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So what’s the deal with trail running?

So what's the deal with trail running?

I’ve recently picked up running again. The stress is on “again” because I dig out my running shoes about once every year,  start running for a few weeks, feel my endurance getting better. Then my knee starts hurting, I stop, and the shoes go back in the closet. Rinse and repeat.

To be honest, living in a city, running along roads full of traffic, breathing car fumes… it’s a bit of a turn-off. Recently I came across trail running. Like running, on hiking trails? I got curious. I love hiking and being out in nature, so maybe this was the trick that would keep me running for longer than 2 weeks? That would actually maybe even make me enjoy running?

Images of trail runners look like the sport is only for the ultra-hard though. For those guys that are bored running marathons, so they run up a mountain instead. While I’m a frequent running newb, I’m still a newb, as in running 5k is kind of a big deal. Decidedly, non-ultra.

Is trail running something I can even attempt? And how do I go about it? I embarked on a little research asking myself all the stupid questions I had and trying to find some answers.

1. What makes trail running trail running?

Wikipedia, where all good research projects begin of course, starts their definition with “Trail running is a sport/activity which consists of running and hiking over trails.” WHAT? You mean to tell me that trail running is where you run along trails? Thanks heaps dudes! Next!

I guess we don’t need to define the running part of trail running, so let’s look word “trail” in a bit more detail then.

Over at Runner’s World, Adam W Chase defines a trail as having 3 out of the 4 the following criteria “1) unpaved; 2) natural obstacles; 3) significant elevation gain/loss; and 4) scenic”

Now that is something to work with. That means that running along the little footpath in my neighbourhood doesn’t really count as trail running. Damn it! Even though it is surrounded by trees and some people might even call it scenic, it is so flat it almost proves the flat earth society right, and there are no real obstacles to speak of. Unless you count empty beer bottles, of course.

2. Do I need to run up a mountain like a crazy person?

Well, if we strictly follow the definition above a trail does not have to include a mountain, as long as it’s unpaved, full of obstacles and totally scenic. In practice though, most trail races do include the “significant elevation gain/loss” part, so unless I start a “flat trail running society”, I’m afraid I will have to get used to running up some hills.

BUT! While most trail runs include some ups and downs, there is yet another running category called mountain running, which is where the really tough shit is going down, or up I should say. Apparently, for a typical mountain running race, runners start at the bottom of the mountain and then run up the mountain! Like, the only direction they run is up! The entire mountain. And once they’re up there, they use the lift to come back down. Madness!

Maybe I can get the hang of running up and down some hills as part of a trail run, but I think I can safely exclude Mountain Running from my “can feasibly achieve this without dying” list.

woman on top of a mountain looking down

3. Do I need to be insanely fit before starting my trail running career?

I still feel like I should be able to run a steady 10K before I take it on a trail, especially since there will be hills involved. But do I really need to master the pavement before I can hit the trail?

This is a tricky one. All the articles about trail running for beginners focus on the difference between trail running and street running, and what you can expect when you switch from street to trail. So it sounds like you should have some street miles under your belt before you start trail running.

But I guess most people will start running where they live first, so unless you live in hiking territory, which I don’t, you’ll hit the streets first anyways. What all the articles do talk about though, is that you should take it easy on the trails, don’t overdo it, and forget about your speed. Now that’s something I can get on board with because fast I am not.

To be honest, I don’t think being able to run a 10K in the flats is going to help me at all when it comes to running up a hill. Maybe what I should find is an easy hiking route somewhere close by, and then try running for parts of it. And then do it again, and run some more parts of it.

Additionally, Coachmag also recommends working on your core and lower leg strength through lunges and planks. Ah, cursed plank.. we meet again!

Overall, trail running sounds feasible for newbs like myself as long as you take it easy.

4. Do I need to spend a ton of money on fancy equipment?

Having consulted multiple trail running for beginners guides, it sounds like I will be ok with my current running shoes if I stay on dry gravelly type of surfaces.

That doesn’t sound like much fun though. I want to jump over roots and into mud puddles and do all the things I just did when I was a kid without worrying about the right footwear.

But apparently that’s kind of dangerous and you kinda want to get the appropriate shoes to make sure you don’t break an ankle or something. Fine then! I get your point I guess.

There are traditional, minimalist and maximalist styles of running shoes and I already feel like finding the right ones is going to be a whole other research project. Oh but hey, some of them look like the trekking shoes that I bought a few years ago, so maybe I can just use those?

5. Why is trail running more awesome than other types of running?

So we’ve established that trail running will, in fact, involve running uphill and will also eventually involve dishing out on some proper shoes. So why even bother?

Of course, there are the physical health benefits you get from running, you know heart strength, better bone density, healthier weight and all that. There’s also the fact that running on trails will be healthier on your joints than running on asphalt. Then add on top of that the mental health benefits of being out in nature, like less stress, increased creativity and so forth.

And then, there are videos like this:

Oh hell yes! I want all of that. And I’m pretty convinced that trail running is the most awesome thing I can get myself into.

One thought on “So what’s the deal with trail running?

  1. I really love all those tips about running!

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