I never really considered giving advice on running trails because I consider myself to be very much a beginner. I still have so much to learn. I get DMs fairly often asking about gear and how to get into trail running, but recently someone reached out to me on Instagram, my favorite, favorite community building platform, to ask me for tips on getting into running trails to cope with a difficult life experience. I know a lot about that! I started reflecting on my journey and would like to offer some recommendations based on what I would do differently and what I got right – but mostly on what I do now after getting it wrong. It’s not that tactical, but I promise you, it’s just as important. You’ll figure out the tactical stuff as you go along.
Don’t expect to figure everything out before you start.
Everything was a complete mystery to me when I started and I wanted all the answers before doing all the things! Without a frame of reference, most good advice doesn’t stick because you have no context. So, just start! Quit playing it safe – on the trail and in life. I wasted a couple of years slowly getting more adventurous in my runs and I am consistently inspired watching others jump right in, challenge themselves and what they accomplish by doing so. Just start somewhere, anywhere.
Listen to your body and run with your heart, not your ego.
Let your body call the shots. There’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself, but don’t ignore the signals your body gives you. It is smarter than you. It takes practice to know which messages are coming from your body and which are coming from your mind, and where to push through. As with all things in life, don’t compare yourself to others or it will suck the joy from the very thing you’re seeking to find joy in doing. The benefit of living in Boulder is that pretty much everyone can outrun me, so I don’t bother holding myself up to the accomplishments of others. It’s purely a competition with my psyche to see what I’m made of. The thing I love the most about trail is that by necessity, trail running keeps me in my body, in the moment, and out of my head.
Seek out experiences and make YES your default answer!
Please don’t do what I did and let fear retard your progress by avoiding things because you think you can’t keep up or aren’t strong enough. Doing those very things is HOW you get stronger and the trail running community is so infrequently judgemental. Most are very supportive of people who are stretching beyond their comfort zone. That being said, take note of the type of run you choose to join. Around here, you can find “no-drop” runs where no one gets left behind to be mauled or eaten by bears and mountain lions. If you’re not sure, ask the organizer. I used to avoid runs with any real vertical gain because I was embarrassed that I couldn’t keep up or that I was murder-breathing while others were carrying on lengthy conversations. No one’s gonna laugh at you!
Build a network.
Start running with people. Fortunately Boulder has a hundred thousand million group runs on any given day of the week, morning or evening, take your pick. You might not be so lucky in other towns, but most towns have running stores and most running stores have group runs. Go to those and start talking to people and ask about trail. I know it isn’t easy for most people to just start a conversation with a stranger, but you already have a known mutual interest. Exchange numbers, make arrangements to run outside the group, ask about other run clubs… explore the community and join in every chance you get. Ask questions, listen to other runners tell their story and then keep asking questions as you move along your learning curve.
Forget what you know about running.
Trails are a different species than road and they will teach you their ways in their own time. Forget about pace. Sure there’s room for speed on trails, unless you’re me, but as you’re getting to know the trails, don’t think too much about it. Just get out and enjoy the rocks and roots and build a new kind of muscle memory. Learn by doing, incorporate trial and error, learn to enjoy failure, it means you’re growing! Experience is a great teacher and you will learn without a big cerebral effort. When you run into a “roadblock” – ask around and use others’ experience to try out what works for you.
Do you know that there is a Trail Runner magazine? Last month’s edition had a whole piece on how to start trail running. Subscribe, but also go to their website and check out the articles that speak to you. Give yourself something to think about and to try next time you hit the trails. There are also trail and ultra and women’s only groups on FB that you can lurk and learn if that’s your jam.
I hope that’s some good advice. I’m no expert, but this post is a direct result of my personal experience putting many hours in on the trails, meeting new people, and sadly, regretting how late I discovered this love. Whatever you think you want to do, whether it’s trail running or something else, don’t wait, start anywhere, just start now.