentions include a gps watch or other navigation tools, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar and remote area. Wearing a fanny pack, such as a Kavu, can add the extra convenience of having room  to carry keys, a phone, small snacks, and first aid essentials.

Are you an avid-trail runner, a beginner or entirely new to running community in general? Share your tips, tricks, and any other thoughts with us below!

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