How Do You Train For A First Trail Race? | Hikers University

Trail running is one of the most popular sporting activities in many parts of the world. So, how do you train for your first trail race?

Trail running is a type of off-road running that takes place on trails or paths instead of roads. Trail running races are becoming increasingly popular as they offer a more challenging and scenic running experience than road races. While trail running can be done on any trail, some trails are more challenging than others.

First, it's important to choose the right race. Start by researching different trail races in your area and find one that suits your skill level. Also, make sure to wear the proper footwear. Trail shoes have thicker soles and more aggressive treads. Finally, pack water, snacks, and safety gear.

Tail running is a term used to describe trail running on particularly difficult and technical trails. Tail runners need to be very fit and able to navigate rough terrain. They must also be prepared for extreme weather conditions, as trail running can be dangerous in bad weather. Whether you're interested in trail running for fun or competition, be sure to do your research and choose a trail that's right for your level of fitness and experience.

As experienced trail runners, we will explain to you what you need to do to prepare for your first-ever trail race.

Table of contents


Step#1: Define Your Goals

When preparing for a trail running race, it is important to set realistic goals. Otherwise, you may find yourself disappointed with your performance on race day. There are a few things to remember when setting goals for a trail running race.

First, consider your current fitness level and how much training you have been able to do leading up to the race. If you are new to trail running, it may be unrealistic to set a goal of winning the race. Instead, focus on completing the race and finishing within a certain time frame.

Another important factor to consider is the difficulty of the trail. If the trail is extremely hilly or technical, it will likely be slower than a flat, easy trail. Keep this in mind when setting your goal time.

Finally, remember that goals should be challenging but achievable. If you set a too easy goal, you won't be motivated to push yourself on race day.

But if you set a too difficult goal, you may feel discouraged if you don't reach it. By keeping these things in mind, you can set realistic and achievable goals for your next trail race.

Step#2: Choose the Right Race

When researching for a trail running race, there are several factors to consider in order to find the best race for you. The first factor to consider is the location.

You'll want to choose a race located in an area you're familiar with or that you're excited to explore. Another factor to consider is the length of the race. Trail running races can range from 5Ks to ultras, so you'll want to choose a distance that you're comfortable with.

You'll also want to consider the time of year that the race takes place. Some trail running races occur in the middle of summer, while others occur in winter. Choose a time of year that you know you'll be able to train in and that you'll enjoy running in.

Finally, read reviews of the race before you sign up. This will help you get an idea of what other runners thought of the race and if it's something you'll enjoy. Considering all of these factors, you'll surely find the perfect trail running race for you.

Step#3:  Prep Up Your Body

So you've finally signed up for your first trail race! Whether a 5K or an ultra marathon, prepping your body properly will be key to a successful (and enjoyable) race. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you get ready for race day:

  1. Build gradually. If you're new to trail running, don't try to do too much too soon. Start with shorter runs on easy trails, and gradually increase your mileage and the difficulty of the terrain.
  2. Strengthen your legs and ankles. Trails are full of uneven terrain, which can stress your lower legs and ankles. Exercising these areas will help reduce your risk of injury on race day.
  3. Train in different weather conditions. You never know what the weather will be like on race day, so it's important to train in all kinds of conditions. If it's hot, make sure to drink plenty of fluids and stay cool if it's cold, dress in layers, so you don't get too cold or sweaty.
  4. Know the course. If possible, do a trial run of the course before race day. This will give you an idea of what to expect and help you plan accordingly. Even if you can't do a trial run, familiarize yourself with the elevation changes, distance, and any other relevant details about the course.

By following these tips, you'll be prepped and ready to take on your first trail race!

Step#4: Gear Up

Whether you're gearing up for your first trail race or your hundredth, it's important to ensure you're properly prepared. Here are a few tips to help you get ready for your big day:

  1. Choose the right shoes. Trail running shoes should have good tread and be able to handle wet and slippery conditions. If you're unsure which shoes to buy, ask a knowledgeable salesperson at your local running store.
  2. Dress in layers. The weather can change quickly on the trails, so it's important to dress in layers that you can take on and off as needed. A light jacket or windbreaker is a good idea, as well as a hat or headband to keep your ears warm.
  3. Bring snacks and water. You'll want to ensure you have enough food and water to last the entire race. Energy bars, gels, and trail mix are all good options for trail fuel, and you should always carry more water than you think you'll need.
  4. Know the course. Before the race, familiarize yourself with the route so there are no surprises on race day. If possible, do a practice run or walk of the course so you know what to expect come race day.

Following these tips will prepare you for anything the trail throws at you on race day!

Step#5: Don’t Pay Too Much Attention to Pace

If you're training for a trail race, don't get too caught up in your pace. Instead, focus on the effort level you can sustain for the duration of the race. Trail conditions can vary widely, so it's more important to be able to maintain a consistent effort than it is to hit a specific pace.

What feels like an easy jog on a flat, smooth trail can turn into a slog when you factor in elevation gain and rough terrain. And don't forget that weather can also impact trail conditions, making them more challenging (or easier) than usual.

So instead of fixating on your pace, pay attention to how your body feels and adjust your effort level accordingly. This will help you be better prepared for whatever the race throws at you.

Step#6: Learn to Embrace the Power Hike

For many runners, the idea of power hiking is counterintuitive. After all, the whole point of running is to cover the ground as quickly as possible.

However, there are certain situations where power hiking can be the best option. For example, power hiking can help you conserve energy and maintain a steadier pace when running uphill. In addition, power hiking can be a useful tool for dealing with rocky or uneven terrain.

By keeping your center of gravity over your feet and using your arms for balance, you can navigate tricky sections of the trail without losing your footing. With a little practice, power hiking can become an important part of your trail racing strategy.

Choosing the Right Footwear for Trail Running

Having a good pair of running shoes is essential for anyone who loves to hit the trail. But with so many different options on the market, it can be hard to know which pair is right for you. Here are four things to consider when choosing trail running shoes:

First, think about traction. Trails can be unpredictable, with loose rocks and uneven terrain. You'll want a shoe with good traction that can help you keep your footing, even when the going gets tough.

Second, consider fit. A good trail shoe should be snug but comfortable, with enough room to wiggle your toes. Remember that your feet may swell on longer trips, so it's important to try on shoes at the end of the day.

Third, think about cushioning. A trail shoe should have enough cushioning to protect your feet from the impact of running on rough terrain. But too much cushioning can make a shoe feel bulky and slow, so it's important to find a balance.

Finally, consider the material. Some runners prefer shoes made entirely of synthetic materials, while others prefer a mix of natural and synthetic fibers. There's no right or wrong answer - it's all about personal preference. Experiment with different materials until you find a shoe that feels comfortable and supportive on the trail.

Best Trail Running Shoes in 2022

Hoka Speedgoat 4

The Hoka Speedgoat 4 is designed for trail runners of all levels. They have a number of features that make them ideal for trail running, including a cushioned midsole and an aggressive outsole.

The midsole provides ample cushioning for long runs on rough terrain, and the outsole provides excellent traction on slippery or loose surfaces. The shoes also have a water-resistant upper that helps to keep your feet dry in wet conditions.

In addition, the Speedgoat 4s are available in a wide range of sizes, so you can find a pair that fits you perfectly. Whether you're a seasoned trail runner or just starting out, the Hoka Speedgoat 4s is a great choice for your next trail running shoes.

La Sportiva La Sportiva Bushido II

La Sportiva Bushido II trail running shoes are designed to provide superior comfort and support on even the most challenging terrain. The shoes feature a sturdy yet lightweight construction, and the tough outsole is ideal for tackling rocky or uneven surfaces.

In addition, the Bushido II features a trail-specific lacing system that provides a secure fit, and the breathable mesh upper helps to keep feet cool and comfortable.

Whether you're an experienced trail runner or just starting out, the La Sportiva Bushido II trail running shoes are a great choice for anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors in comfort and style.

Saucony Peregrine 11

The Peregrine 11 is the latest trail running shoe from Saucony. It's designed to provide a balance of cushioning and protection while still being lightweight and comfortable.

The Peregrine 11 has a number of features that distinguish it from other trail running shoes on the market. For example, it has an extra-wide toe box that allows your feet to spread out more and a FLEXconnect system that provides flexibility and support.

The Peregrine 11 is also equipped with a PWRTRAC outsole that provides superior traction on all types of terrain. Whether you're an experienced trail runner or just getting started, the Peregrine 11 is a great option.

Inov-8 Inov-8 RocLite G 275

Inov-8 is a company that specializes in shoes for trail running. The Inov-8 RocLite G 275 shoes are designed to provide excellent grip and support on all types of terrain.

The shoes feature a tough, reinforced upper that can withstand the rigors of off-road running and a comfortable, cushioned sole that provides shock absorption and comfort.

In addition, the shoes have a unique lacing system that helps to keep the shoe snug and secure on your feet. Whether you're running on fire roads or technical singletrack, the Inov-8 RocLite G 275 shoes are an excellent choice for trail runners who want shoes that can handle anything.

What Are the Dangers of Trail Racing

Trail racing can be a great way to explore the outdoors and get some exercise, but it can also be dangerous if you're not prepared. Here are some of the most common dangers of trail racing:

  • Getting lost: It's easy to veer off the trail and become lost, especially if you're in unfamiliar territory. Always carry a map and compass, and know how to use them.
  • Weather: Trail conditions can change quickly, and extreme weather can make trails treacherous. Be prepared for all types of weather, and know how to take shelter if necessary.
  • Wildlife: Trails often take you into areas where there is wildlife. Be aware of your surroundings and make noise to avoid surprising animals. If you do encounter an animal, do not approach it or try to engage with it.

By being aware of the dangers of trail racing, you can help ensure that your next race is safe and enjoyable.

How to Stay Safe When Running a Trail

Trail runners can encounter many hazards, including wildlife, uneven terrain, and extreme weather conditions. To stay safe, it's important to follow some simple guidelines.

  • First, always tell someone where you're going and when you expect to return.
  • Second, stick to well-marked trails and be sure to avoid areas with potential hazards like steep cliffs or fast-moving water.
  • Third, pack essential supplies like food, water, and a first-aid kit.
  • Finally, pay attention to your surroundings and be prepared to turn back if the trail becomes too difficult or dangerous.

Following these simple tips allows you to enjoy trail running while staying safe.


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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