Running on dirt paths lined with trees, gravel covered coastline roads, or rock-strewn mountain trails offers an enhanced kind of experience that just can't compare to a traditional road run.
While usually more exhilarating than running around a local track or through a residential area, trail running involves some extra prep and precautions. Before you head out to stir up some dust on the trails, considering the following five factors to ensure you'll enjoy a safe off-road run.
1. Map Your Route
It's probably a good idea to do this even if you've run the route before, but this rule is especially important if you're heading out on a new trail that you’ve never navigated. Search the USA Track and Field's running route database or an app like MapMyRun to map a plan of the route you plan on following so you'll have a good idea of where you're going and can eliminate the risk of getting lost. Sure, spontaneity is fun and you love being adventurous, but if you get injured or become too tired to keep going all the fun will be sucked right of your run.
While you're out and about, pay attention to trail markers. Many parks with trails for hiking and running will have colored squares marked on trees along the route to let pedestrians know they're following the right path.
Always tell a friend or family member where you’re going so they’ll know where to find you if you need help. Bring your cell phone so that you can be tracked via GPS and get in touch with someone if you encounter any problems. Even better than all these tips: take on your trail runs with a buddy whenever you can.
2. Run Slow
Trail terrain presents a much greater challenge compared to running on paved road. It's beneficial because dirt surfaces allow for lessened impact while running, however with tree roots, sticks, leaves, rocks, and all-around uneven terrain about on the trails it's always a good idea to take your pace down a notch or two. The added challenge of navigating twists, turns, and varying terrain will make you a stronger runner in the long run, but if you twist your ankle because you were going too fast or weren’t paying attention you'll be sidelined by injury and potentially unable to workout at all.
3. Enjoy the Scenery
Stop checking your GPS watch every 3 minutes and pay attention to the stunning scenery around you. (This is also important for the same safety reasons mentioned above.) Stop and smell the roses and just genuinely enjoy the fact that you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by nature while you partake in a favorite pastime.
4. Ditch Your Headphones
Yes, running with music has the potential to make you faster, but when it comes to trail running, plugging earbuds in can be extremely unsafe. There are a few reasons why you should press pause on your iPod while out on the trails. First, because you should run slow and pay attention to all of your surroundings. Second, because as mentioned earlier, you should appreciate the nature around you. And third, because there are animals everywhere. Depending on your location some of them might be very large and potentially dangerous. Chances are one will never harm you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability to attack if for whatever reason they feel like it. Before you head out into unfamiliar territory, research the area's wildlife and what to do if you encounter a certain type of animal.
See also: Outrunning the sun