11 Tips for Beginner Trail Runners

I remember the days when I used to hike and see trail runners. I remember thinking, “What are they crazy? They’re going to fall down and hurt themselves.” Then a few years ago I decided I wanted to try trail running… and I did… and the rest is history!

As a running coach, one of my goals is to get everyone into trail running! Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with road running, but you really won’t know how cool trail running is until you try it! It’s a whole different experience.

Lisa all smiles in race mode!

To ease my runners into trail running, I like to share these tips with them:

  1. For your first trail, pick an easy off-road trail that doesn’t have a lot of hills. If you have a friend that trail runs already, reach out to them and see if they will show you the ropes.
  2. Look for all the OPEN spaces to put your feet. Most people focus on where NOT to put their feet. Your eyes will find what you are looking for, so if you look for the obstacles, that’s what you’ll find. This is the same concept of buying a new car and all of the sudden you notice everyone has the same car. You are now more aware of this car so that’s all you see. Keep looking for OPEN spots and that’s what your eyes will get used to looking for.
  3. You will fall at some point so don’t keep thinking about it. As mentioned in #2, the more you think about it, the more likely it is to happen. Acknowledge the possibility and move on. You’ll deal with it when it happens, no sense in adding this stress to the situation. Make sure your core is engaged by lifting from the crown of your head as this will help with stability.
  4. Keep your eyes focused ahead of you so you can see the terrain as it comes at you. Ideally your head will be in a neutral position (lift through the crown of your head with a slight drop of your chin). Get used to using your eyes and not moving your head around. Stay focused on the trail coming at you.
  5. Start out slow with short strides. Don’t try to make big jumps in between open spots.
  6. It’s totally OK to hike! Trails are more challenging and will tend to get your heart rate up quicker. Whenever you need to take a break, just slow down and hike. You choose when you are ready to get back to running again.
  7. Trail runners tend to stay on their toes a lot which can cause calf, ankle, Achilles Tendon issues, etc. Once in awhile it’s necessary as the open spot may not be big enough, but as a ChiRunner, I tend to keep a midfoot landing right under my center of mass. Your ankles may be sorer than normal when trail running because you have to balance yourself on uneven terrain. Just be aware of this. If you have weak ankles, google some ankle strengthening exercises on the internet or You Tube.
  8. Make sure you are bending your knees and letting your ankles float behind you. One of the most common reasons people fall is because their heel doesn’t lift high enough behind them and they trip on a protruding rock.
  9. Know trail etiquette. Here is a blog post from a fellow Trail Sister on this topic.
  10. Don’t compare your trail pace to your road pace. Trail running is more challenging and you will notice that your pace will be slower. Be patient as you will get better the more you practice trail running. Be patient and have fun with the process!
  11. Enjoy nature and the experience! Stop and take photos and take in all that scenery. This is one of the main reasons I love trail running.

I never thought I would be a trail runner! As of this writing, I have completed many 50Ks, a 50 miler and 100K….and love it! I am a proud back of the packer but there is nothing more freeing and liberating than being out on a trail!

Lisa on her way to the finish of a trail Xterra.

I hope these tips help you! If you have any other good tips for beginner trail runners, please comment below so we can all learn from each other!

“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” John Muir


Editors Note: ChiRunning is the world’s leader in teaching safe and efficient, natural running technique to reduce injury and improve personal performance. It’s is based in a centuries-old principle from T’ai Chi: shift your workload to the core muscles.  You also allow gravity to assist your propulsion. By taking the workload off your legs, you are now eliminating injuries AND running more efficiently. This will in turn increase your joy and love for running and allow you to continue running regardless of your age. – ChiRunning.com


Lisa Pozzoni

Lisa Pozzoni

Lisa Pozzoni went from thinking trail running was crazy to becoming a running coach with a 100K as her longest distance. She went from owning a personal training business to her current company, The Running University. Everything changed in her running when she learned about ChiRunning . She’s been teaching it since 2010 and is also a Master Instructor (teaches people to become instructors.). Running has changed her life in so many ways and now she wants to share her passion with others so she can help change their lives as well. She’s on a mission to turn more women on to trail running and loves building her community of beginner to recreational runners. More info: http://www.therunninguniversity.com/about-me/ Check out Lisa’s free ebooks: 15 Simple Steps for The Beginner Beginner™ Runner, Easy & Practical How To’s for the ‘Newbie’, ‘Could be’, ‘Sort of’ or ‘Reluctant’ Runner

Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!


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