Trail Running Tips for Adventure Addicts: Risks, Benefits, and How to Get Started

Trail running captured my heart in 2000 – and I’m still obsessed with getting off the road.

Jason Trail Running

My cross country team began running half our mileage in the woods around town during my Junior year of high school. Maybe it helped our team go undefeated in the regular season and win the conference meet.

I sure think it helped!

But more importantly, trail running was fun – the miles passed by without needing to count down the minutes until the run was over.

We explored quiet trails, escaped from the distractions of traffic, and even found a hidden area where we later hosted bonfire parties (don’t tell the local police).

15 years ago, I just thought trail running was a good time. It was a fun way to get an extra dose of the outdoors (I find nature therapeutic) and adventure in an otherwise suburban childhood.

Today, as a coach, I recognize the important benefits of running trails:

  • The softer surface can aid recovery after a hard workout
  • Frequent turns, elevation changes, and obstacles create a more balanced, athletic runner
  • Less repetitive stress from the varied terrain can help prevent injuries (in other words, trails are less repetitive so you suffer fewer repetitive stress injuries)
  • Trail running can develop your intuitive sense of pace, helping you run by feel more accurately

Despite all these benefits of running off-road more often, why do so many runners avoid the trails? What holds us back from trail running?

The surprising answer is that most runners are afraid of trail running. They’re unsure of what it takes, worried about injury, or scared they might get lost.

And on top of that, many aren’t even sure where to start. But trail running is incredibly accessible – almost anyone can get started today and reap the rewards of getting off the roads.

Strength Running exists to help make running more fun. We do that mainly by helping you run fasterprevent injuries, and improve your nutrition.

But there’s more to running than performance and staying healthy. Running reduces stress, increases feel-good hormones and boosts mood, and improves general health.

And there’s no better way to make running even healthier than trail running.

More Nature, Less Civilization

Getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life – traffic, roads, masses of people, sidewalks, noise pollution, air pollution… – isn’t just good for your running. It can be great for your overall health and mental well-being.

There’s an entire movement of people who encourage more time spent in nature. There’s even a nationally bestselling book named Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.

My wife, an early childhood specialist, has written extensively about how playing outdoors can help improve children’s behavior problems, cognition, reduce ADHD symptoms, and even improve handwriting skills.

But what about adults? Is spending more time in the woods helpful for us grown-ups?

You bet there are. In fact, a Women’s Health article reports on several studies that claim:

  • The farther you live from green space, the likelier you are to be in poorer health
  • Rising rates in allergies and autoimmune disorders are caused partly by less exposure to the healthy bacteria found in nature
  • Reduced exposure to nature is linked to higher rates of obesity, cancer, depression, anxiety, and heart disease

After just ten minutes of research, you’ll discover countless studies that time after time, show nature is therapeutic. It relieves stress. It reduces the risk of numerous diseases. It improves cognition and even hospital recovery!

This all makes me want to move out of Denver and into a tiny cabin in the woods, spending my days running mountain trails and whittling my silverware from Aspen trees.

My wife isn’t that gung-ho about leaving the comforts of modern life, so I’ll stick to my regular doses of trail running.

And I’m sure you’re in a similar situation. So how can we get started? What’s stopping us? Why is trail running so important that I want YOU to start TODAY?

How to Get Started with Trail Running

Doug Hay Trail Runner

Doug ripping up some trails in the mountains of North Carolina

Trail running isn’t a difficult skill to master. But there are some things you should know so I asked my friend Doug Hay to do a special video interview about his favorite trail running tips, advice, and strategies to help you get started.

Doug is an accomplished ultramarathon runner who runs almost exclusively on trails in the Appalachian Mountains outside Asheville, North Carolina.

He’s also the creator of the Trail Runner’s System, a program to help beginners get started with trails and more advanced trail runners get ready for their first trail race.

Fun fact: Doug and I once called Matt Frazier late at night from a bar after a few adult beverages. Matt was not thrilled.

In this video, we discuss it all:

  • Why it’s silly to think of yourself as either a “trail runner” or “road runner”
  • Is trail running a gateway drug?
  • Form changes, pace considerations, and more when trail running
  • Doug’s best advice for new trail runners

The lessons here can reinvent how you run. I hope you enjoy this interview.

Show Notes:

  • 1:50 – Why you don’t need to be a trail or road runner
  • 2:05 – Why “trails” can be almost anything
  • 4:45 – Do trails make running easier?
  • 6:45 – If you sometimes get bored with running, try this
  • 9:55 – What do runners struggle with on the trails?
  • 12:20 – JUST TRY IT
  • 12:30 – Why road running can be risky
  • 16:00 – Is trail running a gateway drug?
  • 16:15 – Form changes necessary when you’re out on the trails
  • 18:55 – Jason describes his latest fall…
  • 23:00 – Pace vs. Effort
  • 24:10 – The injury prevention benefits of trail running
  • 26:10 – The type of strength you develop running off-road
  • 28:40 – Our challenge to you!
  • 29:15 – Doug’s best advice for new trail runners
  • 31:00 – What running gear is necessary?
  • 32:50 – All the details about the new Trail Runner’s System
  • 34:30 – The trail running community
  • 36:05 – “Scaling” the principles of elite athletes
  • 38:40 – Jason shows off his favorite shirt; Doug gets jealous

If you’re someone who seeks out adventure and is looking for a new challenge, the Trail Runner’s System might be for you.

Doug has also graciously offered four bonus interviews for anyone who purchases the program:

  1. Mike Wardian: a professional ultrarunner and coach on speedwork for ultramarathoners, how to make time for heavy training, and the lessons he learned from his first ultra
  2. Alyssa Godesky: a professional triathlete and coach, she discusses the mental preparations for race day, how to calm your nerves, and what to do if something goes wrong
  3. Matt Frazier: ultrarunner and author discusses how 50 miles went from unthinkable to “not that difficult” and how to set yourself up for ultra success
  4. Francesca Conte: ultramarathon race director explains how to teach your body to burn fat and the differences between road marathons and trail marathons

You’ll get instant access to all these interviews (plus 11 more included in the course) when you join the Trail Runner’s System

A big thanks to Doug for sharing his expertise and reminding me why trail running is so much damn fun.

Question of the day: What is the most epic trail run you’ve ever done? Tell us in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. I would love to run trails more often. My problem is there is only one unpaved trail I can find near my home. Any suggestions for finding more trials? Apparently in the Chicago suburbs a trial is considered a paved path through the woods.

    • Jon Niehof says:

      I googled “chicago trail running” and found the suggestion I was thinking of: Cook County forest preserve system (irunfar specifically suggests Palos region). If you need L access, the Des Plaines River trail is also at least a soft surface, even if it’s improved, and you should be able to get to it from Cumberland. Getting there from the station is left as an exercise to the reader.

  2. Seventeen of my 52 races in the last 5 years or so have been trail races (doesn’t include beaches, btw). I’m 58 years old & not a speedster (tho’ I occasionally pull down an age-group place or show in non-competitive races). All but one of those trail races I ran in Vibram 5 Finger Treks. Here in Atlanta, there are tons of State Parks and local trails due to all the creeks and undevelopable mountain and bottom land—tons of opportunity to run trails.

    The most epic has to be a series, sponsored by Dirty Spokes (similar to Xterra). It was a series of maybe 7 trail races over the course of a season, shortest was 3.1 miles, longest was 8 miles. Tons of hills, roots, rocks, fords, and weather of all kinds. Runners accumulated points for each race & at the end of the series awards were given for most total points. It was a blast. Each month was a new state park trail system to experience. I didn’t win any single race in my age group, but I got a couple of 2ds and 3ds. I think I got 3d in my geezer group simply because I showed up for each run. That was epic!

  3. So we’ll see some reports on the Leadville area soon, huh? Sounds good. See you out there.

  4. Michael says:
  5. I must say I’ve never thought about the benefits of trail running as being things like improved balance and reduced recovery times, I was thinking more along the lines of new scenery and, umm… ok, so I hadn’t thought nearly enough about it obviously. So thank you for the incite and mind opening post.
    Also cleared up a few questions I didn’t even know I had! Thanks guys!

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