Trail Running 101: Pros & Cons

Trail running is a fast growing sport. As it gains in popularity, a lot of you are thinking about giving it a shot! But, where do you start?!? Different shoes, nutrition, training and gear - some may find this overwhelming! Or, maybe trail running seems like it would be just be too hard; “That’s cool but it’s not for me!”

What Makes This Guide Different?

We thought it would be good to put together a content series covering some of the questions people new to trail running may have, and to encourage those who don’t think can with examples of how it might be easier than you might think!

Over the coming weeks, we'll be covering the pros and cons of trail running, trail running shoes, hydration, nutrition and training!

Just like anything in life, a balanced approach is key. Let's go over some pros and cons.

Pros of trail running...

PRO: Enjoy Nature, Wildlife & Fresher Air (Duh!)

One of the best things about trail running is simply getting out and enjoying nature. The race is the result at the end of your training, but some of your best memories from trail running will probably be taking your time training and exploring new areas. As you get deeper into your training you will find that you can go out and train on popular hiking routes and finish them much faster than if you were hiking. Training on hiking trails can get you deep into National parks, forests and reserves. You will be treated to some great views, pristine lakes and forest and spectacular mountains.

PRO: Less Impact On Your Body!

As you train you will also notice that your body will feel better after a trail run than after spending a similar time training on roads. This is because the trails are generally much softer than running on hard asphalt, so you put less impact stress on your body. As a result you can recover faster and train more!

PRO: You Don't Have To Be Usain Bolt.

When it comes to racing you don’t have to be a speedster, and you don’t have to run the whole race. Walking is totally acceptable and many of the top ultra-runners will hike portions of their big races, especially the hills when it can be more efficient.

PRO: Great Community!

Mmmmm...treats...a.k.a. FUEL! // Photo Cred: Sophia Liu

Mmmmm...treats...a.k.a. FUEL! // Photo Cred: Sophia Liu

The atmosphere at a trail race is one of camaraderie where the people are friendly and jovial. There is a great community and the races are a good chance to catch up with friends or make new ones. Everyone is welcoming so if you are new start up a conversation at race, you’ll probably get some great tips from experienced runners, or even find a new training partner. Another highlight of racing is the aid stations. When racing your body is mostly running on carbohydrates so there are plenty of simple sugary foods available. Some aid station staples are fruit, M&M’s, cookies, PB&J, soda, as well as water and electrolyte. I personally always look forward to watermelon and coke!

 

...cons of trail running

CON: "I'll Get Injured"

Some newcomers may have some legitimate worries before start trail running. First, what if I get injured, roll my ankle etc? Well as with anything new you should start with moderation. Start with incorporating some easy trail runs into your training program. Get used to running on the trails which can often be slippery or contain hazards such as roots and rocks. As you spend more time on trails you will get better at identifying these hazards and planning your steps to best avoid them. You can also spend time preparing your body for the trails by doing exercises to strengthen your ankles, stabilizing muscles, and posterior chain. Doing these exercises will give you better endurance and make you less prone to minor injuries such as ankle rolls.

CON: "I'll Get Lost"

Another worry is that you might get lost while training. There are a few ways to avoid this. First off preparation is key, it is a great idea to plan a route and take a map with you. As a fall back take your phone so you can access maps or call for help if needed. A great way to get oriented on the trails is to go with a knowledgeable friend or join a running group. Many of the local running stores and clubs will have organized trail runs that are always accommodation for newcomers. Lastly you don’t have to go out and run into the middle of a National park on your first run. Local parks such as Discovery Park and Carkeek park off some great trails to get started on.

CON: "I'm Not Fit Enough"

Finally you might be worried that you are not fit enough or not prepared. If that’s the case get out and train! If you want to lock in a commitment date then entering a short race in the future is a good idea, although this is not essential. Alternatively you could set a date with a friend to run a route you would find challenging. Once you are ready to start training lace up and get out the door! We will be putting together some content on how to put together a basic training program, but a good start is to aim to do 3 easy runs per week to start building an aerobic base. Easy runs should make up most of your training, up to 80%, and should be done at a pace where you can maintain a conversation with a training partner.

 

What I Love About Trail Running

Personally I love to get out on a technical trail and find the best sets of foot placements to maintain my pace. I love to hit a steep grinding climb that leads to an awesome summit, or hit a winding trail that follows the contours of a mountain side giving me time to check out the valleys below. At the end of the day trail runners and trail races are pretty chill. So we encourage you to get out there and give it a go, and find out what you love about the trails!!

But Who Am I To Be Giving You Advice? Well, Here's A Little Bit About Me...

I moved to Seattle from New Zealand in 2014. While growing up I had done some trail races and Orienteering in New Zealand, but no long trail races. After spending a year in Seattle I felt obliged to start exploring the outdoors we have such great access to. With some motivation from Chris McDougal’s book Born to Run and the film “Unbreakable” I started to increase my training load, explore my local trails and get into the sport of ultrarunning. Early in the year I started working with Kinetic Sports Rehab to address tight areas in my legs that I didn’t want to develop into injuries. By working with Kinetic throughout the year, as well as doing my recommended home exercises, I was able to avoid any major injuries and increase my training load significantly on the previous year. I doubled my mileage and more than tripled my elevation gain. I completed my first three 50km trail races, averaging 5 hours per race and visited all the colors of the podium. With the help of Kinetic I have been able to change from a casual runner to an amatuer trail racer. I’m looking forward to what 2017 will bring.