If you divert from your regular running paths and hit the trails this spring and summer, it’s important to consider safety before heading out. Trail running is increasingly popular due to the fresh air, fabulous views, varied terrain, a more forgiving surface, escape from urban life and ability to commune with nature. In 2016, there were approximately 8.58 million trail running participants in the U.S., up from 8.14 million the previous year.
Trail running can be a welcome change from your usual routine, energizing the body, adding new challenges and fueling motivation. But be smart and safe first. If you’re new to trail running, this is particularly critical, as it definitely is not the same as running on the pavement in metro areas or on flat rural roads. Keep in mind the following tips for trail running and safety.
Trail Running Safety Tips
- Research routes – Don’t just drive around and stop when you find a trail that looks good. Research trails beforehand, download GPS data to your phone or smart watch, know the length and familiarize yourself with the terrain. For a new route, carry a map and read signs.
- Notify others – Always tell someone where you are going and how long you expect to be gone. Carrying a phone is smart, provided you can get service on the trail. The app Strava has a beacon feature that enables designated individuals to see on a map where you are in real time, which can help if you sprain an ankle five miles into your run.
- Bring a friend – Running with a buddy boosts safety and can add motivation.
- Dress right – Trail runs often involve a change in altitude, so wicking garments can keep you comfortable, and lightweight layers let you adjust to temperature fluctuations. Lightweight pants or tights, or long sleeve shirts, can prevent scratches from bushes and thorns, along with bug bites. Wear clothing with reflective panels if you are going out at dawn and dusk.
- Gear up – Wear the proper shoes and sunglasses, apply sunscreen and insect repellant as necessary and carry water and gel or food in case you end up being out longer than anticipated. Bandages and tissues are a plus as well.
- Slow down – Forget your usual flat-road pace here. You’re dealing with rocks, leaves, trees, roots, uneven terrain, changes in elevation – all of which can reduce traction and cause stumbles. Pay attention to the trail in front of you and don’t get caught staring off into the gorgeous scenery. Don’t worry about distance; just focus on overall time.
- Tackle hills – Take short, quick strides when traveling uphill to conserve energy. On the downhills, maintain high cadence, and fast, short footfalls. But again, reduce your urge to go super-fast.
- Pay attention to how you feel – Don’t go so far on an out-and-back that you can’t return safely. Plan your run, but be flexible in taking water breaks or walking, cutting it short if you are fatigued or changing course if hills aren’t doable today.
- Stay calm in the wilderness – Although it’s not highly likely, if you encounter a mountain lion, bear or other animal, it’s important to know what to do. Don’t panic or run frantically, but back away slowly. Check out recommendations of how best to handle these instances.
- Recover well – Trail running naturally has greater demands on the body, so stretch afterwards, use a foam roller or massage tool and try an ice bath for 10 minutes to reduce inflammation. This can help minimize your risk of injury and keep you feeling good for the next run.