How to start trail running without getting hurt

Woman cross country running on trail

Just because you’re at the cottage doesn’t mean you have to give up your running routine — in fact, jogging through the woods or along the beach just helps you maintain that all-important back-to-nature cottage vibe as you break a sweat.   

Trail running tends to be easier on your joints, as the cushion of a dirt, gravel or woodchip path reduces some of the pounding you get running in the city. As well,overuse injuries are less common because you’ll recruit a variety of different muscles to help you avoid rocks and roots as you run. 

If you’re accustomed to running on a treadmill or the sidewalk, though, there are a few things you’ll have to get used to when you tackle a trail. Follow our tips to make the most of your trail run—without tripping. 

Start slow and flat

Because of the variability of the terrain, you’ll likely be running 10-20 percent slower on the trail than you would on pavement. To help maintain your balance and react quickly to unexpected obstacles, take short strides, keeping your balance over your feet, and pick your feet up slightly higher than you might be used to. Save the hilly mountain paths for a couple of runs in, once you’re used to travelling over an uneven path.

Look well ahead 

Keep your eyes on the path five to 10 feet in front of you to give yourself time to get around (or over) obstacles. Try not to look right down at your feet — not only will you miss the beauty of your surroundings, you also won’t be prepared for what lies on the path ahead. Don’t look around too much while you’re running, though — turning your head to the side and losing focus on where your feet are going is a recipe for a rolled ankle.

Keep your ears open

You may be used to rocking out while you run, but splitting your focus between your tunes and your trail isn’t a good idea. For one thing, if you’re going to run into wildlife, chances are you’ll hear it before you see it. Keeping alert to your surroundings will help you stay safe. And really — you’re at the cottage. Take the opportunity to unplug for a little while, and bask in the birdsong.

Be safe

Run with a buddy if you can, or tell someone where you’re going, the path you plan to take, and approximately when you expect to be finished. Take a map and stick to marked trails if you can. Pack a whistle and, if you’re in certain areas, review what to do if you happen to meet a bear. Finally, if there’s a signal, bring your cellphone, especially if you’re running alone. 

Bring the right gear

Your regular running shoes will be fine if you’re on gravel or hard-packed dirt, but trail running shoes will give you better traction and stability if you’re dealing with seriously uneven ground. Wear whatever you usually wear to run in, but keep in mind that it could get snagged on bushes or branches.

Ready to go? If you’ve got a few runs in the city before you head off to the woods, find a trail to run on — it’s almost impossible to find a city that doesn’t at least have a rail trail or ravine that you can use to practice. If you do have to run on the sidewalk, jump off the curb a few times, just to get used to switching up your stride. 

Enjoy trekking the trails!