Together Run: Trail Running for Beginners #2

Together Run: Trail Running for Beginners #2

Hi there! Welcome to Together Run: Trail Running for Beginners #2. This blog contains everything we wanted to know and everything we asked as a novice runner on cross country trails. 

This is the second edit in our Beginner Trail Running series and in this blogpost we talk about building distance and changing your technique.

How Can I Improve Distance On Trail Runs?

The best way to build distance is to set a target in miles or km’s and check out the route by walking it. If you usually run 2 miles in 30 minutes on a nearby trail then walk a trail that is 4 miles. You can use the same walk, run, speed-walk, run technique that you develop in the Couch 25k training to build up to a comfortable pace for the 4 miles. 

If you feel comfortable running 4 miles 2-3 times per week then it’s more than likely that you could extend your run without difficulty. Be mindful of your limits and remember that there’s no shame in walking when your body needs a break from the impact and speed. Walking hills still helps you build leg and ankle strength.

Watch The Trail: keep an eye on the trail about 6 metres ahead of you. This will help you anticipate obstacles and change your speed and direction accordingly.

Do I Need To Change My Technique For Trail Running?

Trail Running helps you connect with your natural surroundings and in some ways you need to blend with the terrain. Paying attention to the following things will help to improve your trail technique:

  1. Watch The Trail: keep an eye on the trail about 6 metres ahead of you. This will help you anticipate obstacles and change your speed and direction accordingly. The more you run like this the easier it becomes as your body gets into a rhythm of searching out the smoothest, most direct route.
  2. Run Easy: you can readily get caught up thinking about running too much as you pace down the trail. If it’s hard going, focus on your breathing or simple ‘left, right, left, right’ steps and let the tension go from your shoulders and neck to relax into a nicer, calmer stride.
  3. Use Your Arms: trail running isn’t just about your legs, it uses muscles in all of your body. It’s tempting to keep your upper body perfectly still but you need your arms to balance when the terrain is uneven. Pay attention to your arm swing as this can also change the efficiency of your run. Maintain a natural, comfortable 90° position and move slightly from the shoulder, not the elbow. There’s a whole wealth of info on arm swings from Runner’s World here.
  4. Practice Your Posture: you need to be able to change your positioning to suit the environment. On longers flats it’s easy to slump when you’re tired, it’s also common to fall forward but by pulling your chest up and driving with your hips you’ll open up your lungs and run more lightly. However on the ascent you’ll want to use that fall-forward momentum from your shoulders to keep you pushing uphill.
  5. Aim for shorter strides: keep your centre of gravity closer to you by taking shorter strides. This way you have chance to adapt your weight placement more quickly and respond to uneven footing. 

There are hundreds of tips on trail running techniques from thousands of expert runners across the world. You can find some great advice in these articles:

But remember that every runner is different. What might work for a fell runner that you admire may not work for your body. The most important thing is to pay attention to the signs and signals your body is giving you. 

Check out the third post in our Trail Running For Beginner Series where we talk about the books, blogs and podcasts that keep us running.