Trail Running for Beginners – Tips to Transition to Off-Road Running

Incorporate these tips into your trail running training to cope with the changing terrain
March 4, 2014

Off-road running can be the best therapy for the busy city dweller looking to gain fitness, get outside and enjoy nature while scratching that exploration itch that we all get while working our everyday jobs. Most of us will instinctively run along the same streets every time and barely ever wander off the beaten path of a local trail, but hopefully that’s all about to change in this guide to trail running for beginners.

As you run through the trails you’re constantly adjusting to the changing terrain and each step is critical to your success

Trail runs offer so much more than standard street running. Trail running keeps the mind scanning, searching, and exploring the surroundings. As you run through the trails you’re constantly adjusting to the changing terrain and each step is critical to your success, especially if you want to take up off-road running.

Thanks to the added variety of the track, off-road running is incredibly fun and often you'll have covered a huge distance before you even realize it. It certainly beats running the same old streets every day! But before you get out there, here's a few trail running tips for beginners to help you make the transition from road to trail healthy, fun and injury free.

1. Get trail running shoes that fit and make sure they’re suitable for the trail you’re running on

If you’re running on muddy trails, then you’ll need shoes with big lugs on the sole, to stop you from slipping. Equally, if you’re running on dry trails, then you’ll want a lower profile shoe, that grips on rock and dirt tracks. Almost as important as the type of trail running shoe is making sure you get it in the right size. Trail running inevitably involves climbing and descending - so if you want to avoid blisters, make sure your toes aren't banging into the front of your shoes.

2. Repeat after me: “Roots and Rocks are REAL and they can make me roll!”

Yup, you’ll have to keep your eyes scanning and your senses on full alert when you incorporate trail running into your training. Always pay attention, because the second you let your mind wander and zone out – BOOM - you’ll be rolling on the ground. Roots have a special way of reaching up and grabbing you while you're not paying attention, so stay on full alert.

3. Shorten your stride and speed up your cadence for off-road running!

A wise runner once said “Dustin, I didn’t learn to truly run until I ran the trail” and he was right. Trail running will naturally force you to shorten your stride and speed up your cadence. There's a natural process to trail running, and it will eventually overtake your resistance. Don’t fight it: shorter strides increase stability and balance and also give you a better gearing system for climbing and descending.

4. Stop tracking miles and listen to your body. Enjoy nature and regain your love of running!

Off-road running is just... different. Road and trail are pretty far removed from each other. I love both in different ways, but for me the trail wins every time. Leave your headphones at home, take off the watch, ditch the phone, and let your inner 'Jedi' use the trail running force. Find a pleasant pace that ensures you enjoy your time outdoors and then keep going for as long as you like.

Trail running will change you for the better, and when you get home from a run you’ll feel the benefit of the trail's nature therapy. Just ensure that you always leave the trail as if you never went there. Haul your trash out, keep trail damage to a minimum, respect the trail rules, and ensure we can all keep enjoying them forever.

Cheers, Alpha Dustin

Photo: Blazej Lyjak/

  • SeanRodg

    Hey Dustin. Just starting into this Trail thing after running roads for the past 8 years. I’m gearing down and switching from Marathons to Ultra’s this year and loving the training so far. You mentioned in your post that you should “make sure that your toes are banging into the front of your shoes.” That sounds painful and maybe bad on toenails. My first pair of trail runners are the Merrell Ascends – my first run in them will be tomorrow. Thanks for all of the tips and keep it coming. Run Strong & Run Long.

    • RunDustin

      Thanks for bringing that to our attention Sean!!! I just sent that edit to the team and we will get that fixed (yes banging on the toes is an ouchy!)

      Also, congrats on your great success friend! Keep rocking it and keep letting us know how you are doing.

      Thanks, Dustin

  • Guest

    To be honest you really


Dustin Hinton

Trail running, triathlon, marathons
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Barefoot Trail Run Ascend Glove, Bare Access 3
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