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The Thrill of the Trail: What to Know Before Getting Into Trail Running

It is chic to get dirty right now. Everyone is talking about trail running, and you might be considering entering this niche of the running world. But before you head out on the trail, I’d like to impart upon you some sage advice to get you started.




Trail running/hiking is a great way to get some exercise at any fitness level. As such, it has become a hot topic in the running community! Trail Runner Magazine was create to cover all kinds of Trail Runner Topics and Spartan Races has released a trail series that attract runners from far and wide to tough it out through some rough trails and obstacle courses.

With such a rapidly growing following, you’ve probably been curious about how to get started as a trail runner – After all, you are reading this article, am I right? You may be bored with running on roads and want to try out a trail run or are thinking about starting with some hiking first. Either way, the thrill of trail running in your 50’s and beyond is completely attainable to you.

I was a road runner for years before I hit my first trail. There are many things I love about trail running, like being at one with nature. I find a lot of serenity in the woods, away from the noise and business of the city. I’ve competed in a number of trail races since I’ve turned 50, and have had my successes and struggles along the way.

If you’re looking to get off the pavement and start running the trails, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that will set you on the right path to becoming a trail runner.


Here are 4 basic things to know before you head out on the trails:


Know the distance

You should have a rough idea of how long you will be hiking so you know what to bring. Start short and build up the distance. If you do not know how far the trail is, figure out how long you want to be out there. You can hike out half the total time and turn around to come back. Take water and/or snacks in case you get lost…


Know how the trail is marked

Some trails are marked really well, some not so well. Many trails offer maps. There are online sites with maps and trail ratings, like AllTrails.


Know the trail difficulty

Alltrails rates trails as Easy, Moderate or Hard. You can also read the comments to see what the trails are really like.

Easy – Is usually easy. These are the trails that are great to get you started and used to running off the pavement. Think like well-maintained park trails with very few obstacles.
Moderate – There can be a little gray area here depending on location. Moderate in NC, for example, means 3-foot hills with a few roots. Moderate in Moab, UT means 1500-foot gain of elevation and wide enough paths that you probably won’t fall to your death.
Hard – They are usually not lying about this. There are different degrees of difficulty though, I like to rate them like this:

1: I could break an ankle [ Uwharrie 100 Mile Trail Run ]

2: I could be forced to seek medical aid [ Stump Jump 50k ]

3: I could be maimed [ Mt Cheaha 50k ]

4: I could die [ Moab Canyon Trail Marathon ]


Know your hiking partners

Is your hiking buddy going to tell you the truth about the difficulty of the trail because they respect your fear? Or, are they going to lie to you to get you to step way past your comfort level? Either way, trails can be an exhilarating adventure! Don’t be like my sister Cherie. She’ll go on any trail I take her on. No trespassing? They don’t mean us. Ok, that might have been my fault.


Happy hiking!