Hit the Dirt! 8 Tips To Start Trail Running

A woman sits on top of a mountain with two dogs.

One thing that COVID has not been able to cancel is access to the great outdoors, and that has many athletes taking to the trails for the first time. Beyond COVID, however, trail running and ultrarunning has been steadily growing in popularity.

We’ll help you transition smoothly to being dirt runner with these 8 tips.

  1. Gauge effort using rate of perceived exertion or heart rate.

Given the variability of terrain on trails, pace becomes a much less helpful metric to determine intensity and performance. We recommend using RPE (rating of perceived exertion or heart rate as the key gauge of your effort.

For very hilly trails, you may find yourself power hiking some of the steepest grades – that’s okay! Power hiking is an important trail skill, and pace wouldn’t make much sense – but your RPE and your HR will!

2. Keep your eyes OPEN and lift your feet.

Many trails have rocks and stumps that can trip you up – especially if covered by leaves. Look ahead several feet – not straight down at your feet so you can pick a line to avoid getting stuck in a bad spot.

3. Embrace being self-sufficient.

Bring plenty of water and calories to support the duration of your run. If you don’t have a hydration system – get one. Remember: a long run on the trails will take longer than the typical road run – be prepared.

Depending on where and how long you will be running, you should also consider bringing a headlamp, additional clothes, and some basic first aid. The extra weight is worth it if you get jammed up!


4. Be courteous to others on the trail.

If you need to step off the trail to allow others to pass, don’t keep walking off trail, as this can harm the ecosystem. Rather, step off, and wait or the pass.

Generally, you should yield to horses and uphill runners (when you are going downhill), and depending on the trail, you may need to yield to mountain bikers.

Read signs to know the etiquette for any given trail. When in doubt: just let the other person pass and add karma points to your life.

5. Practice the leave no trace principles.

Pack out whatever you take in to the trails. If you see trash, pick it up. If we are all stewards of the trails, we’ll have the privilege to use them forever!

Travel only on durable surfaces, and avoid areas where you may cause further erosion.

Respect wildlife by leaving them be. Do not feed wildlife, or otherwise encourage them to engage with you.

6. Protect against tick-borne illnesses.

If you are heading into a heavily wooded area where lyme ticks are prevalent, be sure to wear tall socks, and spray your clothing with strong tick repellent.

7. Keep your safety in mind!

Bring a pocketknife, trail map, some basic first aid, and a cell phone. However, be forewarned: some of the best trails have no reception. So, it’s a good idea to leave your plan with someone, and give them an estimate of when you expect to return.

8. Enjoy trail running for the unique experience it is.

Embrace nature. Listen to the sounds. Enjoy the feel of the dirt under your feet.

Trail running poses different challenges than the road – so be patient and embrace the process of learning a new sport.

If you are thinking about taking your trail running to the ultra-distance, click here for some pointers for making the transition to ultrarunning.

Hit the Dirt! 8 Tips To Start Trail Running
Scroll to top

Accessibility Toolbar