ELEMENTS OF HEALTH: 7 Steps for Beginner Trail Running

ELEMENTS OF HEALTH: 7 Steps for Beginner Trail Running


1. Finding your first trail

The best, and fastest way to start trail running is to find a local group of trail runners/hikers, and run with them. They’ll know the best trails in your surrounding area. Be sure to distinguish between nontechnical and technical trails. Non-technical trails are usually paved, loose gravel, or dirt roads that are easier to negotiate. Technical trails are narrow, dirt or rocky paths offering every variety of challenge that most people would identify as trail running.

2. Learn to take short, quick strides…SLOW down

You can expect to run about 20 percent slower on trails for a given level of exertion than you would on roads. You’ll find steeper hills, more side-to side movement, and lots of obstacles to deal with. Trail running is most fun when you forget about pace and do what feels good. You shorten your stride so that your weight is stays over your feet most of the time; this allows you to react quickly and maintain balance. (sure footedness) Trail running IS a core workout! Your stabilizer muscles work more than running on the road surface, so it may help to focus on keeping your core engaged (tight).

3. No shame in walking the hills

The surest way to identify a road runner on the trails is to look for the guy who runs past everybody on the uphills, only to be passed again on the downhills. Trail runners know that it’s usually more efficient to walk up the steep hills and conserve energy to make up time on the way down. Energy conservation is crucial to successful long term trail running.

4. Where the eyes go the body follows

Scan the ground five to ten feet in front of you as you run. When you’re running trails, you need to pay extra attention to where you step. But you certainly don’t want to be staring straight down at your feet the whole time. That is a sure fire way to take a header down the trail. Continuously scan the ground a few yards ahead of you while you’re running. As you notice an approaching obstacle, shift your attention to your feet to do whatever is necessary to clear the obstacle. And don’t be lazy—pick up your feet just a little higher than you think is necessary to avoid a root or rock. Complacency creates falls 95% of the time.

5. No tail (trail) gating

Maintain comfortable distance of about ten feet from other runners. If you’re going to pay attention the ground in front of you, it helps if you can actually see it. If that’s not enough reason to keep your distance, trail runners are required to change speeds all the time, rarely with warning. Nobody likes getting rear-ended.

6. Keep your radar out for slippery roots, rocks, stumps, mossy patches, leaves, and so on

If you can step over a fallen tree, root, or large rock, rather than on it, do it. Lots of them are more slippery than they look. And when crossing streams, it’s often safer to walk directly through the water than to try to tiptoe across wet rocks. (You’ll avoid being called names, too.) It’s trail running; you’re supposed to get muddy and wet!

7. Run safe to be safe. It’s not called “the wild” for nothing

Remember your common-sense degree. Whenever possible, run with a friend. Bring a map if you’re running a new trail for the first time, and have a compass. Your iPhone has the compass feature built in. If you don’t know how to use it, learn. Have a first aid kit in the car, and carry extra food with you for emergencies. Bring along a cell phone or pepper spray if you’re running alone. And know the area you’re running—how to deal with the wildlife, when and where hunting takes place, when the sun goes down, and anything else that might pose a danger.


Combining faith, fitness, and athletic performance to deliver 40 years as a recognized expert in the field of fitness and athletic performance, Carter has spent his career as a personal trainer and strength coach. He has helped his clients create optimal health and peak performance including nine contestants from NBC’s Biggest Loser TV Show as they prepared for their live season finale. “My training system has been utilized by professional athletes, celebrities, and award winning recording artists to maximize their physical potential.”

Carter is currently a partner and head trainer/strength coach for Music City Fitness in Brentwood TN, as well as a John Maxwell Certified Coach, Speaker, and Trainer.

Elements of Health is sponsored by Elements Massage of Franklin, Tennessee. It is located at 539 Cool Springs Boulevard, Suite 140 Franklin, Tennessee 37067. You can contact the studio at (615) 771-0003 or visit their website here.

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