Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
There are few things as liberating as letting yourself loose in the great outdoors, away from the city, and its vehicular and pedestrian traffic. While trail running gives you a chance to make meaningful connections with nature, it is also more demanding and comes with its own set of rules. Here are some initial tips to keep in mind before heading out into the wild.
Research your trail: Be it a national park or a tabletop, each trail comes with its own surprises. Talk to rangers, locals or previous runners on the trail for insights, notes on the weather and avoidable areas. Give right of way to downhill runners and keep a lookout for native wildlife, especially if you’re running after dusk.
Start out easy: Take it slow during your first few runs. The uneven terrain, though friendlier on the joints, takes some getting used to, so know your limits and find a rhythm that works for you. It’s okay to slow down, even walk, during tricky spots and increase your pace as you gain more familiarity with the route.
Carry enough supplies: Most trails are a good drive away from anywhere, so ensure that you’re armed with the essentials: maps, GPS trackers, plenty of fluids, basic first aid kit, energy replenishments, sunscreens, bug sprays, flashlights, wireless chargers and a change of clothes for unanticipated weather tantrums.
Think of safety first: Trails are unpredictable, and it’s highly advisable to explore them with a running buddy or even your pet. If you must go alone, ensure that people are informed about your route. Carry an ID and track your progress on GPS whenever you take a break. Wear bright running vests or jackets so you can be spotted easily, in the dark.
Ignore the road: Trails are uneven, steep and often crawling with life, and most trips and falls can be prevented by focussing on the immediate stretch ahead. Distracted as you might be by the sights on offer, it’s important to keep your eyes open for loose stones, twigs, puddles or possums. This is where your research about the trail will come in handy.
Wear the wrong gear: As a trail runner you’re a prime target for all the natural elements, so wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty or torn. For some trail, you may need to wear more appropriate shoes, designed to offer more traction in loose and slippery surfaces and offer more cushioning for rougher terrain.
Drag your feet: It’s important to take longer as well as higher strides when running trails. They prepare you to take on terrains that are new and different, and avoid many small accidents and falls. Remembering to lift your feet higher than your everyday run. It gets easier with practice but goes a long way in ensuring both pace and safety.
Main image: Akunamatata | CC BY-ND