Trail running. Have you tried it? If so, do you love it? Here on the west coast we are privileged to be able to run in the trails all year, but I am certain that not all of you are that lucky. However, most of the world is starting to thaw and the trail running season is upon us. This is why I love trail running and why if you haven’t tried it yet, you need to.

It takes you to places that only a pair of running shoes will take you. Places you can’t access by car or by bike. Places that are so quiet, the sound of your shoes contacting the soft earth is all you hear. If you are lucky, you may run by one or two other trail runners but most of the time it is you and nature. There are no cars zooming past you, you don’t need to stop at stop lights and the air that you are filling your lungs with is the freshest you will find. You lose yourself while you focus on your foot placement, avoiding roots and stepping around rocks and puddles. And with the terrain constantly changing, you never know what challenge is waiting for you around the next corner.

Trail running is a great way to build strength if you are already a road runner. The constant change in grade offers a continuous challenge to your legs and the uneven surface will help you build core muscles and strengthen your stabilizers. 

If you are a new runner, trail running is a fantastic way to become a stronger and faster runner. The beauty of trail running is your speed is constantly changing and there is no shame when you have to walk up a hill (even the pros walk some of the hills). With the softer ground it is also easier on your body. I do suggest that you join a trail running group because you can easily find yourself lost if you are not familiar with the trail network and with the varying difficulties in trails you will want to make sure you have someone show you where to start. If you are already a seasoned runner, getting into the trails will add variety to your workouts and strengthen your body in ways that road running can’t. 

When trail running, if you are going out for less than 2 hours and staying at a lower elevation, you can wear exactly what you would wear if you were running on the road. Dress in layers that are easily tied around your waist when you need to peel them off and carry a small, handheld water bottle with you. If you plan on venturing out farther, or up higher, then you need to make sure you are prepared. A light wind breaking jacket is a must, as is a pack with some food and water. 

Make sure you don’t run alone in the trails. I know this isn’t always possible and if you must go out solo then bring a phone and don’t venture too far. Only run where you know the route and check in with a friend before you go and once you return. Pack a bear bell if you are running where bears are common and keep your ear buds in the car. You are going to want to be aware of what is around you. I do run alone in trails but only on trails I am familiar with and where I can have cellphone reception from the start to finish.

As for footwear, invest in a good pair of trail running shoes. I have always found them hard and rigid, but that is the point because a trail shoe is meant to protect your foot. They usually have a stiffer sole on them to provide you with support as well as protect you from hurting yourself on pointy rocks and roots. They also have an aggressive tread on them to help with grip and the material of the outer sole is a bit softer, which also aides in grip. With that being said, they will wear down fast if you run on pavement so leave your trail shoes strictly for the dirt. I just tried this shoe on this past weekend and bought two pairs. You wouldn’t even know they were a trail shoe.

If you are looking for a way to change up your running, add a new challenge to your workouts, switch up your scenery, escape the city for a few hours and see some amazing sites you’ve never seen before then get into the trails. If you want to up the ante a little bit more by signing up for a trail running race  5 Peaks and MEC run races across Canada that are fun, meant for all levels and really affordable. Grab some friends, pull up some cute knee-high neon socks, throw on a tutu and go get dirty racing towards the finish line. Trust me, you will fit right in.