7 Keys to Enjoying Trail Running to the Fullest

A man wearing a hydration pack runs on a trail over a cliff

Ready to take your trail running to a new level? Try these simple tips

1) Run free.

One of the things that can make running on trails a better experience than running on the roads and sidewalks in an urban or suburban setting is that you can get away from the traffic, stress and congestion of the “real world” and can indulge in the tranquility of the environment. In short, trail running offers an escape and a sense of freedom that you can’t get while running on the road, a track or a treadmill. No matter if you’re running for 30 minutes or 3 hours, you can clear your mind, soak in the fresh air and enjoy every stride you take over the natural terrain.

2) Gear up.

Trail running requires a little more gear than your typical run on the roads, especially for long runs or when you run trails in the mountains. Make sure you have a good pair of trail running shoes that offer traction for the type of terrain you’ll be on, protection from roots rocks and other obstacles and plenty of cushioning to soften your steps. A trail running pack to carry water and lightweight jacket, a hat, sunglasses and sunblock are a few other key pieces of gear you should consider.

3) Unplug from technology every once in a while.

OK, high-tech watches and smartphones that track your mileage, elevation gain and pace are great resources. But, sometimes, you truly need to unplug and ignore all of that digital data—not to mention your text messages and social media feeds—while you’re out running and just relish in the moment. The pace and distance you run is all relative and dictated by the terrain you’re running on anyway. You might run for an hour and cover six miles on a mildly rolling trail, but you might log fewer than four miles during a 60-minute run on a very hilly route.

4) Savor the views.

No matter if you’re running in a local urban park or an epic high-altitude mountain route, trail running connects you with the natural world. The trail you’re on might lead you to a great viewpoint or overlook; or maybe you’ll have to maneuver your way across a log over a stream or perhaps you’ll see a few deer grazing in a field. While you don’t need to stop and smell the wild roses, you should appreciate the wildflowers along the way.

5) Run with friends.

Not only does trail running with a friend or group of friends provide added safety out on the trails, but the conversations shared, moments and group synergy gained from enduring a steep climb will all add to the collective and individual experience and motivate you to run more trails.

6) Find new trails.

No two trails are the same. Some are flat and winding; others are steep and rocky. A trail might lead you up a mountain, through a field, over the hill or along a river. Each one offers different features, scenery, challenges and discoveries. While running the same trail every week can be a lot of fun and something to look forward to as part of your routine, seeking out new trails will make sure the stoke remains high.

7) Run at night.

Running on trails after dark while wearing a headlamp can be a mystical experience. Modern LED headlamps are bright enough to light up the technical features of a trail while also providing a glimpse of nocturnal life. When you run at night, not only do you see things you’ve probably never seen in the daylight—including the glowing sets of eyes from the deer, rabbit or fox somewhere off the trail—but your sense smell and hearing will also be enhanced.

Article by Brian Metzler. Metzler has raced just about every distance from 50 meters to 100 miles, is a three-time Ironman finisher and has been involved in the quirky sport of pack burro racing for more than a decade. He is the founding editor of Trail Runner magazine, the former editor of Competitor and the co-author of "Run Like a Champion: An Olympian's Approach for Every Runner."