Top 10 ways to Improve Your Trail Running

This weekend will see my first trail run on the West Highland Way this year, in preparation for the 53 mile Highland Fling Ultramarathon in April. 

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve found trail running to be very different to road running, and as I’m quite new to it, I thought I’d get some thoughts together on how to improve your trail running.  It’s quite a challenge!

Strong Wheels

You will be running on trails that range from smooth, groomed cruisers to extreme trails with lots of rocks, roots, dips and drop offs. To safely handle that type of terrain you need strong feet and ankles.

Perform lower leg strength work on a consistent basis to build and maintain a good base of foot and ankle strength and stability. 

Consider activities like Bodypump or circuits to mix things up too. Use a Bosu Ball to gain leg strength.  (See my Winter Strength Training programme for more information on what I’m doing to prepare.)

Feel It

You should develop your proprioceptive abilities or a good “feel” for the position of your feet, ankles, legs, hips and your overall balance and body position. You should always intuitively know and automatically react to the terrain under your feet, the angle or position of your feet and your balance.

You can develop that ability by actual trail running and during training by working with wobble boards, instability discs and other stability training aids.

Core Up

Constantly maintaining your balance and an efficient stride on changing terrain requires a strong core. Try to perform core strengthening exercises / plyometric circuits at least two to three times per week to build the strength of your balance and stride maintaining core muscles.

Stride Right

This may seem like a no-brainer. Of course you should stride right. You should be running with an efficient stride and proper mechanics no matter where you run. But, you really need to focus on proper running mechanics on the trail.

Run with a compact, light stride with a foot strike directly under your centre of gravity to maintain efficiency and minimize your chances of suffering from an injury. Pay particular attention when running downhill. Heel striking on a downhill run will very likely cause or aggravate shin splint problems.  Remember: Little baby steps or Twinkle Toes. 🙂

Train for Trails

Unless you live in the mountains you probably don’t run on trails every day. To improve your trail running ability try to train for trails at least once or twice per week. Do some hill training and also some proprioceptive balance training on instability equipment. Don’t forget to include core and lower leg strength training. 

Run in parks, up and down hills, on uneven ground and vary your runs away from the road when you can. Don’t worry about your pace when you’re training this way, you won’t be as fast as you are on the road, just concentrate on getting good at running on the various terrains.

Make your training specific (see Specifity of training ) to the event you are going to do.  Run some of the route, get used to running the ups, the downs and the terrain.  Make sure you check the weather before you go out on the trails and pack accordingly.

Gear Up

If there’s anything I hate worse than running when I’m cold, it’s running when I’m cold and wet. Don’t get caught on the trail in a surprise rain or snow storm. Carry a running jacket, hat and rain gear when you go out for a long training run. Also carry your phone, safety gear and identification, just to be on the safe side.

Remember the Fuel

Running up hills, down hills, through streams and over boulders takes a lot of energy. Don’t forget to bring along some energy bars, energy gels or easy to pack high energy foods. It might make your return trip much more enjoyable and efficient. Take along some extra just in case. And of course you will need a couple of bottles of sports fluids to stay properly hydrated.

Pack Perfect

You’re carrying some additional running clothes, food, fluids and safety gear. You need somewhere to put it. Don’t just grab your hiking backpack. Go with a runners backpack. A pack designed for trail running will fit closer and more securely to your back. It won’t bounce around during your trail run. You can carry your gear and still enjoy your trail run.  Even better, get a hydration pack that holds your water and all of your stuff.  🙂  Mines is a 2L North Face Thresher one and I love it.

Trail Treads

You could wear your road shoes on your trail run (I’ve still to decide whether to purchase a pair of trail shoes…)  You could even run barefoot on your trail run if you’ve conditioned yourself to run barefoot. But apparently, running with a good pair of trail shoes can make the difference between an enjoyable day on the trails and a complete disaster.

Good trail shoes have a more aggressive tread to help you maintain a good grip on all types of terrain as well as a bit more stability to keep you from rolling an ankle. Many trails shoes are also water resistant or water proof to keep your feet dryer when you run through those streams (but your feet are probably going to get wet no matter what you have on your feet!)

I was thinking a pair of Inov 8s… but I’ve still to decide which! (If at all – since I just got two new pairs of Saucony Paramounts!!)

What do you think – do you think I should get a pair???!!


I usually tend to zone out when I’m doing a long road run, but trail running is another story.  I have to stay so focused to make sure I don’t slip, fall and do whatever to myself!  Always stay focused and alert when running on the trails.  Run proactively by looking about 20 feet ahead and scanning the upcoming trail. That way you will see and prepare for drop offs, hills, rocks, terrain changes and trail hazards.

 For more info go here:

This entry was posted in Top 10s, Ultramarathon and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Top 10 ways to Improve Your Trail Running

  1. DrRachelRuns says:

    Excellent tips! I usually run trails and you’ve captured all the best advice in one post. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s