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3 Essentials for Trail Running

Trail running is on the rise. According to the American Trail Running Association, the number of runners hitting the trails over neighborhood streets has seen a threefold increase since 2000. And it’s no wonder why more and more runners are choosing trails over paved roads.

Experienced trail runners like Sarah Lavender Smith link the outdoor activity to happiness, success, patience and flexibility, resilience and grit. Smith also believes trail running can counteract all the time we spend on our smartphones and at our computers and says running trails is a form of mindful meditation. And she’s certainly on to something.

Of course, experts have long pointed out that time spent outdoors and in nature increases one’s happiness and decreases overall stress levels. Plus, trail running is a solid form of exercise. Ready to give it a go? Here’s what you should know before hitting the trails.

1. Gear

It’s no secret owning and wearing the right gear is essential in partaking in any sport. For example, if you’re planning to pick up mountain biking, you’ll need a trail-ready bike, tire tubes, a repair kit, helmet and a set of cycling shoes. And that’s just the top of the checklist.

Some outdoor activities require a long list of equipment to get started. This can be a barrier to entry and keep people from partaking in the activity. When it comes to trail running, which is much more affordable and approachable, the gear checklist is simple and uncomplicated.

To get started, you’ll need sturdy running shoes with traction (preferably fitted by an expert), activewear suitable for the weather conditions and environment, a lightweight backpack or hydration pack and potentially a smartwatch enabled with GPS features. That’s it. That’s all you need to get started trail running.

2. Nutrition

Nutrition plays a vital role in physical activity — and trail running is no different. When running long distances, your body depends on glycogen as its primary fuel. Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles and provides accessible, efficient energy. It’s derived from carbohydrates — think carb loading the night before a big run — and helps you kick off activity with a full tank. But you’ll also spend it quickly.

For trail runs lasting up to three hours, nutrition experts recommend replenishing your carbs every hour with easily digestible carbohydrates and sugars, including fresh fruit as well as energy gels and chews. For longer runs lasting three hours or more, experts advise consuming between 200-300 calories of protein per hour. This can include energy bars, nut butters, beef jerky and drinks that contain added protein.

3. Cross Train

Sometimes, to be a better runner, you’ve got to up your training regimen. Cross training is important for trail running, as the terrain and environment are drastically different than what you would normally encounter on paved roads or a treadmill.

Adding cross training two to three times per week to your training schedule can improve your running, build strength, and can even help you run faster. Start with a few basic moves like overhead squats, single-leg half squats, single-leg balances, pushups, pullups, foam roller pectoral stretches and thoracic mobilization with the assistance of a foam roller to roll out the muscles in your back and ease tension.

Follow These Tips to Become a Bona Fide Trail Runner

More people are trail running than ever before — and it’s no surprise as to why. Ready to hit the trails? Use these tips to get started.