11 trail running tips from seasoned athletes with the scars to prove it

Taking to the trail can be daunting, alien even.

It’s important to be prepared. You need to know what you’re taking on. How to get the most out of it – and really understand the true motive for it all. So what’s the secret? 

We asked 11 experienced trail runners – who really have been there, done it and got the t-shirt – to give us their one piece of ‘golden advice’ and one common theme emerged…

Ludovic Pommeret

“Take it easy and be patient.”

“I often see beginners trying to increase their training and/or race difficulty too quickly. For endurance sports, I think that the body needs time to adapt. So if you are interested in competitive trail or ultra running, build your stamina slowly.”

Follow Ludovic: @ludovic.pommeret.9

Anna Frost

“Focus on consistency.”

“Running takes time to find the flow, good form, build fitness and strength. You can’t rush it otherwise you will get injured. Focus on progression and consistency, and give yourself time!”

Photo credit: Matt Trappe and Feetures Running

Follow Anna: @annafrosty

Rickey Gates

“Enjoy it.”

“It sounds like such simple advice, but the truth is that so many people get into one sport or another because it will make them fit, or their friends are doing it, or for whatever reason. But they work so hard at a goal that might not be their own. Figure out a way to make running enjoyable to you. Your friends or your coach or a stranger on the street might tell you to go do two hours of hard running on a trail that you don’t know. If you are just beginning then that is probably not very good advice. The greatest risk that a new trail runner will face is to have a bad experience – or several of them.

I guide hut to hut running trips, where I take all runners of all abilities into the woods. I make sure, above all else, that people are enjoying themselves. Whether that means with terrain, or enjoying a beer after the run, or pointing out the flowers and the mountains that they might not see because they are so focused on running.”

Follow Rickey: @rickey.gates.39

Cecile Bertin

“Don’t try to go too fast.”

Take the time to progress and learn to run in nature. If you’re serious about racing, start by training for shorter distance events. You can always work your way up to the ultra distances. Little by little the trail runner gets fitter, faster and stronger! And never forget that it is always nature that wins at the end. Respect and accept it.

Follow Cecile: @cecilerunfitfun

Michael Wardian

“Your time per mile or kilometer doesn’t matter.”

What matters is how you feel on the trail. Run when you can and don’t worry if you have to hike or walk, some stuff is runnable and some stuff just isn’t – knowing that really helps. It can take 45 mins to do a mile if you are climbing up hill and only 5 mins to come down, it will all work out. Unlike road running – where a consistent pace is ideal – on trails the pace will fluctuate. But what matters most is the overall time and knowing that is comforting.

Also (bonus advice), get used to running at night and having a super bright and long burning torch/headlamp is key, it allows you to run so much faster and is totally worth the money!

Follow Michael: @michaelwardian 

…and read our interview with him here.

Anton Krupicka

“Running is running.”

“Trail running, at its core, is no different than any other kind of running. Don’t worry so much and just do what feels good. Oh, and it’s ok to hike the (steep) hills.”

Follow Anton: @antonkrupicka.runner

Ana Maria Cretu

“Don’t over-train.”

“You’ll find it’s more harm than good in the long term. You (and your body) need to have the right rest. Know your limits and avoid injuries as much as possible, no matter how minor. You can do exercises in your downtime to help with this. Focus on building your core and strength around the joints.

The ground is often unpredictable and unstable on the trail, so you need your body to be able to react efficiently. If you’re taking on technical terrains, with some parts uphill, you will have to include uphills as well in your training (trust me on this one).”

Follow Ana: @ana_funactive

…and read our interview with her here.

Travis Macy

“Turn off the mile split beeper on your watch!”

“You’ll probably go a bit slower on climbs and technical stuff – that’s A-OK! Just enjoy your time out there.”

Photo credit:

Follow Travis:

Lisa Jhung

“Ditch your time expectations.”

Since all trails are different — some hilly, some flat, some rocky, some smooth — covering a certain distance on a trail will take varied amounts of time. Even the same trail can run faster or slower on any given day, dependent on trail conditions (rain = mud = slow).

A common mistake road runners make when switching to trails is comparing their road running times (how long it takes them to cover a mile) to trail running times and getting discouraged. Running for a certain amount of time instead of a certain amount of miles can reap the same gains on the trail.

That said, you’d need the watch for the amount of time, but don’t use the watch to compare your trail miles to your road miles.

Follow Lisa: @lisajhungwrites

…and read our review of her book ‘Trailhead’ here.

Richard Askwith

“Look around you.”

And listen, and smell, and feel the ground under your feet. If you’ve gone to the trouble of running on a trail, and not on a treadmill or a track, don’t forget to reward yourself by taking in the beauty of your environment. It may seem a little “unprofessional”, compared with focusing on your watch or your cadence or your position in the race. But a nice deep gulp of nature can make the whole thing seem worthwhile – while the resulting boost to your morale can have an effect like rocket fuel on your performance.

Follow Richard: @richardaskwith

Ron ‘Braz’ Braselton

“Run from your heart.”

Running takes a lot of determination, dedication and desire. It’s really hard to put all of that into it if you are not doing it for the right reasons. You have to love what you do…especially on those days when running feels particularly hard.

Follow Ron: @brazrightnow

No more excuses…

There it is! Rule number one of trail running? Enjoy it.

What have we learned?

  • Be consistent, but don’t over-train
  • Take it easy to begin with and give your body the chance to adapt and recover
  • Don’t expect too much of yourself too soon
  • Focus on the experience, not your speed
  • Adjust downtime training to accommodate for different terrains and new challenges
  • Build up your endurance over time
  • Avoid injuries as best you can (even minor ones)
  • Remember to take in your surroundings

Now you’re armed with some real, hard-earned wisdom – grab it and take it out with you, with a new confidence and understanding of what matters most when it comes to trail running.