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Blog Series ‘Hitting the Trails’: Beginner’s Guide to Trail Running

Blog Series ‘Hitting the Trails’: Beginner’s Guide to Trail Running

Welcome to the world of trail running! Whether you're transitioning from road running or starting from scratch, trail running offers unique challenges and rewards.

Welcome to the world of trail running! Whether you're transitioning from road running or starting from scratch, trail running offers unique challenges and rewards.

Christophe Roosen

Christophe Roosen is the co-founder and coach of Trenara. Runs a marathon in 2:31:34.

In this series, we’ll cover essential tips to get you started and delve into specific training strategies. Let’s kick off with the five foundational tips for beginner trail runners.

As mentioned before, we got lots of questions regarding trail running. So many, we’re making a blog series on that topic. Let’s start with a beginner’s guide to trail running!

  1. Invest in Trail Shoes

I’m a shoe enthusiast – whoever saw my shoe closet can confirm – and when it comes to trail running, shoes are even more important! Trail shoes are not just a marketing gimmick; they really are very important to keep you safe and comfortable. There are different kinds of trail shoes, specialized for different kinds of trails.

So, why trail shoes?

1.1 Grip/Traction

Dirt roads, (deep) mud, rocks, snow, icy, or wet surfaces: every condition needs its own tire. And you can take that quite literally. The rubber compounds of different trail running shoes have their own characteristics. For snow and icy roads, I have a pair of Nike Pegasus Trail shoes with ‘Sticky Rubber’ – and sticky it is, just like running with Velcro on your feet. Perfect, because with my running technique I often slip in those circumstances. Some shoes even have small metal studs. You’ll find deeper lugs on trail shoes specialized for the mud, and a harder rubber compound for more rocky/rugged terrain.

1.2 Stability & Protection

Overall, trail shoes are often a bit firmer than road shoes because they have to be more stable. In road running, we don’t have aggressive left-to-right movements, but in trail running, our foot placement isn’t just linear. Stability is a bigger issue here. So, don’t compare trail shoes with the softness of your road shoe. Your ankles will thank you later. Also, the midsole sometimes includes a harder/rock plate to prevent harm caused by sharp rocks.

1.3 Comfort

In trail running, a ‘comfort fit’ has a different meaning. You should opt for a tighter fit and a thicker upper. The first will prevent little rocks from entering your shoe, and the latter from, for example, tree branches, small rocks, etc., on the surface. You don’t want them to hurt you. And don’t forget about a waterproof upper, depending on your circumstances!

1.4 Performance

Yes, talking about performance in trail shoes is fairly new. But there are a lot of brands jumping on the carbon plate wagon, even for trail running shoes. I’ve tested and approved a pair of Adidas Terrex Agravic Speed Ultra during a 58k ultra trail. They really offer that ‘snap’ that I like from the typical carbon shoe.

2. Get a Trail Backpack

I never run with my smartphone, but on trails, it’s often mandatory. A trail backpack allows you to carry your smartphone, water, nutrition, a blanket, a running light, and even poles. And now you’re thinking: “Sure Christophe, a blanket 🙄”. But depending on the type of event you’re entering, these all might be mandatory.

A trail backpack is a lot more comfortable than any other backpack when running. It sits high on your shoulders, allowing for perfect weight distribution, and has lots of adjustment options. Look for a capacity (often displayed in liters) that matches your needs – I own both a 5L and a 10L backpack. Check the pockets: are they big enough and is there enough room for some soft flasks and a bladder?

Most importantly: a trail backpack allows you to be self-sufficient. Unlike your typical city marathon, with a multitude of refreshment points, trail running (or long-distance runs) doesn’t offer that kind of luxury. I’ll always start a marathon self-sufficient when it comes to gels. Don’t rely on others. And certainly, take that advice when going out on trails.

3. Train for Elevation Gain (D+)

This topic will be a future blog post on its own in this series, but I already want to emphasize the importance of D+ in this ‘beginner’s guide’. Trails and uphill running often go hand-in-hand. The demands of uphill running are totally different from running on a flat road. The D+ makes the effort a kind of interval-like session. You’ll need strong legs and a strong cardiovascular system to overcome these challenges.

But you also have to train for elevation loss! Descending requires some technique as well, or your quads will burn, burn, burn. So let this be an intro to a future blog post where I’ll focus on hill reps, strength training, the importance of HIIT, and some tricks and tips on how to train for D+ if you’re living ‘low’.

4. Learn Self-Sufficiency with Nutrition & Hydration

I’ve already touched on this subject: you need to be self-sufficient. Trails do take more time than road races, even if they’re not ultra-races. You won’t necessarily burn more kcal per hour (unless you have to conquer a lot of D+), but you will burn more in total because of the ‘total time spent’. In the case of D+, your body’s energy needs will be totally different than you’re used to. Mountain races often take place in more extreme settings – sun in the valley, snow on the mountains. The cold will have an impact on your energy needs as well. Hydration is key to transporting all that energy throughout the body. You can’t be self-sufficient without a proper trail backpack.

Properly fueling yourself (let’s say 60g carbs per hour) requires sufficient pre-race testing. Test what gels you like/dislike, and simulate drinking on uphill or downhill parts – believe me, it takes a little extra effort (or am I just clumsy?).

5. Strength & Mental Training

Time to make my typical bold statement: you’re not a runner if you only run. Running has a heavy impact on the body, and you need to prepare your body for that impact. Trail running definitely requires specific strength training – like we offer in the app. If I repeat this mantra often enough, you’ll hopefully start adding strength training to your routine as well.

Trail and ultra running are mentally challenging as well. You’ll spend more time on your feet, often at lower intensities, which will give you time to think – and possibly overthink. Prepare yourself mentally as well – I’ve already focused on this subject in another blog.


These five tips form the foundation for your trail running journey. Stay tuned for the next posts where we’ll dive deeper into specific training strategies to help you conquer the trails, no matter where you live or what your goals are. Happy running!

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