A Beginner's Guide to Trail Running

A Beginner's Guide to Trail Running

Trail running has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years, as runners seek a change of scenery for their workouts. So, what's the appeal? 

For the urban runner, trail running offers a chance to get out of the city and enjoy some peace and quiet while filling your lungs with cleaner air. It's also a way to experience nature up close.

Studies suggest that trail running and hiking are excellent ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Plus, the softer terrain of trails is easier on your joints than running on pavement. Trail running also works out just about every part of your body, from your arms to your core to your toes, thanks to the unique technique that's required to maintain balance and exercise agility while navigating rugged terrain.

Trail running offers up an entirely new world to runners, one that presents new challenges and a new perspective on the sport. 

Get the Right Gear

Want to give trail running a shot? First, make sure that you've got the right pair of shoes. If you're new to trail running or run on roads in a stability shoe, look for a trail shoe that offers the same support. Available later this month, the New Balance Summit QOM and KOM—Queen of the Mountain and King of the Mountain, respectively—are workhorse trail shoes that deliver just the right mix of underfoot comfort, aggressive traction, and the security you need to take on any terrain.


If you're looking for a lightweight option, check out the New Balance Summit Unknown, available for men and women at newbalance.com. The shoe's all about precision and speed. 

Practice Your Technique

"Generally, the difference between road- and trail-running techniques is that roads require and reward grooved, consistent strides and foot-landings, whereas to excel on trails, a runner must use constantly changing strides and landings," says NYRR Group Training coach Stuart Calderwood.

Lateral movements, which are nearly nonexistent on road and tracks, are common in trail running and are required to navigate obstacles and turns that can appear out of nowhere. "A good trail runner develops the ability to modify her stride and direction quickly," says Calderwood. "Forefoot landings are preferable for quick moves like this, especially on steep grades, and practicing with multi-direction drills like cariocas and side lunges is even more valuable for trail runners." 

It'll take some time to build up to running on more advanced trails, so start on something local and tame. "In NYC, runners can get used to (and benefit from) soft-surface running by training on the Central Park bridle path, which is a good introduction to trails because of its mild inclines and relatively smooth surfaces," says Calderwood.


When hitting the trails, consider running by time instead of mileage, and give yourself more time than you think you'll need for your workout. Make sure you check the weather before you leave home, and be prepared by dressing in layers or rain gear if necessary. 

Trail Running Safety

"Safety becomes a much bigger factor for the wilderness-trail runner, who may risk a bad fall far from people or services," says Calderwood. "Carrying water, ID, a cell phone, and money or a card is wise, as is knowing your route in advance and letting someone else know where you’ll be and when you plan to return."

Here are a few more safety tips for the trails: 

  • Do your research. Know what type of terrain you will be facing, the wildlife in the area, and any local trail alerts.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings.
  • Know trail etiquette. Step to the side for people moving faster than you or people going uphill while you are going down, and leave no trace of your presence in the area around you. In short, do not litter!
  • Keep your eyes on the trail. It may be tempting to look out at the beauty that surrounds you, but this is a good way to end up flat on your face. If you want to take in the scenery, stop or walk for a moment.
  • Slow down or stop if you need a break. If you keep pushing while you are exhausted or in pain, you can easily fall and injure yourself.
  • Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a light, eye-shading hat.
  • Dress in bright colors to be easily seen by other people when on the trail.

Find Your Next Challenge

You've got the gear, you've got the skills...now what?

This fall, put your new-found love of trail running to the test at Ragnar Trail Wawayanda Lake, a two-day running/camping adventure just 50 miles outside of New York City.

Or explore the trails of the tri-state area on your own. "Rockefeller Park in Mount Pleasant, New York, provides vast expanses of road-width trails in a beautiful pastoral setting; world-class athletes like USA marathon record-holder Khalid Khannouchi have done their long runs there for decades," says Calderwood. 

If you'e excited to escape the city for a trail-running adventure but don't have a ride, check out Zipcar. NYRR members can join now for just $35—that's 50% off!—and enjoy $35 worth of free driving. Sign up, book one of 3,000 cars parked all over the city, and drive yourself and your running buds to your next weekend adventure. 

Let's get out there and hit the trails!

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