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Tackling the Trails

By Amy Rusiecki

Trail running is fun – let’s start with that. When on the trails, you get to splash through puddles, prance over rocks, get dirty, and channel your inner bad ass…basically do many of the things that your parents scolded you for when you were a child. (Or maybe it was just my parents!) Anyway, once you get comfortable on the trails, it can be your new playground!

Whether you’re opting to thinking about entering your first trail race, or simply curious about adding trail running to your training routine, here’s a few tips to get you started and ensure you have fun!

1. Know Where To Go.

There's a ton of great resources to help you find local trails, and give you the important beta on that trail. Your best bet is talking to local runners that you know, or asking around at a local running store (or even a bike store, as they can point you towards mountain bike trails that are great!). Ask them where the local trails are and what they’re like. Ask them if there are group runs that you can join to get a guided tour of the trails.

If that doesn’t work, there are numerous online resources such as AllTrails and TrailForks that give some great info also.

If you’re gearing up for a race, look for race reports or reach out to the Race Director (or folks who have completed the race before) to understand the specifics of that course. That way, you can find terrain near your house that will prepare you for the race.

2. Get The Gear.

You don’t need a ton of gear to hit the trails. The most critical item that you need different than road running is a pair of trail running shoes. And trail-specific shoes aren’t even necessary on some trails, it really depends on how technical the trail is. If you do determine you need some trail shoes to stay upright, then do your research and chose a pair of shoes that is appropriate for the type of trails you will be running on.

3. Get Out There!

Alright, you’ve found the trail and you’ve got the shoes…now what?!? Well, get out there and run! Take your time over technical trails and downhills as you build confidence in your footing – that will come with time on the trails so don’t be discouraged. Walk the uphills as needed (that’s the biggest secret of trail running, that there’s plenty of walking on the steeper climbs!). And do your best to look up to take in the beauty of the trails (although we understand if the eyes are on the ground most of the time!).

And a few things to keep in mind:

- Everybody falls out there (and I have the scars to prove it!), so don’t be discouraged. Get up, dust yourself off, and keep on trucking.

- Technical terrain gets easier the more you do it, so practice, practice, practice if you want to tackle the gnarly trails.

- The trails can be a thing of beauty, and they take you to some amazing places – take the time to look at them. It’s even ok to stop for a bit to take in the view, as you likely worked hard to get there!

- Trail running is often harder (and slower) than road running, so be kind to yourself regarding your pace expectations on the trails. I often substitute in trail miles based on the time it would take me to cover the same number of road miles. For example, if it takes me 1 hour to complete my 6 mile road run, then I’ll substitute in a 1 hour trail run regardless of the distance I cover. It might be 6 miles, and it might be 3 miles! Either way, my body is likely equally exhausted after either effort!

- I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again – walking is A-OK and everyone does it! Trails don’t have to follow the same rules at roads – so they can be built much steeper than roads!

- Most importantly, have fun out there. Trail running is a space to explore and take in the beauty.

Hope to see you out there!

About Coach Amy ...

Amy Rusiecki is an engineer with a passion for ultrarunning which brought her confidence, joy, and a husband. She is the Race Director of the Vermont 100, and coaches trail and ultrarunners through the Run Formula. She is a 3-time member of the USA Trail Team, is sponsored by Inov-8 and Drymax, and a columnist at Ultrarunning Magazine. Amy, her husband, and their kitty cat live in western Massachusetts.

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