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Running Tips

Trail running tips for beginners

2 runners on a trail in the mountains

New to trail running and wondering how to get started? Our experts will have you running on the beaten path in no time.

What is trail running?

There’s a great big world out there beyond the pavement, and trail running is a wonderful way to experience it. It’s a simple enough concept — get out in nature and go running in it. You can find running trails in the mountains, through a park in the mountains, through a park, on the coast, or really on any unpaved path. While the change in scenery from paved road to the great outdoors seems simple, there’s plenty to learn when you’re new to the scene.

We chatted with experienced Brooks employees about safety tips, how to start trail running, essential gear, and more.

Woman running down a trail

Safety first

  • If running alone on a trail, always tell someone where you are going and a rough time window of your run. Trails often have spotty or no cell reception, so it’s good common sense to let others know your plans.
  • Read trail reviews in advance on hiking sites or apps like AllTrails. This can help preview trail surface conditions and avoid surprises like closed trailheads or downed trees due to storms. Users contribute helpful details so you can prepare for specific weather conditions, wildlife (both flora and fauna), and even permits and parking. These resources offer a general sense of how busy the trail is and if it meets your difficulty level. If you notice a trail hasn’t been reviewed in a long time, that may indicate an area to avoid.
  • Take a picture or screenshot of the trail map so you don’t have to rely on cell service.
  • Be friendly to other trail users and politely announce you’re passing from 10+ yards away. Making your presence known is a courtesy, but it’s also good safety — doing so can help you avoid potential conflict. After all, no one likes being snuck up on.
  • Running on trails generally takes longer than running on roads, and sometimes you’ll be out for much longer than you expect. Having essentials like water and proper gear will ensure you’ll be safe no matter the conditions.
Woman running down a trail

All about the run

  • Respect the trail and the land it runs through. Remember, the land you are running on was likely inhabited by indigenous people for generations. Keep your litter to yourself and leave the trail as you found it. Learning the history of the area you are running in will build an appreciation for its past and preserve its future use, too.
  • It’s OK to walk or hike during your trail run. Everyone does it at some point, even the runners up at the front of the pack — there's no shame in slowing down on steep inclines or whenever you need a break. After all, why get out in nature if you don’t take time to enjoy it?
two runners walking down a trail in the mountains
Runner pulling water out of a backpack
  • Don’t compare your trail pace to your road pace. When you run trails you can easily add 2-plus minutes to your normal ‘go-to’ comfortable pace. When you run on varied terrain, your pace is more of an average of your overall effort spent on climbs, downhills, and flat sections, not hitting precise splits for every mile.
  • Stability and core exercise can help with agility, which comes in handy while trying to avoid roots, rocks, and puddles.
  • Run with friends! New things are more fun and easier to get into when you have a buddy to share them with.
Woman running down a trail
  • If you’ve signed up for your first trail race, read race reports or try to find podcasts online to get advice beforehand on what to expect from the course and conditions.
  • If you run with a GPS watch, you can often find .gpx files of trail-race courses to upload to your watch to make sure you are on the right path in real time. While trail-race courses are usually well marked, it’s normal to find yourself alone along the way and it’s good to know you’re headed in the right direction.

What to bring trail running

  • Do you need specific trail-running shoes? Yes and no. If your trail is flat and dry, your road shoes should be fine for your run. But it’s not a bad idea to invest in good trail-running shoes. They offer better traction and more protection from the elements (think slippery terrain and jagged rocks).
two runners walking down a trail in the mountains
Runner pulling water out of a backpack
Trail running crouching with her backpack
  • Water is essential for any run, but since trail running can take you far from the nearest water fountain, it’s best to make sure you’re well prepared with extra hydration. Consider a good hydration pack, which can come in the form of backpacks, vests, hip belts, or handheld bottles. Go to a local shop and try them on in person to find out what suits you best.
  • In addition to water, pack a small first aid kit, your cell phone, and easy-to-carry foods like energy bars.
  • Dress in layers to keep from getting too hot or cold if the weather suddenly changes. Gear like neck gaiters, arm sleeves, and bandanas are versatile — they can protect you from the sun, prickly plants, and insects and are easy to shed or tie to your pack. You can also put dip these in water in a stream or stuff them with ice at aid stations to cool off.

Get out on the trail

Trail running doesn’t have to be intimidating. Take it at your own pace, be safe, and enjoy the splendor of the great outdoors.

Now that you have a good collection of trail running tips for beginners in your back pocket, check out this this article that features some pearls of wisdom that will help you get started if you are new to running in general. Explore more running tips, advice, workouts, and stories on the Run Happy Blog.