6 STEPS TO FOLLOW WHEN STARTING TRAIL RUNNING

Ever dream of taking up trail running as a sport and, as the prudent person that you are, you would like to stack all the odds in your favour before giving it a go? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

And what if trail running were no longer just an unfulfilled aspiration? And what if this sport were to occupy a more prominent role in your life? And what if, what if… And what if it were true? Because, if this is not the case today, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be the case tomorrow. “Yes, but trail running is a difficult sport. Indeed, you need a certain level of ability before you can start properly… In other words, I can’t do it.” Not at all! What’s got into to you, to make you think this way? Admittedly, trail running is not always easy. But for those who love to be in natural surroundings and who aren’t afraid of getting tired (by this we are referring to a good kind of fatigue, i.e. one that is restorative and satisfying), it’s not asking the impossible, don’t you think?
So, before rolling up your sleeves and setting off for the trails, we suggest that you glance over this guide that covers the six key stages for successfully starting trail running (and continue doing it over the long-term)! And what if this were to be the start of a long love story with trail running? The time is right to take a look back at the good old days, the age of innocence, without avoiding the issues and the vast number of trails that you can choose from.

1. CLEARLY DEFINE WHAT YOU EXPECT OF YOUR FUTURE SPORT (TRAIL RUNNING IN THIS INSTANCE)

To find out if trail running is for you, and if you are made for trail running, nothing is better than a quick and established test (guaranteed ultra reliable), like a magazine questionnaire. So tick the phrases that fit you best:

◆ I want to stay at home and feel sorry for myself.
⬤ I want to experience the pleasure of getting away and spending more time outdoors.
◆ I’m not curious about going to unknown locations because I already know myself very well.
⬤ I would like to spend time by myself, and discover my potential and improve on my sport.
◆ Sharing my passion with others is not something that interests me. And what’s more, there’s nothing I feel passionate about.
⬤ What drives me is meeting other people and sharing stories with enthusiasts.

You’ve ticked a high number of ⬤: Trail running seems to be your favourite sport. You yearn for wide open space and love to immerse yourself in nature. You also like to spend time alone, as much as playing sports with people who are like you… or not like you (because when trail running, you make loads of friends)!

You’ve ticked a high number of ◆: There’s no doubt about it, trail running is for you! Your self-image is biased because you believe you’ve seen everything and done everything. You expect nothing from yourself or from anyone else, and are not open to surprises. Here’s some good news: there’s a chance that trail running might surprise you. Prepare to go out of your comfort zone and live life to the fullest!

2. TO START TRAIL RUNNING, YOU NEED TO HAVE A POSITIVE ATTITUDE

When you say it like that, it doesn’t seem like much, but if you are serious about getting into trail running, you will have to play your part. And for good reason, like any new activity that you want to throw yourself into, you may be surprised by certain aspects that you didn’t expect and that you should not let yourself be intimidated by. Here’s the thing, you must start by deciding not to be too hard on yourself. Yes, because when you start trail running, you will have a tendency to demand a level of performance from yourself that would make the seasoned trail runner think twice: for example, doing 10 km (along with the corresponding positive elevation gains) in less than 40 minutes… Well, let me tell you that failure doesn’t make you a loser. It simply means that you’re ambitious. For want of setting yourself staggering challenges, it’s better to always seek to give the best of yourself, even if it means not performing as well as you did the day before; because by giving the best of yourself, you can always be proud of yourself. What’s more, giving the best of yourself doesn’t mean running for as long as you can or as quickly as you can, don’t you think? Sometimes, all that’s needed is to put on your trainers when you don’t really feel like it; a small victory that should be enjoyed to the full.
What the trail runners say: by being positive in your approach, trail running becomes positiveness personified because it helps you learn to put the strangest situations in perspective; situations that would previously have made you lose patience. However, that was before!

3. CHOOSING THE RIGHT TRAIL RUNNING EQUIPMENT

Trail running has the advantage of not requiring a lot of equipment to start out. However, it’s important to choose your trail running equipment carefully to make your training sessions even more consistent and enjoyable. For example, regarding the top, it’s better to choose a high-tech breathable T-shirt (more or less lightweight depending on the ambient temperature) rather than a cotton T-shirt that soaks up your perspiration. Naturally, in cooler temperatures, you can add one or two layers: a high-tech fleece and/or a trail running jacket (windproof and/or waterproof). And for you ladies, make sure you wear a crop top in the right size: it must not be too loose or tight fitting (click here to find out how to choose your size of crop top). As for the bottoms, short of living in Siberia, you will be able to run in shorts for most of the year. If they have a tendency to ride up the leg, it may be because of friction; in this case, apply some anti-chafing cream to your thighs before you go for a run. Regarding the feet, reserve your cotton socks for your city shoes: when trail running, the feet need to be protected from blisters (we explain everything here how to prevent or treat blisters). What’s more, they are reinforced at the toes, midfoot arch and heel (check out how to choose your running socks here), but you can also protect your feet even more by covering them with a suitable anti-chafing cream. As for the shoes, here are several criteria that you need to consider: the type of terrain on which you’ll run, the distance you’ll cover and certain specific factors, such as your foot size (choose a slightly larger size because your feet will swell during physical effort), the drop (this is the drop), the cushioning, grip or even the traction (check out our advice for choosing your trail running shoes here ).
Now let’s talk about the gear: investing in a GPS watch is a good solution for knowing all the settings of the training session that you have just completed (stopwatch, distance, elevation gains, calories burned, etc.) When you start doing long outings, you’ll also need a trail running pack: THE iconic product of the discipline. You’ll be able to use this to carry your food supplies: water bottles, cereal bars, fruit jellies, gels, etc. You can also carry your survival blanket (compulsory for certain races), head torch, trail running poles, sunglasses, mobile phone, neck warmer, headband, pair of gloves, etc.

4. WHETHER YOU ARE A BEGINNER OR SEASONED TRAIL RUNNER, SET YOURSELF OBJECTIVES THAT WILL SUIT YOU

Once you have the right gear, you’re ready to properly prepare for your objectives. So while we’re on the subject, let’s look at this in greater detail. As explained earlier, at the start, you’re probably feel as if it’s unattainable. Don’t worry, this is normal. It’s because of the initial excitement of trail running for the first time and your desire to find out everything straight away! By setting yourself one of the countless challenges that you have dreamt about, you may simply screw up (but not always)… And it’s no big deal. Disappointments are only to be expected and help to build up the mental strength of a champion. What’s more, after experiencing something of a damp squib, don’t be afraid to set your sights on smaller goals than your long-term objectives; as you know, this can boost your confidence in your ability to attain them. Moreover, an objective doesn’t necessarily have to take the form of a race. Admittedly, pinning your race number to your top can be an objective in and of itself… Just like a personal and/or a solitary challenge of improving your personal best time on your favourite route, or even gradually increasing the distance you cover for your long Sunday run. In short, let’s not forget that, although trail running can sometimes have a mythical aura, it is first and foremost an attainable myth. A legend that is unique to each person and that is attained in as many different ways as there are entities. So, challenge yourself by setting yourself objectives that you think you can achieve, that will help you to excel and that are suited to you.

5. PROGRESSIVENESS IS THE KEY

In the same way as choosing objectives that suit you, progressiveness is the key. There can be no doubt: progressiveness is the only factor that will define whether you make a successful start in the sport. And for those of you who think that this is nonsense, just give it a few years.It’s a safe bet that when we meet again, you’ll be saying, “it’s true, I did everything the wrong way round”. When we talk about speed, distance or elevation gain, the rule is always same: progressiveness. Indeed, starting out too fast in training or during a race, and you run the risk of burning your wings and achieving less than you would have done if you had stuck to the principle of working progressively. Completing all your training sessions too quickly can also lead to weariness or injury to the point of even giving up on occasion. Furthermore, signing up to a 100 km trail run six months after starting is also liable to end in disaster! The distance must not be underestimated. Rather than being a simple formality, it is a full-blown adventure with surprises along the way, some of which are good… some which are not so good, particularly when we aren’t adequately prepared, physically and/or mentally. So, don’t try to keep up with your friends (yet) who are already used to trail running: don’t throw yourself into the fray of mountain ultra-trail running in survival mode. They are trained; you are still young and have a lot to learn, young Padawan. What’s more, trail running doesn’t necessarily mean ultra trail running (indeed, if you want to know more about ultra trail running, this is the place). No, there’s more to trail running than this. Trail running is, first and foremost, a long-term joy (not just a passing fancy that you get bored of). And this joy is one that takes time to build: through confidence (in yourself, acquired through experience), through projects (prepared over a long period of time, so that they can be approached and achieved with a minimum of stress) and through willpower (to progress, discover and find out more about oneself). Yes, like trail running, it takes time to build joy, steadily and progressively. “Piano piano,” as they say in Italian. “Siga siga,” as they say in Greek. “Softly, softly, we still have a few milestones to reach,” as we say in trail running.

6. LEARN HOW TO STRUCTURE YOUR TRAINING SESSION PROPERLY

Keep the food for later. In training, discipline is essential and, for those who are scared of this word, no worries, we will point you in the right direction! Putting together a training plan is not rocket science. To make it successful (and above all conclusive), you will need the following three main ingredients: the jogging outing, the specific sessions and the long weekly outing.

Jogging
Frequency: once or twice a week.
Duration: less than one hour.
You’re mistaken, if you think that the jogging outing is the easiest part. It isn’t in fact as easy as you might think. Indeed, many sportsmen and women do it too fast. And yes, running slowly is not as easy as it seems! Indeed, the jogging session must be done at 70 % of your VO2max, i.e. the fastest speed you can maintain when running for two kilometres. Given that the jogging session is a recovery training session, the effort must therefore be “easy”!

The specific session
Frequency: once or twice a week.
Duration: about one hour.
The specific session is rarely the favourite training session of trail runners. However, this is the one that helps them improve and overcome shortcomings. In trail running, what we mean by the specific training session is doing exercises on a slope (e.g. 2 series of 6 x 200 metre uphill sections), exercises going downhill (the same session, but going downhill), as well as speed exercises (3 x 2 kilometres at a fast pace, or even 8 x 300 metres). The specific session will build up your confidence in your foot contact with the ground, and help you get used to changes in pace by regularly running at a higher intensity; because, even in trail running, you must always be ready for a sprint finish!

The long outing
Frequency: once a week.
Duration: upwards of 1½ hours for beginners.
The long outing is the guilty pleasure of trail runners. It is the opportunity to reconnect with nature, one’s body and one’s thoughts, whatever they may be! The goal of the long outing is replicate the distance, elevation gain and/or duration of effort that you will have to complete in the race. During the long outing, you will also get used to your gear, try out your provisions, practise using your poles (which needs some getting used to), etc. In short, the long outing is like a dress rehearsal for the big day!

And to finish off…
However much you love trail running, you don’t have to devote your whole body to the sport. Indeed, mixing it up with other types of training helps to prevent injuries, avoid boredom or even exercise different muscles to the ones used in trail running. swimming, road cycling, mountain biking, yoga, cross-country skiing, hiking, GPP (general physical preparation), etc.: there’s plenty to choose from!
Also, stretch your muscles as often as possible, and take care of your diet and your sleep (but this comes naturally), as well as not doing anything at all at times… Yes, indeed, this is good news: total rest is also part of your training!

Good to know…
If you want to unearth some training schedules that you can use straight away, check us out on the Decathlon Coach app. You will find training sessions suited to your level of ability and your objectives for trail running as well as for many other sports!

So, there you go, you have probably realised that trail running is not reserved for elite sportsmen and women or those who are slightly crazy in the head… Rather, it is simply for people like you, who want to get away from it all.
And above all, don’t feel guilty about having a few preconceived ideas about trail running. It has to be said that, like everything that is a bit intimidating and that we look at from afar, there is a tendency to make a mountain out of a molehill… In the end, we find out that it’s not really so bad and we are so pleased to have FINALLY given it a go. We realise that we have totally underestimated it: So if you idealised trail running before giving it a go, you will see that, in reality, it is 1000 times better than anything you’d imagined!
And in case you still feel uncertain about your abilities, the best way to prove to yourself that you can do it is to give it a go, don’t you think?

Check out our advice on starting running here.