Trail runner Gabe Joyes scrambles over rock on a run

It’s Just like Running on a Road, Except that it’s Not

Whether you are an experienced runner, or lacing up your shoes for the first time, trail running is a great way to get some exercise, experience nature, or just get lost in your thoughts for a while. Even though trail running really is very simple—I mean, all you do is put on some shoes and start going—I can offer a few hard-earned tips on how to make the most of your time on the trails.

  1. It’s not always smooth.

Running on trails might not look much different than running on a track, treadmill, or road, but that’s like saying tennis and ping-pong are basically the same thing too. Same idea, very different execution. While someone running on a smooth surface might try to lock into a very specific pace, it just doesn’t work like that on a trail. There might be rocks, roots, stream crossings, plenty of ups and downs, and even wildlife that will greatly influence your pace. Don’t forget to pick your feet up, look around, and:

2. Leave your ego at the trailhead.

I have witnessed countless runners transition from smooth surface running to trail running and have their egos take a big hit. It can be jarring when you have to run dramatically slower than you are used to with even more effort than you are used to. Having your same smooth surface running performance on a non-smooth surface is an unreasonable expectation. You’ll have some runs on trails that are better than others—some days you will feel fast, others not so much. Whether it is because of the mud stuck to your shoes, the blazing hot sun zapping your energy, or that phantom rock that tripped you again, trail running will offer up a different challenge every single time. I recommend running based on effort, not on pace, so leave your ego at the trailhead and remember to:

3. Have fun.

Run with joy, be free from pace expectations, and enjoy all the trails have to offer! Jump over rocks, high five tree branches, and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells. Go ahead and walk up the hills, take a look around, and maybe even stop to smell the flowers. Earth is the best planet that I have ever lived on and running on trails is a great way to appreciate the beauty that is all around us. But of course, another way to have fun is to:

4. Challenge yourself.

Pushing your own limits is a thrilling kind of fun too—sometimes I find it super satisfying to see if I can find a way to beat yesterday. If I have the right conditions, I might try to beat my fastest time on my favorite loop. Or, I might cruise up and down every hill I can find while keeping an eye on the elevation profile displayed on my watch. Some days it’s fun to stop and take pictures, other days it feels good to see what you are physically and mentally capable of.

Getting onto a trail and running for the first time is always a challenging experience, but my best advice is to always find a way to make sure enjoy it, allow yourself a bit of grace, and watch your step!


Gabe Joyes

Check out Gabe’s website or find him on Instagram and Strava.