Switching from Road to Trail: 5 Tips Every Road Runner Should Know

Julie Moore, 27th December 2016

Are you stuck in a running rut or bored with the same loops around the houses? Perhaps its time to leave the busy streets behind and venture out on the trails to enjoy the fresh air and tranquillity. Read our 5 key tips on switching from urbanite to ruralite trail running.

runner in mountains

1. Train by perceived effort, not pace

Try to sustain your road running mile pace on the trails and you’re likely to end up in an exhausted heap at the side of the trail. You’ll find the pace significantly slower on most trails - the terrain is much softer and this in itself will slow you down, not to mention the hills, rocks and sharp corners that can slow momentum. Seeing your pace slow from sub 7 minute miles on the road to 10 minute miles on the trails can be demoralising and mentally tough to accept. However, running 10 minute mile pace on a hilly trail could bring you to your anaerobic threshold whilst the same pace on the road would be considered an easy jog. There’s little doubt that trail pace is erratic; think of trail runs as interval sessions - the pace is constantly changing as you encounter hills and smoother sections.

Leave your GPS at home, or at least change the screen so that you can’t see the pace and run by feel or perceived effort.

2. It’s ok to walk

Have you ever wondered how people ‘run’ up mountains? The answer is simple, often they don’t! It’s usually more efficient and less fatiguing on the body to ‘power walk’ up steep inclines than run. Practice ‘power walking’ steep sections and running the downhills and rolling sections.

runners walking uphill

3. Trail runners like ‘real’ food

It’s time to ditch the energy gels in preference for some ‘real’ food. Trail running is done at a slower pace and often for a longer duration than road running, so you’re going to need to take on fuel. Trail snacks with some fat and protein are ideal, such as bananas, avocado sandwiches or homemade ‘raw’ energy bars.

Experiment with different foods to find out works best for you.

homemade chocolate cereal bar

4. No new gear required

All you need to get started is a pair of good road shoes, particularly if you’re planning on running on parkland or flat wide trails. For more technical trails with roots and rocks, you’ll probably want to invest in a trail specific shoe with grippy treads to better handle mud, slippery rocks and slimy roots.

trail and road shoe tread patterns

5. Your body will thank you

Off-road trails are far more forgiving on the body than tarmac. Road running is repetitive motion – as each stride is similar, you’re always working the same muscles and tendons the same way each foot strike. On the trail, not only is the terrain constantly changing, your pace varies too as you negotiate rocks, dance over roots, lengthen your stride for the downhills etc., so every step is different from the previous helping to prevent repetitive motion injuries that are more commonly associated with road running.

runner on rocky ground

Trail running isn’t just for the young; its low impact nature attracts people in their sixties, seventies and eighties making it a great lifelong participation sport.

runner on trail by lake

Smile... you're trail running :-)

For the sheer enjoyment factor, trail running should be incorporated into every runner’s schedule. Go out and enjoy the unique vantage points of your local trails and marvel at the beauty they unearth – that’s the kind of magic you just don’t get on the road.