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Trail Running K.I.S. Series Part 1: Five Getting-Started Tips

Rockledge-trailThe Trail Running K.I.S. series is going to provide some tips and concepts to help jump start your trail running and ultramarathon adventures.

What is K.I.S.?

K – Keep

I – It

S – Simple

Sometimes we like to make things more complicated than they need to be. When starting out on a new activity, simple really is good.

The tips provided in this series will be ones I have learned or am still learning (with blood to prove it) during my transition from road running to the trail. I will try and focus on core and important ideas following the K.I.S. ideology.

Part one of the Trail Running K.I.S. series will cover five tips that will help you transition from road running and get you on your way to enjoying miles and miles of running on a trail.

1. Pay Attention To The Trail Or Eat Some Dirt

Nature, beautiful scenery, majestic views, and the trail. All of them are vying for your visual attention. If the trail doesn’t win you over, your body will likely be spread upon it. It is way too easy to stub a toe, catch a rock, or run into a tree if you aren’t paying attention.

If you want to truly soak up a view, stop your run and enjoy. Then when you start running again, get your eyes back on the trail.

2.  Light Feet Or Eat Some More Dirt

Roots, rocks, stumps, or sticks may all be encountered on your running surface. Lazy, low lifting feet will often catch these items if they exist. You will either say “Ouch!” or some loud expletive as you pick yourself off the ground. Shorten the stride and raise that heal up a bit when you run.

This has been one of my biggest challenges when moving over to trail running. I have bruised more than a couple toes and tasted the dirt because of it.

3.  Ignore Pace – Use Perceived Exersion Or Heart Rate For Effort Guidance

Due to the variety of terrain and trail conditions pace is often useless. A better effort guide is developing your own awareness of effort (PE). You may consider becoming familiar with three effort ranges to keep it simple:

  • Easy – Fairly relaxed and able to have a conversation with someone.
  • Moderate – Requires a bit more focus to hold this effort. You may be able to say a few words but a full conversation is not likely.
  • Hard – Complete focused effort and no talking going on here.

If you use a heart rate monitor, this would be another useful method to provide feedback on your effort as you know what your heart rate range is for various effort levels.

4.  Road Mileage Does Not Equal Trail Mileage

A five mile run on the road rarely equals a five mile trail run with respect to effort and time. Learn a little bit about your trail before you head out on it so you know how much fluid and calories to bring along. It doesn’t hurt to bring a little extra your first time out so there are less surprises. A five mile run may take multiple hours to finish depending on the type of trail.

5.  Bring A Map

Sometimes you get lost. It is never a bad idea to bring a trail map of some sort with you for the first couple runs until you become familiar with the trail or confirm there are great trail markings. If a trail is a simple loop or out-and-back, the opportunity to get lost is greatly reduced but many trails have multiple choices and decisions to make so a handy map can save the day.

What other tips have helped you transition your running from the road to the trail?

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

4 Responses to “Trail Running K.I.S. Series Part 1: Five Getting-Started Tips”

  1. on 02 Sep 2009 at 12:15 pm Blaine Moore

    Maps are a good idea – when running new trails I’ll actually put the map in a plastic freezer bag (gallon size) and fold it up to put in a rear pocket of my running shorts. I can just pull it out any time I want an glance at it without having to worry about it getting wet or nasty from mud or water, both of which attract me in a bee line…

    Another great option is if you have a GPS watch to learn how to bring up bread crumb trails. With my Garmin Forerunner 350, I can bring up a map of where I’ve run and have the watch tell me how to get home or at least use it to get my bearings if I can’t see the sky where I’m at.

    You can also download maps to the watch and let the watch tell you where to turn; all you need to do is find the trail head. I tend to avoid doing that unless I’m checking out a race course or I’m traveling out of state and am not going to have enough time to find myself after getting thoroughly lost (which is sometimes the goal, I’ll admit…)

    Which leads to a non-map tip: Carry some water (and possibly some food) with you in case you are out there for longer than you plan on.

  2. on 04 Sep 2009 at 9:13 am David Hanenburg

    Hey Blaine – Thanks for sharing. I have used the freezer or ziploc lunch bags as well. No fun trying to decode a route on a map that is wet or degrading due to moisture.

  3. on 08 Dec 2009 at 2:58 pm Jay Hall

    Walk the uphills. You’ll save energy and won’t lose that much time. My first trail race was Cross Timbers and I did that for the first 40 miles of the race and finished third overall.

  4. on 08 Dec 2009 at 3:33 pm David Hanenburg

    Hey Jay – True! Walking is one of the strangest things most road runners have to get used to or accept. Cross Timbers is a “fun” first trail race. 🙂