Trail Running Tips

Trail running requires concentration and dexterity. Here are my tips to help you safely navigate the trails this spring

Credit: Curb Ivanic

Curb Ivanic

Trail running is a great way to experience the outdoors

I’m stoked to be back into trail running and did my first race last weekend

The Dirty Duo is multi-event race with a 25 km trail run, 50 km ultramarathon, 30 km mountain bike ride and a run-ride relay all going on at the same time. This year race director Heather MacDonald also added a 15 km beginner route.

My last trail race was the 2009 Knee Knacker so I’ve been out of the loop for over a year. It was great to run into a bunch of my old trail running buddies who are still hitting the trails.

I competed in the team relay event running the 25 km route with my partner Steed Cycles biker Scott McGregor riding the 30 km route. Though it’s only 25 km, the race route included over 3,500 feet of uphill and 3.200 feet of downhill running. While my uphill fitness definitely has room for improvement, my downhill running on went great and I had a blast at the race.

Tips for Safe Trail Running

One of the most often asked questions I get from road runners transitioning to trail running is how to run on technical trails without spraining an ankle or falling. I’ve always loved running technical trails and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve fallen in 15 years of trail running.

Here are some tips to keep you on your feet and enjoy the scenery while running over rocks, roots, drops, logs, streams and fallen runners:

  • Look where you want to go. Just like skiing, plan the route you want to take and follow that line. If you want to avoid a big rock or deep pothole don’t look at it; you’ll end up running right into it. Stay focused on the path you want to run.
  • Keep your head up. Don’t look at your feet but look five to 10 feet down the trail. Your brain will process what it sees so you’ll know where to place your feet without overthinking it.
  • Relax and go with the flow. Road runners often try to avoid obstacles on the trail. But on very technical trails that will be impossible. Picture yourself flowing like water down the trail, smooth and effortless.
  • Stay light on your feet. While sometimes the terrain won’t allow this, try to land on your midfoot as much as you can so you can maneuver quickly. You may need to shorten your stride to do this. 
  • Walk the steep hills. Uphill climbs on trails can be steep and sometimes long. You’ll conserve energy by learning how to power hike these sections instead of trying to run them.
  • Wear trail running shoes. If you’re running Stanley Park trails or Pacific Spirit Park trails your regular running shoes will do. But if you venture out on more technical trails get yourself a pair of trail runners. Look for a durable upper and soles with a good tread.
  • Run with a buddy. In case something does go wrong it’s good to have someone there to help.

In addition to these tips, the running tips here equally apply to trail running.

Trail Running Resources

Trail running clinics – Mountain Madness

Trail maps and routes – Trail Peak

Trail running races – Run the North Shore & 5 Peaks. If you’re looking for a great beginner trail race check out My First Trail Race on April 3, 2011.

Trail Runner Magazine

Vancouver Island Trail Running Races – GutBuster

Trail running shoe retailers – Run Inn (Vancouver & Delta), North Shore Athletics (North Vancouver), Runner’s Den (Port Moody), Front Runners (Victoria & Nanaimo)

Training for trail running – Core Running