Trail Running 101: The Complete Guide to Running Trails

Jason Trail Running

Ready to switch up your running routine and start trail running?

Are you excited about trail running but not quite sure where or how to begin?

Want to explore the world and discover all the beautiful places that surround you?

Excellent! Strength Running has been helping runners improve since 2010 and we’ve amassed a giant collection of resources to help you start trail running.

Why Start Trail Running?

There are so many reasons to get excited about trail running. Not only does it give you the opportunity to get outdoors and explore places ranging from neighborhood trails to remote places on the other side of the world, it can also benefit your training in a variety of ways. Here are just a few:

  • 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.

Or maybe you’re just worried about falling on your face. If so, no worries! Watch this video:

How to Get Started Running Trails

Doug Hay Trail Runner

Trail running isn’t a difficult skill to master. But there are some things you should know so we’ve put together a complete series of resources to help you run more trails.

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 and trail runner so don’t miss our interview below or all of Doug’s trail running tips.

Remember: trail running doesn’t have to be difficult. It can be enjoyable, stress-free, and a valuable part of your training program.

This interview with Olympian and Runner’s World columnist Jeff Galloway will also help you get started.

Exploring the World (or your Backyard)!

No matter where you live, you can find trails to explore. “Trails” can include a variety of unpaved surfaces, ranging from trails found in urban areas like these in Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC:

Rock Creek Park Trail Running

To these rolling hills found in the foothills of Colorado:

Trail Running in Colorado

To these epic trails on New Zealand’s South Island (that’s a glacier!):

Fox Glacier - Trail view in New Zealand

Here are some articles about all of these amazing places to run:

And if you just want to check out some more trail porn, you can do that with these photo posts:

Running in multiple countries, in different landscapes, and in very different climates will teach you a lot about yourself and what it means to be a runner.

Here are a few lessons that I have learned from running all over the world.

  1. There are good places to run almost anywhere. You just have to look hard (green areas on Google Maps help!) and get creative.
  2. You don’t need a track to get faster. Learn to run by feel and intuitively sense your pace.
  3. Ooohh a new trail!” often adds unexpected miles to your planned run. But that’s ok!
  4. You need less running gear than you think. Embrace minimalism.
  5. Find time to run – it’s always worth it to explore.

Need more inspiration? Watch this fun trail running video (it was filmed on North Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado):

Trail Racing 101

Max King

Trail runner Max King becoming a national champion

Trail running is fun – and trail racing takes this enjoyment to a whole new level!

Racing on trails is a great way to create more variety in your race schedule and give yourself the opportunity to explore. Trail races include a variety of distances, from 5ks to 100 milers (and beyond!)

And though you don’t want to overload on gear when racing on the trails, it’s important to be prepared for a variety of conditions. Here are a few pieces of basic equipment I recommend:

That’s really all you need! And if you’re truly strapped for cash, you don’t really need any extra equipment to start trail running. Just run like you normally do… on trails.

We also have inspiring case studies and interviews to help you on your trail running journey.

Remember, even if these trail runners are more advanced than you might be, they have a LOT of valuable trail strategies to share with you.

Whether you’re gearing up for a mud run or obstacle race, ultramarathon through the mountains, or your park’s local trail race, there’s something here to learn.

Trail Ultramarathons (the next step!)

Mountain Trail


Ready to take it to the next level? Most ultramarathons are run on trails and are an amazing way to challenge yourself while exploring some incredible places. Here are a few articles on ultras to get you started:

Trail ultras might seem daunting but the reality of these types of races is that you don’t even need to run the entire time. So even the term trail running is somewhat misleading.

That’s because you can power hike many of the large hills and steep grades that you’ll find in many trail ultramarathons. That certainly makes things easier!

We also have a Q&A interview with ultramarathoner Matt Frazier, who has completed a 100-mile trail ultramarathon (among many other trail races and ultras!).

Watch Matt’s trail running interview here or below:

These resources can help you run more trails, get started the right way, and learn to love exploring the world through trail running.

Trail Running and Beyond

Trail running can help you appreciate your ability to run, the world around you, and the beautiful trails that surround your local city. The time flies by and enjoying wooded trails is far more enjoyable than city sidewalks!

But it’s just one part of running – there’s a lot more to training than just trail running!

What about staying healthy? Or getting faster? Or figuring out the right type of trail running shoes?

We’ve got you covered. Even if you have a lot of goals, Strength Running can help you accomplish them. With hundreds of videos, posts, podcast episodes, and workouts for all types of runners, you’ll find what you need to start running trails.

If you’re not sure who’s writing this, my name is Jason Fitzgerald. I’m the founder of Strength Running and I’ve been running competitively since 1998 and coaching since 2010. I was named the 2017 Men’s Running Influencer of the Year and I’m also the host of the Strength Running Podcast.

I’ve helped beginner runners finish their first race, lose weight, and run enormous personal bests in distances from 1-mile to 100 miles.

You might have seen my coaching material in Runner’s World, Lifehacker, The Huffington Post, Competitor, or other media publications. More importantly, my results-oriented coaching style can help you accomplish your goals faster than you might think possible.

I’ve created a free email course for beginner and intermediate runners about how to stay healthy and get stronger. Running doesn’t need to be complicated and I can show you exactly how to get started.

In this email course, you’ll learn:

  • How strength training can prevent injuries (and what exercises are best)
  • When to run fast (and when to run easy) with simple workouts
  • Motivation on tap with inspiring case studies of successful runners
  • Subscriber-only goodies like workout PDF’s, ebooks, and worksheets

I treat my email readers and subscribers like VIP runners. I think you’re going to love the advice, actionable solutions, and trail running ideas that will all help you get faster and become a more skilled runner.

Get the Free Trail Running Course

Ready to sign up? I can’t wait to share all this running material with you that’s never been on the blog before.

Just sign up here and you’ll get your first lesson within the hour. It’s a pleasure to help you become a better runner and I can’t wait to go on this journey together.

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