I had been a road runner for nearly ten years when I discovered trail running. At the time I was living in Winnipeg, where the Prairie fields blended in with the endless skies. It was beautiful, but after a while, running the flat concrete sidewalks around my suburban home became mind numbingly dull. On a whim I signed up for a trail race at nearby Birds Hill Provincial Park, and instantly fell in love with the sport. In many ways, running on trails made me feel like a kid again, with puddles and logs to jump over, and only the trees to keep me company.
Long time trail runner Jennifer Faraone loves opportunity to disconnect from the city and connect with nature on her trail runs. Faraone, who teaches trail running clinics throughout the Greater Toronto Area, as well as offers a trail running retreat in Hockley Valley each fall, understands the importance of staying active as we get older.
“Anyone can trail run!” says Faraone, who sees athletes of all abilities at her trail running clinics. “Many runners find that it’s an amazing change from road running, and that their body responds better to trails than road — for instance, easier on the joints.”
Ready to hit the trails? These three tips will get you started.
The great thing about trail running is that most of the clothing you will need is already in your closet. The sweat-wicking shirts, shorts or tights and socks that you wear for running on the roads are what you would also wear on trails. Faraone suggests packing an extra layer of clothes, since the temperature on trails can be a bit cooler.
The type of shoe to wear depends on what type of trail you will be on, and how long you plan to run for. Generally speaking, a trail shoe will have a more narrow heel, a stronger toe box and lugs, a more rugged tread than a road shoe. Trail shoes also offer more protection on the sole of the foot (look for a shoe feature called a rock plate), provide better lateral support and the outer material will be more durable so the shoes stand up to mud, rain, roots and roots.
Find the perfect trail
Once you have the right clothing and footwear, it is time to find a trail! In the running world, a “trail” is considered any unpaved surface, opening a world of opportunity for you to find somewhere to run! If you are new to trail running, look for less technical trails (that is, routes with few hills, rocks and roots). Hard-packed gravel bike paths – like much of the Trans Canada and Great Waterfront Trails – are ideal places to start. Provincial parks and conservation areas offer beginner-friendly trails that are beautiful and well-maintained.
If you’re worried about getting lost (it happens to the best of us), opt for trails that are well-marked, run with a buddy and take a map. Tuck cash, ID and your phone into your pocket before you hit the trails just in case, and be sure to tell someone when you expect to be home.
“Even the most gentle terrain may offer a slight uphill, providing more resistance. A trail with rolling hills may leave you feeling more tired afterwards,” says Faraone, who advises beginners to start conservatively. After your first trail run, asses how you feel, then decide whether or not to tack on more distance on your next run. Since you use your muscles slightly differently on the trails than you do on paved roads, you may find that your core abdominal muscles and the stabilizer muscles in your hips will be sore. “Let your muscles adjust, adapt and strengthen,” says Faraone.
Because soft trails are more forgiving than hard paved surfaces, Farone says she finds recovering from trail runs easier than road runs (something aging runners will appreciate). That isn’t to say injuries don’t happen: ankle sprains are among the most common trail running injuries, especially on more technical trails. If in doubt about the terrain you are on, simply slow down, walk and enjoy the scenery.
Trail running is a great way to change up your workout while spending time in the great outdoors. And since most of the gear you already have can be used for trail running, getting started in the sport is easy and affordable! See you on the trails!