Top ten things every new trail runner must know

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Scott Warr

We are getting in the giving spirit of the holidays here at The Nation and calling on the community to help new trail runners! We are compiling a list of the top ten things all new trail runners must know. Please comment below with your ideas and tips. Don and Scott will present these tips in a very fun and unique upcoming podcast.

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48 comments
  • My thoughts:
    1) It’s not all fun & games – one must be prepared for this, mentally and physically (listen to Jimmy Dean’s interview!)
    2) Running with someone really helps! Time goes by quickly, you are reminded by their actions if you are forgetting something, your pace is kept in check.
    3) Study the course. It’s quite demoralizing taking a wrong turn or being out of electrolytes and not knowing when the next aid is.

  • 1) Vaseline is your friend!
    2) Second Tim’s suggestion… train on the course! (if it is close enough) if not, read everything you can about it.
    3) Everything about nutrition by Sunny Blende (Have I mentioned my LOVE for Sunny before??? LOL)
    4) Listen to Trail Runner Nation!! 🙂
    5) If overwhelmed by all you think you should know, just run and have fun
    6) If there is a chance you might be finishing near the end of the day, carry a flashlight
    7) If drop bags are allowed use it! shoes, laces, socks, extra food, flashlight, first aid supplies
    8) spend as much time around knowledgeable trail runners as possible, just soaking in the knowledge. They love to share!
    9)Use nothing new on race day, including food
    10) have fun!

  • 1) Slow down – You are not as fast as you think you are, but you’ll get faster, naturally.
    2) Don’t kill the hill – Keep moving, but no reason to attack that hill. It doesn’t hate you, respect it.
    3) Run like a fairy – Stay light on your feet to absorb the varying terrain under foot. Flail away!
    4) WTF (Watch Time Forever) – Total time on your feet is a better way to gauge your volume vs mileage.
    5) Have fun – Trail running can change your life, if you let it!

    Cheers fellas!!!

  • 1) Observe the 10% rule (I mean Law)
    2) Find a friend
    3) Explore new routes – keep it fresh
    4) Don’t be afraid to ask a trail veteran the how and whats. (They won’t bite. Unless it has salt on it)

    KEEP THEM COMING – We may have to have the Top 100 !!!!! 🙂

  • If you are running alone
    1.bring pepper spray
    2.let someone know where you are going and when you will be back
    3.bring a map if it’s a new trail to you

  • It’s OK to stop and actually smell the roses. as matt said, Time on your feet is what’s important.
    Patience will get you to the finish.
    ALWAYS have water! No matter the distance.

  • for racing:
    Start slow and taper off.
    have your nutrition dialed in by the day of the race. You don’t want to experiment during the race.
    Same with any equipment you bring. The day of the race is not the time to try it for the first time.
    start walking early to bank energy for later
    BEWARE THE CHAIR!
    vaseline or body glide a must especially if rainy.
    know the course
    are you going to win? probably not so try to have fun and really enjoy the journey.

  • almost forgot, if you come up on and pass any runners with last names Jurek, Roes, Krupicka, Jornet, or Mackey

    SLOW DOWN!!!!!

  • Nutrition Runners Tips
    – Start early and don’t get behind in your hydration and fuel.
    – If your stomach starts to go south, don’t panic. Just slow down a little, eat a little less and RPS’s (Relentless Forward Progress)!
    – See Lisa Gunnoe’s Number 3 and 9 (Thanks Lisa!)

  • I’m not sure I have anything new to add, but here are some of the things I’ve learned being a newbie myself:
    1) Learn to eat and hydrate properly (on and off the trail)
    2) Listen/read Sunny Blende to get better at #1 (I’m the President of the Sunny Blende fan club!)
    3) Run/walk with a consistent “Perceived effort” on race day – i.e. a 70% effort may slow you down to a walk on that hill
    4) Listen to your body (don’t over train) and give yourself adequate rest/recovery
    5) Find some trail friends to ask all of your questions, teach you new trails and keep you motivated
    6) Running solo at night in a heavy storm makes you feel really hard core
    7) Keep it fun and interesting!

  • Part of the everyday trail running adventure is that, one day, you will get lost… so prepare for it:
    1) Tell somebody where you plan on going (even though the plan always changes once out on the trail).
    2) I hate to say it but… bring your phone if heading out alone.
    3) Don’t forget water.
    4) Wear ID (I just write my name and number on my shoe).
    5) Enjoy it!

    Having said all that, i love getting lost on runs :-).

  • #1. (and most important): Have fun and try not to take it too serious, I mean that is why we are all there
    2. Help a fellow runner (or hiker, biker, non-threatening animal), it may be you that needs help one day
    3. Leave no trace, we are all out on the trails to enjoy the beauty, lets help to preserve it
    4. Break some rules, go off a training plan for a day, eat a slice of pizza and have a beer
    5. Always plan to be on the trail longer than you expect, have adequate food and water in case you feel good and run long or get stuck on the trails with an injury
    6. Train up, try to find people who are more advanced then you and run with them, become a sponge and listen to their advice
    7. Try to run without music, keep the focus on your body, mechanics and the environment around you
    8. Listen to your body, it does not like it when you push it beyond its limits (or neglect to push it and leave it at rest too long)
    9. Rest: when your body tells you too, especially after and injury, then take the time needed to rebuild back to where you were.
    10. Have fun (yes this is twice, we all get wrapped up in our garmins… pace, elevation, calories, how far back am I… it truely takes away from the enjoyment of the sport sometimes)

      • Minus a few typos in there….

        If I can add #11. Don’t run a hill you can’t see the top of, if you do chose to run such a hill don’t look up until you crest it.

        The best advice ever given to me during my first ultra was “Son, you don’t have to be running, but there is no good reason you aren’t at least walking”

  • I agree with all the tips/suggestions above.

    The top 10 things I think every trail ruinner should know:

    1) Eat/drink early & often
    2) Pay attention to the course marking or you might get lost (you might get lost anyway)
    3) Think positive thoughts, and have fun….after all, you signed up for and paid for the race.
    4) No matter how good you feel, it will change…no matter how bad you feel, it will change too.
    5) Wear gaiters…they help keep crap out of your shoes.
    6) Remember to apply bodyglide/vasoline before the race, not after.
    7) Don’t annoy those you are running with…”karma” is a b*tch.
    8) It’s ok to walk.
    9) Run your own race (and pace)
    10) Beer tastes the best when you are done (it tastes good along the way too sometimes).

  • 1. Go slow. The idea of “banking time” by running faster at the beginning to make up for slower times at the end does not work. Better to have a little in the tank at the end than to run out with 10 miles left to run.
    2. Shoes are your friend. Get some that fit well and replace them more often than I do.
    3. You are not racing that other guy on the trail. Don’t worry about how you measure up to others. Work on how you measure up to how you did last week or last month.
    4. You will have good days and bad days. Some days you feel like you are floating down the trail efortlessly and others you feel like a clydesdale pounding out the miles. Just go with it. You learn from both kinds of days.
    5. And last of all one for Don. Don’t insult someone who has accidently dropped their waterbottle and must go back for it. It angers them.

  • As far as some advice for new trail runners:

    1. I’d say you must not fret about pace. You WILL be slower than on the roads.
    2. Lose yourself on the trails but never stop paying attention to the trail!
    3. Work on cadence when running hills. This requires shortening the stride.
    4. When running longer runs on trails be aware of where you have opportunity for water…carry it if there are no stations and you’ll be out for a long time between.

  • 1. Seek out your local trail running group. You’ll be bowled over by the sense of community and camaraderie.
    2. Run with the “old guys.” You’ll learn your most important lessons from the people who have been doing this the longest.
    3. Trail runners carry water. Always carry more than you think you’ll need — because you never know when you’ll be out there longer than you planned or need to help someone who’s run out themselves.
    4. “Take time to stop and enjoy the views, especially on training runs. Otherwise you might as well be road running.” Chris Russell
    5. ” Walking or hiking is intelligent race strategy, not weakness or laziness.” Robert Trottman
    6. “Throw pace out the window initially. Trying to run your normal “road pace” on trails is a recipe for disaster and disappointment.” Brian Ricketts
    7. It is poor form to leave gel packets or pieces of gel packets on the trail.
    8. The trail gods will smile down upon you if you pick up any gel packets or pieces of gel packets you find.
    9. Carry a map in a ziplock if you’re unfamiliar with the trail system.
    10. A good trail run often involves a little blood.

    • Liza, I love that you acknowledge the trail Gods. Karma is alive on the trail. Stopping to pick up that gel packet will take 1 minute off your next mile pace! Blood on the trail is weakness leaving your body! haha

    • Yes Liza, I fully agree about the trail litter and actually intended to submit something along that line in my earlier list but added the comment in a rush to get out the door. I often take to the trails with an extra grocery bag for the express purpose of picking up trash. The sad thing is…I almost never return without a bagful:(

    • Great points Liza! I think getting comfortable carrying water is essential. I also think the community / group grows stronger when you spend a little time with new trail runners. Thanks for motivating me today!

  • Tips for new trail runners
    1) Core and butt work are just as important as the miles you run and the more you run the more you need it.
    2) Take your time in building your running foundation. A little at a time. You will run better and have a longer career.
    3) Massage and yoga will help keep you injury free
    4) On race day focus on what you are doing (food, hydration, lube) not how you are doing. Your race day performance will unfold accordingly.
    5) Find a good coach and trust that sometime less is more.
    6) Ultra running is a journey, a social club, and a life style, enjoy it.

  • I’m about as new to trail running as it gets, but here’s what I’ve learned so far:
    1) pace: maintain a constant level of expenditure, one that can be carried for whatever distance ur going… (harder than it sounds)
    2) drink early, drink often… stay hydrated
    3) stay positve, be repectful and try and enjoy every step as much as possible.
    4) learn as much about the trail as possible before running, and come prepared (one of those failing to prepare is prepairing to fail things)
    5) sh!t happens… trail running is a lil more prone to this than most activities, expect it… carry TP or choose ur leaf wisely
    6) pay attention to your body, and learn to give it what it needs, when it needs it (salt, gels, rest etc etc)
    7) everyone you run with has something to teach u, some good some bad, learn from them.
    8) Respect the trails, tread lightly, keep them clean.
    9) mix it up, keep it fun (gels, drinks, trails, pace, friends, races………)
    10) There really is no substitute for time on your feet (:

  • 1 Finding great folks to run with is perhaps the greatest reward
    2 Don’t be afraid to try something new. Try a new race in a different location. If you’re an ultrarunner, don’t be afraid to run a shorter race for fun
    3 What ever time you think you’ll be home from your run, add two hrs to the time you tell your spouse. You’ll probably be a lot closer to being correct
    4 Embrace power walking and practice it.
    5 Keep it simple. Don’t get overly caught up in the details and forget to just enjoy the run.

  • i just started running trails this fall, and have little aspirations to do any ultras…but love love love being out there! my tips for beginners (from a beginner):

    1. go find a group that has fun (i found a thursday night group with different pace groups…and we drink beer afterwards!)
    2. remember to have the fun mentioned above.
    3. invest in your own headlamp.
    4. push yourself to go just a little farther sometime…well worth it!
    5. don’t be embarrassed if you can’t go as fast or as far as ultra-runners….just being out there is an accomplishment!

  • 1) Run on what you’ll race on. If you can train on the course, do it. Otherwise, find something comparable or more difficult to train on.
    2) Falling happens. No matter how careful you are, you may fall down. Don’t worry. It happens to most if not all of us. Pay attention to your footing and learn how to fall.
    3) walking/ Powerhiking is ok/ advised on certain terrain. I’ve walked past people trying to run up steep hills. Yes we were going the same direction.
    4) Learn to enjoy the terrain you have available to you. Appreciating what you have access to is more important than whining about what you can’t run on.
    5) Be adventurous. Don’t be afraid to try something new ( a new trail, a new piece of gear, a new workout, new food on the run) but try not to do it on race day.
    6) Be kind. Trail runners are generally friendly. Say hi to people you meet on the trail. pick up your trash, if you need to relieve yourself, do it where no one will step in it. Don’t ruin it for the runners that may come after you. You might be one of them.
    7) learn about the wildlife you may encounter. Running is a great way to sneak up on wildlife but that can be dangerous with some. Know how to handle encounters so you don’t end up making dangerous mistakes.
    8) Trail running is fun. But not always. Sometimes it is painful, dirty, cold, wet, hot, dusty, etc. Embrace the experiences and sensations. Even a bad trail run is better than a good treadmill workout..
    9) If you run alone (and probably even if you are running with someone else) let someone know the general area you will be going and an approximate time of return. But make sure you give yourself plenty of a time cushion because occasionally you WILL get carried away and want to extend your run. Carry a cell phone if you are going to be in an area where they’ll be of use if you need a rescue.
    10) Run today so you can run tomorrow. It’s not always supposed to be an all-out effort every minute of every run every day. It’s ok to just chill and run how you feel or take a day off.

    I’m sure I’ve repeated what others have said but this is what came out. Can’t wait to read the other posts when I have the time.

  • This is a GREAT question and I love the responses!!! I thought of a few more items while on a nice wet run this morning:

    1. Running through puddles and getting dirty may help you to feel MUCH younger.
    2. When faced with choosing between the easy or the hard route, every so often choose the latter to prove to your self that you CAN.
    3. If you volunteer at a trail race, you may: meet new friends with a like mind, learn something about trail running, have fun.

  • 1. batteries in headlamps die. carry extras.
    2. bandaids/tape
    3. protect the nips
    4. consider carrying a small transitor radio on the long ultras. a good ball game on AM radio makes time fly.
    5. tie a bandana filled with ice around your neck on hot days. ice on the jugulars = instant radiator.
    6. anyone mention bug spray?
    7. a bottle in each hand comes in handy when breaking your fall.

  • 1. Trainers – wear the right trainers! No road trainers – you will end up on ye arse!
    2. Enjoy – You are running on trail because of the terrain. Take time to look at what you are running past/in/through!
    3. Layers – be prepared to be cold / hot, wet, dry, wind swept, fall into and over puddles etc!
    4. Feet – Look after your feet. Hot spots, blisters, wet feet are a given on the trail. Cut back nails and moisturise.
    5. Be Safe – run with others, or tell others where you will be running. Anything can happen on the trail / mountains – no matter how experienced you are!
    6. Nutrition / hydration – be prepared to be out there longer than you thought. Make sure you have enough food / drink to get you through the day!
    7. Race Conditions – Do tempos on the trail with the kit and on the terrain which matches your race. Invaluable experience.
    8. Walking – Walking is acceptable. The elites do it. It’s about getting from A-B as quick as possible. Walking parts may get you there quicker than having ran up a big hill and killing yourself. I speak from experience!
    9. Road- We all know trail is better than road ;O) But don’t neglect SOME road running. It helps with speed and many races have a road section.
    10. Ambassador – Look after the trail and the trail will look after you.

  • Something that every new trail runner needs to know, particularly if coming from a road running background, is that the safety of other runners is everyone’s responsibility. Unlike at a road marathon, if someone gets injured out in some back country wilderness, there isn’t going to be a group of paramedics with stretchers and mylar blankets waiting down the block. Stopping to make sure someone is doing okay if they appear to be having a bad time could literally save their life. The well being of other folks on the trail has to be a greater priority than your time goal or whatever. I believe that this really defines a big part of trail running culture. Even the elites of the sport will say the same thing, recently the two lead runners in the North Face 50 mile Championship, Mike Wolfe and Dakota Jones, stopped to help an injured runner hobble in to safety.
    So, to sum up:
    1. Be excellent to each other.
    2. When in doubt, refer to #1.

  • I’ve listened to the podcast and reread the lists in this thread and remembered a trail rule that is considered proper trail etiquette that hasn’t been mentioned. That is when meeting another runner on the trails in hilly or mountainous terrain, the uphill runner yields to the downhill runner if the trail is narrow.

    • I’m curious to hear folks ideas about etiquette regarding mountain bikers. Around here, I’ve never had any trouble but I’ve heard tales of other places not being as lovey dovey between bikers and runners. I always yield to bikes if I’m on a route that’s generally a primary mountain bike trail. Otherwise it always seems to work out that whoever’s going fastest lets the other get by.

        • Unfortunately, Andy, we have that animosity around here… I haven’t quite figured out where it comes from, but I’ve had a few run ins. Most of the bikers are great and treat you with respect, but I’ve been called names and almost been run into for no apparent reason.

          If I’m on a mixed use trail, I always try to stay to the left so I can see the bikes coming on my side. When I see/hear them coming, I move as far over as I can.

          • I ain’t afraid of no skunk!
            Seriously though, you bring up a good point. Anyone new to trail running or getting out in the wilderness in general should have a basic understanding of what kind of wildlife they might encounter, as well as the appropriate way to behave around said beasts. There’s different ways to handle different types of bears, cougars, alligators, honey badgers, etc. If you know what may be lurking around the next corner you have a better chance to make it out unscathed.

      • I have been fortunate. The few times I have “run into” mountain bikers, I have been in a race. They see the bib number and move over for me. I’m slow so this is cool.
        Most of the time I’m one of the slowest ones out there, so I always move over, for runners or mountain bikers.

  • Carry a form of ginger. Ginger assists in settling the stomach. We can not survive on gels alone on long trail runs. Real food can sometimes be difficult to digest, with a contracting stomach, blood supply split between muscles and food digestion – a little ginger works wonders.

    Appreciate great tips from The Nation.

    • Our local, awesome, trail goddess, Chrissy, paced me during one race. She was coming off an injury and I was struggling with too many races in too little time period.
      It was amazing spending that time with a seasoned ultra-runner.
      I got so I couldn’t take any nutrients. I couldn’t swallow, it wouldn’t go down.
      She told me to carry Ensure and just sip, sip, sip as I go. I now always have Ensure on me when I’m going to be out there longer than 4 hours. It has saved some races and made some training runs much better.

  • Learn to read that map you so carefully packed!

    This should include the use of an altimeter (or GPS), compass and other visual clues to be absolutely certain you aren’t following the wrong little squiggle. Many runners have spent many hours believing they were on track while running the wrong direction.

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