How Long Should A Trail Run Be? | Hikers University

Trail running is known to offer several benefits to frequent hikers, professional athletes, and even adventure-seekers. But how long should a trail run be?

There are two ways to improve your distance and speed while running a trail: Increase your distance to ultra marathon levels or make the same distance more difficult by switching up your terrain.

Ideally, a trail run should be between four and seven miles long, although you can cover up shorter or even longer distances if you feel comfortable. If you trail run on a regular basis, you can increase your distance gradually by 10% every week.  

Taking on a distance greater than 26.2 miles can be daunting for some, but what about completing a marathon on trails? Running a marathon on the trail is not the same as running one on the road. Since your mile speed is governed more by the land than anything else, a trail run allows you to break free from the pace of a road race. Simply enough, trail running involves running on trails rather than paved highways or concrete city paths. But there's a lot more to it.

After conducting our research and speaking with our experts in the industry, we have put together this guide to help you learn more about trail running and how long it should be.

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Trail Running

Trail running is a way of life, an escape, a fitness exercise, a means of modern-day adventure and self-discovery. Trail running is about much more than just putting one foot in front of the other on dirt or rocky trails; it has its own cast of characters, vibe, lexicon, community, and culture.

Path running is about getting away from the stresses of everyday life for a 30-minute run on a local trail, as well as testing your physical limitations and running farther than you've ever run before.

Tips to Improve Your Trail Running Speed and Distance

If you're interested in trail running, how about you lace up your shoes and get ready to go! Although trail running is a pretty straightforward activity, at the same time, it can also be difficult, even painful at times. Plus, there are moments when it gets aggravating. But, for the most part, it's simply too exhilarating and exciting. After all, most of us hardly ever get enough time to freely jump from boulders, bounce over logs, and splash through streams and puddles. Never forget that trail running is pure fun, no matter what your objectives or dreams are.

Trail running and jogging on the road are completely different and versatile experiences. Trails can be rough, challenging, and difficult to run on as compared to roads. Nonetheless, whether you go for a trail run or a road run, resting your body at least once or twice a week is crucial.

Continuous trail runs can cause damage to your body, especially because you won’t be giving yourself enough time to recover from the intense workout. Ideally, you should always start by warming up stretches and running three times a week. You can gradually increase the duration to up to five days.

How Long Should a Trail Run be?

Running on the path every day is safe if you pace yourself and don't go all out every time. Many trail runners come from a background of road running. It will take some time to acclimate to the variety of trail running if you are used to tight pacing for your road races and training. It's definitely a mental challenge to start running trails and have your average mile pace drop so drastically.

So, how long should you run on the trail? A decent trail running speed is about 10% to 20% slower than a typical road running speed. If you can regularly run 11 minutes per mile easily on the road, you should anticipate running 10 or even 13 minutes per mile on the trails. You can definitely cover between four and seven miles during the day.

In the end, the path's ruggedness will determine whether it's a buffed-out single track used by mountain bikers or a rough and technical trail with a lot of vertical gains.

Most runners worry about their running pace because they want to see how fast they can cover the entire course or at least get as far as they can. This goal applies to both road and track running. As it comes to trail running, however, there are some differences to consider when compared to road running. For example, the descent or ascent will be altered, the surface may change, and altitude may also play a factor.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Trail Running

Running, as you may know, is an impact sport. It works the entire body by putting tension on and engaging various muscles and joints. The body can benefit from the tension and movement in these muscles and joints.

Running improves cardiorespiratory health, stamina, and overall physical health in addition to strengthening muscles. However, if done incorrectly or in excess, repetitive stress can cause damage.

There are numerous strategies to reduce the stress on the muscles and joints to minimize tissue damage. You can, for example, modify your training intensity or employ footwear as well as improve your running form. Another viable option is to alter the height or surface. This means that road runners will begin jogging on trails.

Pros of Trail Running

Soft surface – Most running trails have a soft surface, such as dirt, grass, or sand, which can help to reduce the risk of impact-related injuries.

Trails contain a variety of surfaces and elevations, putting stress and effort on various tissues throughout the body.

Variable surface height and surface improve strength and balance in various sections of the body, making training much more beneficial.

Trails are only for running, hiking, or trekking, thus there are no pedestrians or oncoming traffic to worry about.

Since trails are natural, they provide a terrific opportunity for runners to observe natural beauty while also getting some fresh air.

Cons of Trail Running

Although the soft surface on trails lessens the risk of damage, there is still a danger of ankle injury owing to uneven surfaces.

People with hip or knee discomfort and/or balance issues may find the elevation difficult.

They are usually not as convenient as they are outside of the city area.

How to Improve Your Trail Running Speed

New runners frequently lament their lack of speed. They believe that because they are new to the sport, they will not be able to run quickly. Hard work, training, and effort; however, go a long way.

Important Trail Running Tips

Here are some pointers to get you started if you want to improve your trail running duration and speed:

Take things slowly and steadily

Build your endurance on an easier trail rather than heading immediately towards rough and challenging single-track trails. Create new pathways by learning how to navigate simple tracks. Trust us, learning how to navigate a trail is critical, especially when you're running a more difficult path. Allow yourself to similarly, progressively extend the time on the route. This can help you improve physical endurance and acclimate your muscles to a lot of exertion prior to running long distances on the path.

Run on time or effort

Instead of focusing on your speed, track your effort and time, as you will be slower at first. Vary your effort levels to see how your body reacts and maintains the pace. This will make it simple for you to adapt to a new trail.

Balance and strength should be developed

Trails include a variety of altitudes, elevations, and difficulties. To avoid injuries, you should work on increasing muscle strength, particularly in the lower body. To improve balance, try using balance boards, wrapped towels, and activities like high-knees, skipping, and stretching.

Divide your time between road and trail running

Your foot speed slows significantly when you go from road jogging to trail running. Your body adapts to the uneven terrain as it changes. Try to run short with regular intervals on the road at least once or twice a week. Furthermore, the space trail gets closer every three to four days to help you develop muscle memory.

Many runners aspire to go longer distances, whether it's a road marathon, an extreme trail race, or an extra lap around the neighborhood. Whatever your goals are, you'll need to put in some effort to prepare your body for long runs.

Check on your health

The first step is to consider your current health and fitness level. Consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine. You can train on your own once you've received permission, but attending some lessons, joining a running club, and/or hiring a coach or trainer will help you grow faster and provide a more enjoyable experience.

Start by jogging

Consider jogging simply a couple of times per week rather than four or five, and focus on gradually increasing your base mileage rather than sprinting. Don't be afraid to combine walking and running, and pay attention to how your body feels.

Gradually increase the mileage

It's tempting to immediately increase the number of miles you run each week when you want to run farther. This may result in injury. Most experts recommend gradually increasing your weekly mileage by 10–20 percent, then maintaining that level for two weeks before increasing it again.

If you've been running 30 miles per week for a few weeks, you can increase it by 3–6 miles (to roughly 33–36 miles) and run that distance for two weeks. Then add another 10–20 percent to your new weekly total, and so on.

Adjust your speed

For dedicated runners, training at varying speeds is routine practice and an efficient approach to improving endurance. You'll be able to get the most out of your workouts if you have a basic understanding of pacing.

Experienced runners may typically train at several race paces, such as 5K or 10K. (A race speed is a top pace at which you can achieve a target distance.) Race paces are useful benchmarks in a training plan since they can help you figure out what speed to run at.

Divide your finishing time in minutes by the distance in miles to determine your race pace for a distance you've run. If you run a 5K in 21 minutes, for example, divide 21 minutes by 3.1 miles to obtain 6.77 minutes per mile (which equals 6 minutes and 46 seconds). You can also make the calculations yourself using an online race time predictor.

There are numerous approaches to increasing distance and endurance through training:

  • Gradually increase your mileage to avoid overdoing it and injuring yourself.
  • Boost your workout by changing your pace.
  • Train in stages to increase base mileage and variation.
  • To improve strength, endurance, and speed, run hills.
  • Do general strength training to improve your overall strength and endurance for longer runs.
  • Since good nutrition and hydration are essential, eat and drink well.
  • Rest to ensure that your body gets the most from each session.


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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