Beginner’s Guide To Trail Running

So you’ve been running for a while and you’ve got bored of running on the road. Or maybe you’re new to running, and right from the beginning you want to run on the trails.

Either way, when you want to try trail running for the first time it can be daunting. Some of the common concerns we hear at ESCAPE trails are: “I’m worried I’ll get lost”, “what if I have an accident?”, and definitely the most common, “do I need special shoes?”. Don’t let these concerns put you off. Trail running has a heap of benefits, and even the most experienced runner can gain something from heading off-road.

Below we’ve listed a few of the benefits of trail running, and things to remember if you are trying it for the first time:

Nature – One of the biggest benefits is that you’ll be running in nature. Who doesn’t prefer running between trees, rather than on concrete, between traffic and buildings? There’s also a chance you’ll spot some wildlife. We regularly spot deer, birds of prey, and other exciting things whilst out running. Spending time outdoors in nature is proven not just to have physical benefits, but also to help improve mental health.

Running on trails will improve your road running – Undoubtedly, trail running is harder than road running. Due to the unevenness of trails, you will be using different muscles to running on roads, and putting the same amount of effort in to run at a slower pace. This will help strengthen those leg muscles and increase your fitness. When you head back to the roads you will find it feels a little easier. Unfortunately, trail running isn’t a magic cure though, and it doesn’t mean you will be running like Sir Mo next time you hit the track.

Pace – Right, let’s put this one out there. As mentioned above, trail running is harder than road running. A common thing we see is experienced road runners hitting the trails for the first time, expecting to run at the same pace they do on the roads. If you’re starting out on the trails, sllllllloooooowwww down! At least until your ankles and muscles are used to it. If you head out too fast to start with, you will increase your chance of injury. You will probably find that after your first couple of runs your ankles will ache a bit more than usual. The more trail running you do, the more your body gets used to it, and you’ll find you can then run faster. Or not, if you don’t want to. One of the great things about trail running is that you can throw pace out the window, and just enjoy being out in nature.

Shoes – This is by far the thing we get asked about the most. For the first couple of runs you do off-road, you will probably be fine in road shoes. After all, you may go out and spend over £100 on trail shoes then hate trail running! But if you’ve decided that you love trail running (why wouldn’t you), we recommend getting a pair of trail shoes. These come in a huge selection of different types, from hybrid shoes designed for a mixture of trail and roads, out and out trail shoes, and some that will grip to the trails like the proverbial stuff to a blanket. Generally in Norfolk, you won’t need anything with too aggressive grip, but trail shoes will better protect you from stones, etc, and give you better stability. The brand that suits you best will come down completely to personal choice; we would highly recommend Inov-8. But if you already own a pair of road shoes, maybe try their version of a trail shoe, as you already know you get on with that brand. Locally, Sportlink have a good selection of trail shoes, and will help you find a pair that suits you.

Embrace the mud – Those brand new trail shoes you’ve bought, in that bright colour……they won’t be bright for long. There’s a reason they don’t make white trail shoes. If you run off-road, especially during winter, you are going to encounter some mud. Embrace it, let your inner child out, run through it like a toddler would. It won’t have any physical benefit, but it will be fun!

Safety – We have lots of experience with trail running. Our favourite routes to run down are technical trails on mountains, but even we fall over sometimes. It happens. Hopefully, you’ll dust yourself off and laugh about it, but if it’s more serious you’ll need help. We’d always recommend that you tell someone where you’re going, and ideally carry a mobile phone with the what3words app on.

Getting lost – By far the best thing about trail running for us is exploring new places. When you are starting out, we’d recommend following a marked trail. We have loads here in Norfolk, which you can find on the Norfolk Trails website. Once you’ve got more experience you can try exploring (whilst sticking to local bylaws and not trespassing). There are several great websites, and apps, that can help to plot a route. The majority of our routes are plotted by our Run Leader, Hannah, using the OS website. It’s worth pointing out that technology fails, phone batteries die, mobile signal disappears. Make sure you can find your way back to the car if this happens.

Have fun – Ultimately, trail running for us is about having fun. We live in a world were we lose our inner child, but there’s nothing more fun than running free through the trees like a child. Trail running doesn’t have to be about pace or times, it’s about getting back into nature. It’s one of the most natural sports in the world, and it really doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you are having fun.

Hopefully this has covered some of the questions you have about trail running, but, if not, we are always happy to help. You can reach us by using the “contact us” page.

If you are new to running we hold Couch To 5K courses that are especially for beginner runners. Or our Intro To Trail Running courses are perfect if you are a bit more experienced, but wan’t to hit the trails for the first time. We cover technique, gear, and general tips to help you get the most from your trail running.

We do not have any links with the products or websites listed above, nor do we receive any sponsorship from them. They are just things we use that work well for us.

Don’t just take our word for it

  • positive review  I just wanted to say a big thank you to Neil and Hannah, for my intro to trail running at West Harling Woods. I am new to running, but am drawn to running off road, what a great location to try it out in. The hosts were very knowledgeable, I learned a lot about equipment, techniques and warming up and down and had fun too! Thanks guys, I will definitely be joining you for a guided run soon.

    Steven Turner Avatar Steven Turner

    positive review  Had a super morning with Neil, on a private organised group run with friends. 6 mile loop from Wroxham across beautiful trails. The time flew by! Would definitely recommend.

    Cassie Wildey Avatar Cassie Wildey

    positive review  I absolutely loved the Intro to Trail Running at Harling Woods this morning. Neil and Hannah shared their knowledge from what kit you need to hill trail running. I even learned some new stretches at the end that I will be introducing regularly. The forest was beautiful and the pace was social so all abilities were included. Everyone had a big grin on their faces and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Escape Trails is perfectly named. After the crazy fortnight I have just had I really did feel I had escaped for a few hours. I feel physically and mentally energised. Thank you Neil and Hannah, I look forward to joining you again soon 😀

    Heather Dagraca Avatar Heather Dagraca

    positive review  Neil and Hannah are brilliant hosts for any trail runner looking to run off road. Full of knowledge and enthusiam it was a pleasure to take part in the Intro to Trail Running at Harling Woods. A great venue and everyone had a great time. Looking forward to taking part in more Escape Trails runs!

    Stephanie Brighton Avatar Stephanie Brighton
  • positive review  Did a run through the countryside of Hoveton last week with Escape Trails Joined by a cracking group of people, Neil led us over a lovely route at a nice steady pace. Suitable for runners of all levels.

    Clive Whiting Avatar Clive Whiting

    positive review  Had a really great run tonight with Neil around the trails of Wroxham and the surrounding area. It was a great group to run with. Highly recommended. Thank you.

    Paul Gerber Avatar Paul Gerber