Trail running is a great way to mix up your training routine and get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. From dealing with unpredictable terrain to using the right gear, these seven tips will keep you safe out on the trail.
Every trail is different. Tough terrain, high-altitude or hills can significantly slow your pace and be much more difficult than running the same distance around your neighborhood. For this reason, it’s best not to judge your workout on distance as you might on the road.
Instead, run for a specific amount of time. If you know you can run comfortably for 45 minutes, do a 22-minute out and back run on an unfamiliar trail and don’t worry about how far you go. This keeps you from getting in a situation where you’ve run too far out and have a hard time getting back to your car or home.
When you run on the road where there aren’t a ton of obstacles, you should be able to keep your eyes up the road to scan for approaching danger instead of looking down at your feet. While you’ll still want to be aware of what’s ahead, trail running requires you to keep a closer eye on where you’re placing your feet to keep from stepping in the wrong place and twisting an ankle.
Get used to shortening your gaze and concentrate on foot placement and taking the safest route possible — particularly when running downhill on rocky terrain. This requires greater concentration and forces you to shorten your stride, which will ultimately slow you down. Remember, staying injury-free is always more important than how fast you go.
Just as road cycling requires different gear than mountain biking, you’ll need trail-specific gear to stay safe, avoid injury and enjoy your experience. Here are a few items you should purchase instead of using your road running gear:
- Trail-specific running shoes: These will have better traction and a more rugged upper than traditional running shoes to protect your feet from rocks and other obstacles.
- Hydration pack: Since access to water will be difficult on most trails, a hydration pack is a good idea to ensure you don’t run out of water.
- Headlamp: If you’re going to run in the early morning or evening hours, a headlamp is needed to see the trail and potential danger ahead.
- Rain jacket: If you’re running at high altitude, the weather can change quickly. A lightweight jacket that’s easy to pack in a hydration pack can save you from misery during a surprise rain shower.
- Hi-visibility clothing: While it’s a good idea for the road, too, hi-vis clothing for the trail helps others spot you. This is particularly important if you’re in an area popular for seasonal hunters.
In addition to wearing the right gear, there are a few other items that can help you to stay safe if something goes wrong. Consider packing these items in a hydration or other running pack if you commonly run long distances on unfamiliar, isolated trails:
- A GPS watch: This can be a helpful tool so you don’t get lost. Some new GPS watches have live tracking, as does MapMyRun MVP, which lets your loved ones track your exact whereabouts while you’re away from home.
- Cell phone: Having a way to call for help is essential should you suffer an injury or get lost.
- A trail map and compass: If for some reason your electronics aren’t working, these basic items can help you get back on track should you veer off your intended trail.
- Pepper spray: Wildlife generally won’t attack unless an animal feels threatened. Making noise is often a sufficient deterrent for most animals, but carrying protection can help with more aggressive encounters.
- Whistle: Whether you’re trying to alert others of your whereabouts or fend off critters, a whistle can be a useful tool out on the trail.
- Space blanket: While you’ll hopefully never need it, a space blanket can be a lifesaver. Consider carrying one for long treks when getting stranded alone overnight in cold temperatures could endanger your life.
Experienced hikers are known for leaving a detailed trip plan with a loved one before they head out, and trail runners are wise to do the same. This can keep you from being stranded should you become lost or injured without a way to call for help.
Some of the information you should provide includes the trail you intend to use, the time you plan to return and who should be contacted if don’t make it back. Just remember to let your loved one know if you extend your time on the trail to explore or grab a bite to eat afterward, so they don’t hit the panic button.
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Sure, you might be able to get away with a single water bottle you can carry in your hand. But what happens when the weather changes and the high-altitude temps burn hotter than normal? Or when you mistakenly get off your trail and your short run turns into a long one?
Since there won’t be any stores or park fountains for you to stop at once you run out, it’s always a good idea to carry a little more water and food than you think you need. Don’t refill from a stream unless you’re also carrying purification tablets. Stream water is commonly contaminated and has the potential to make you sick. A fuel belt or hydration pack with more than enough liquids and goodies is your safest bet.
Two people are always better than one. While it’s true that some enjoy solo running best , it’s safer if you have a partner. You can help each other should something go wrong and it’ll make it easier to spot potential danger while you’re out in the wild.
If you don’t have a dedicated running partner, try signing up for a local running club. Along with finding a few friends to run trails with, some of the members will likely be able to introduce you to new trails in the area and provide you with running advice when needed.