Five Tips for Beginner Trail Runners

SCARPA Athlete, Joe Grant, is an ultra-endurance athlete who has competed in trail and mountain running events such as the Hardrock Hundred, the UltraTrail du Mt. Blanc, Western States 100, the UltraTrail Mt. Fuji, Tor des Géants (200 miles in Italy), and the Iditarod Trail Invitational (350 miles in Alaska in winter). One of his most recent projects was the Tour de 14ers, where he linked all of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks in 31 days on foot, self-supported by bike.

Joe has accomplished a lot, but he, too, was a beginner at one point. Joe has given us some very valuable advice to pass on to new trail runners looking for guidance on how to train and progress in a safe way.

1) Practice

One of the most important aspects of training is consistency. While it might seem self-evident you’ll need to practice to improve at trail running. However, laying a strong foundation for your training can be tough. When first starting out with a new activity, it’s easy to get carried away fueled by excessive enthusiasm. This often leads to doing too much too soon, which may result in getting burnt out or injured.

The key to forming a healthy running habit is to get out on trails frequently, even daily if you can, but to not run too fast, hard, or far. What that means in concrete terms will depend on your individual background. However, if you aim to finish each run with a little left in the tank, so you’re eager to get going again the following day, you’ll be setting yourself up for success. Remember that crafting a manageable schedule, where you accumulate volume gradually over several weeks or months will be far more beneficial for your running than any single training run. 

2) Time/Effort

I prefer to structure my training by time and perceived effort, rather than counting miles and trying to run a certain pace. Trails can be technical and/or hilly, so you can put out a significant amount of effort while not covering much distance. Constantly looking at your watch worrying about how many miles you’ve done or how fast you’re running, is both distracting and potentially demoralizing. It can also be quite stressful to feel you have to run a certain amount of miles in a day when you’re trying to fit it into a busy schedule.

Instead, if you organize your running around the spare time that you have during the week, and then simply run based on how you feel that day, you’ll have a better chance at establishing a sound running routine. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and always be honest with how you’re feeling. If a walk feels more appropriate for that day, then at least you’re still getting out on the trails, and building towards your goal of consistency.  

3) Warm-up / Power hiking

I always start every run with a pedestrian 15-minute jog. I go as easy as needed to give my body enough time to warm-up. Depending on your fitness level, this could mean starting every session walking, and then gradually easing into a run. This will help you assess how your body is feeling on the day, and determine if you’ll need to keep things casual or wish to bump up to a more moderate or strenuous effort.

While I just mentioned that walking can be a good warm-up, it can also be used as an effective technique, called power hiking, for tackling steeper terrain. Power hiking can make big climbs a lot less daunting, and is often more efficient on challenging terrain than running.

4) Fueling

In general, I’d recommend eating at least a little food before heading out on a run. You don’t need to eat a huge breakfast, especially if you’re going out for under an hour, but having something in your stomach will give you more energy for the session and help avoid feeling depleted. If you need to get up super early, then a small snack and some water, coffee or tea, 30 minutes before starting should suffice. I use a similar strategy for an afternoon run. For any run under an hour at an easy effort, you most likely won’t need to bring any food, just water. For longer runs over an hour, along with water, consider bringing some bars, fruit, or other energy foods, to keep you from bonking.

5) Gear

There’s an overwhelming amount of gear choices available for trail running. The further you go the more critical many of these gear choices will become. To start though, the first and most important piece of equipment you’ll need is a good pair of shoes. What makes a pair of shoes best suited to you will depend on a number of considerations such as the type of terrain and weather you most frequently encounter, whether you have a history with injuries, or if prefer more or less cushioning, or are looking for a daily trainer or racing shoe. There’s no one size fits all, but rather it’s a matter of finding the best tool for the job. The most effective way to ensure you’ll get the right shoe for you is to visit your local specialty running shop.

Are you a trail runner? What advice has been most helpful for you as you build more trail miles? Share in the comments below! 

We were thrilled to share the award-winning SCARPA Spin Ultra shoe in the running variation of our Spring 2019 Obsidian Collection. Whether you're an experienced trail runner or looking to take up the activity, this Obsidian is a great place to start!