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Sometimes the rush of running down singletrack trails, swishing past low trees and dodging rocks, is more appealing than treading hot pavement. Trail running is a great way to get an awesome workout in, while also spending time out in the woods. But if you’ve always been a road junkie, trail running may seem a little intimidating.

Photo by: Flickr members Squaw Valley

It’s good to know what trail running actually is before attempting it: trail running is simply running on trails. Mind blown, right? Trail runners usually utilize hiking or biking singletrack trails that often traverse mountainous terrain. Just like with hiking trails, there are plenty of hills that cause some serious inclines and declines. The goal is not for an even heart rate, because really, that’s pretty much impossible.

So how do you break into such a sport? As long as you’re educated and careful, it’s a pretty easy switch.

Find a trail

The first step in this outdoor adventure of yours is to find a trail. There are plenty of hiking trails already listed on Tripleblaze that you can read about and decide whether you’d like to

Photo by: Ed Coyle

run them. But you can also go onto the American Trail Running Association’s webpage, which has a list of trail-runs nationally and internationally. Local running groups are also a great way to get acquainted with trail-runs in your area.

Also, Seriousrunning.com has a great database of trail listings that are specifically tailored towards trail runners.

Remember to judge the trail based on your ability and physical condition–know your limits. You’ll want to know the difference between technical and non-technical trails. Technical trails are those that include plenty of obstacles (rocks, roots, trees, streams) along the trail; non-technical trails are paved, gravel, or dirt roads that are much easier to navigate.

Change your pace

You will not be going the pace you normally go on paved roads, so don’t even try. Yes, it’s fun to go fast on narrow trails back in the woods, but all in moderation. Generally, when you run trails you need to slow your pace and shorten your stride. Keeping a shorter stride will help to center your gravity and keep you upright in uneven situations.

Sometimes you have to walk

Photo by: Pierre Thomas

A good trail runner understands when it’s time to walk. I’m not talking about walking because you just can’t go on any longer, I’m talking about walking up hills. Sometimes it’s smart to recognize that in order to keep up your endurance and maintain a pretty even pace, you might have to walk a hill or two. Serious inclines can come out of nowhere on some trails, and you don’t want to be expending all of your energy just to ascend one hill. If you’re a road runner, it might take a little while to retrain yourself, but it’s good to understand where you should burn energy and where you shouldn’t. On trail runs, becoming too exhausted could really be dangerous, so learn to avoid this.

Look out

Look around you. When trail-running you need to be looking for two things: wildlife and obstacles. With that in mind, you should be spending half of your time looking at the trail ahead of you for obstacles like rocks, roots, branches, and fallen trees. The other half of your time should be spent looking out for wildlife that is present in your area. Both of these things can be great hazards if you aren’t careful.

Be Smart

So, you’ll be out in the wilderness, possibly alone, and definitely away from crowds of people. Be smart. Bring your cellphone along, a road ID, pepper spray, a map, and some water. Think of it as going out on a short hike, and take what you would take in that situation. Also, if hunting is allowed in your area, make sure you wear bright colors during hunting season. If you bring a dog, make sure they’re wearing bright colors too.

Now that you have the trail running basics covered, find a good trail and go running! You might never go back to the pavement.

For more information on trail running, check out Seriousrunning.com.

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