Hit the Trails and Run Wild – A beginner’s guide to trail running

One of the first questions people ask me when I tell them I prefer hitting the trails to pounding the pavement is…”Isn’t it so much harder?”

My short answer is no. My long answer deserves further explanation. So let me start by telling you, anyone can hit the trails.

Running like a wild man or woman through the woods nurtures the soul. It satisfies our primal need for movement. Leave your electronics at home. Get outside and get moving in nature.

There are so many benefits to hitting the trails. Trail running reduces your risk of injury. You may be asking yourself how that is possible, because of the uneven terrain – roots, rocks, water crossings. In thinking, you’ve answered your own question. The ever varying trail lessons the likelihood of overuse injuries due to constant, repetitious foot strikes on pavement. The varying terrain also requires you to engage your core muscles. Trail running will make you a stronger runner by building greater balance and better mental focus.  If I haven’t convinced you to hit the trails yet, then ponder this… getting dirty makes you feel way more bad ass than you really are!


Here are a few tips for making your trails safe and fun :

(1)    Slow down and take short, light footed strides.
Expect to run slower on the trails. Focus on what feels comfortable, not your pace. Shorten your stride, stand tall and run lightly. You’re gonna roll your ankles, but if you’re light on your feet with shorter strides you’ll be able to go into that “roll” more easily without injury.

(2)    Pick a good line.
Always be looking 5-10 feet ahead of you. Not directly down at your feet. Plan your steps and pick a good line. Try to step over fallen trees, roots and large rocks. Rather than on them. They can be slippery even when they don’t appear to be. Keep a distance between you and your fellow runners as well. It helps if you can actually see the trail ahead of you! In case you need to jump, duck or change speeds.

(3)    Walk if you need to.
Don’t be afraid to walk the hills. Trail runners know it’s more efficient to walk up steep hills and conserve your energy. Be sure to keep your posture tall and pump your arms. It’s harder to get up a hill if you are bent over. Your lungs can’t do their job if they are compressed. Keep your eyes on the crest of the hill as well. Knowing the top is near is a huge motivator for digging deep within.

(4)     Run Wild on the downhills.                                                                               Stop breaking and allow yourself to fly a little. Your knees will thank you later. Use your arms to slow you down if you need to. Extend them away from your body and loosely hang them to draft you. Doing a “bunny hop” kind of run on the down hills will also slow you enough to navigate the technical stuff on single tracks. If you start to lose
control, run like a skier in an “s” formation.

(5)     Be Safe.                                                                                                                Bring a map, plenty of water, fuel and a phone. Phone service is not always available, but you can take a picture with your phone. The views are bound to be worth it. And leave your earbuds at home. Safety is first and if you can’t hear your surroundings, you’re not alert. Unplug and enjoy the sounds of nature. As they were intended.


If trails are a metaphor for life, then lead me down the ones with roots and
rocks… with leaves and pine needles covering fallen branches… abundant water
crossings, skyscraping mountains and bird’s eye views. – Erica Gratton

About Erica

Erica is the Founder of Trail Running Escapes and socalultrarunning. As well as an award winning trail runner, accomplished endurance athlete, RRCA, USAT&F and Natural Running Certified Coach, Race Director, Freelance Writer and Photographer.

As an athlete, she has been featured in LAS&F and Ultrarunning magazine. Erica supports her sport of running as a member of RRCA and USAT&F. As a writer and photographer, her work has been featured in sports and fitness print publications, digital media and newspapers.

Erica is also a Founding member of the fast growing, Conejo Valley Trail Runners club.  CVTR is a member only club offering two weekly trail runs of varying distances in and around the Conejo Valley.

Erica continues to run competitively as she enhances the lives of people through coaching. Enabling her clients to discover the only limits they have are those in their minds.

Please contact Erica at ericagratton@gmail.com or call directly (805) 807-8022 to hear how Erica can help attain your goals through a personalized training program, one on one training runs and video analysis.

As Race Director, Erica is produces the No Name 5030 Trail Races in Cheeseboro National Park, the Haunted Trails of the Night Trail Runs at Paramount Ranch and the Singletrack Stampede in the MRCA trails of the Santa Monica Mountains. Visit socalultrarunning on Facebook to stay up to date on race details or visit the website at www.socalultrarunning.com and look for future events to be brought to you by socalultrarunning.

As Founder of Trail Running Escapes, Erica produces Trail Running Camps in Southern California and beyond. Please visit: www.trailrunningescapes.com for more information on camps and vacations. Follow us on Facebook too!