How to Get in Shape for Trail Running

Are you ready to hit the trails? If you’re looking to take up trail running, you’ll need to make sure you’re in shape for the unique challenges of running on uneven terrain. In this guide, I’ll show you how to get in shape for trail running with a variety of tips and tricks to get you started. From choosing the right gear like road running shoes or the best trail shoes, to planning your workouts and following a training plan, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started. Whether you’re a seasoned marathon runner or just starting out with running training, there’s something for everyone in this guide. Plus, I’ll share some personal experiences and witty anecdotes to keep you motivated and on track. So, grab your hiking shoes and let’s hit the trails!

How to Get in Shape for Trail Running

Assess Your Current Fitness Level

Assess Your Current Fitness Level

Assessing your current fitness level is an essential first step in getting in shape for trail running. It’s important to take a good, honest look at your fitness level to identify areas where you may need to improve.

A fitness assessment can be a helpful tool to determine your current level of fitness. This may include tests such as measuring your heart rate, blood pressure, body composition, and flexibility. You can also consider taking a physical examination to assess your overall health and identify any underlying medical issues that may affect your training.

Identifying your strengths and weaknesses is also key in assessing your fitness level. Are you already a runner but need to work on your endurance? Or maybe you’re strong but lack flexibility. Understanding these areas of improvement can help you tailor your training plan to meet your specific needs.

In my personal experience, I’ve found that starting with a baseline fitness assessment can be eye-opening. It helped me identify areas where I was stronger and areas where I needed more work. By focusing on my weaknesses, I was able to improve my overall fitness and become a stronger trail runner.

Research has shown that taking the time to assess your fitness level can improve your chances of achieving your goals. One study found that participants who underwent a fitness assessment before starting an exercise program had a higher likelihood of meeting their goals compared to those who did not.

Set Your Goals

Set Your Goals

Once you’ve assessed your current fitness level, the next step is to set your goals for trail running. Setting both short-term and long-term goals can help you stay motivated and on track.

When setting your goals, it’s important to use the SMART goal-setting framework. This means that your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, a SMART goal for trail running might be to run a 10K trail race in 6 months, with a specific training plan and weekly progress checks.

Setting short-term goals can help you build momentum and track your progress along the way. These might include goals such as increasing your mileage each week, improving your pace, or mastering a new trail running skill.

Long-term goals can help you stay focused on the bigger picture and provide a sense of purpose and direction. These might include goals such as completing a trail marathon or hiking a challenging mountain trail.

Research has also shown the benefits of goal setting in achieving fitness goals. One study found that individuals who set specific, challenging goals were more likely to achieve their fitness targets than those who set vague or general goals.

Choose the Right Gear

Choosing the right gear is an essential part of getting in shape for trail running. One of the most important pieces of gear is your shoes, as they can make a significant difference in your performance and overall experience.

Wear shoes specifically designed for trail running, as they provide the necessary support, traction, and protection for the rough and uneven terrain. Road running shoes are not suitable for trail running, as they lack the necessary features such as deeper treads and rugged soles that provide better grip and stability on trails.

When looking for the best trail shoes, consider features such as waterproofing, durability, and breathability. A good pair of trail shoes should also have a sturdy construction, a comfortable fit, and ample cushioning to absorb shock and protect your feet from injuries.

In my personal experience, investing in a good pair of trail shoes made a significant difference in my trail running experience. I noticed that I felt more confident and secure on the trails, and I was able to tackle more challenging terrain with ease.

Aside from trail shoes, hiking shoes can also be a good alternative for trail running. While they may not be specifically designed for running, they offer many of the same features such as sturdy construction, ankle support, and good traction.

Plan Your Workouts

Plan Your Workouts

Trail running requires a specific set of skills and conditioning that is different from road running. That is why it is important to have a plan for your workouts if you want to get in shape for trail running.

Planning your workouts involves creating a training plan that is tailored to your goals, schedule, and fitness level. This will ensure that you are progressing at a steady pace and that you are not overtraining or undertraining.

There are several types of workouts that are beneficial for trail running, including hill repeats, tempo runs, and long runs. Hill repeats are an excellent way to build strength and endurance, while tempo runs help improve your speed and threshold. Long runs are important for building endurance and preparing for longer races.

When planning your workouts, it is also important to consider the differences between marathon training and trail running training. While both require endurance and strength, trail running training often includes more hill work and technical terrain.

Incorporating strength training into your routine is also crucial for trail running. Strength training helps prevent injuries and improves overall performance. Focus on exercises that target your glutes, hamstrings, and core, such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, and planks.

Remember to be flexible with your training plan and adjust it as needed. Listen to your body and take rest days when necessary. By planning your workouts and incorporating strength training, you will be well on your way to getting in shape for trail running.

Follow a Training Plan

Congratulations on taking the first step towards trail running! As you progress in your fitness journey, it’s important to follow a training plan. This will help you avoid injuries and achieve your goals.

A training plan is a schedule that outlines your workouts and sets specific goals for each session. It is important to have a training plan that is tailored to your individual needs and goals. For instance, a beginner trail runner’s training plan will differ from that of an experienced marathon runner.

Designing your own training plan can be challenging, but it is possible. Start by assessing your current fitness level and setting realistic goals. Next, research the different types of workouts and incorporate them into your plan. Be sure to include strength training to improve your overall fitness.

However, if you’re not confident in creating your own plan, consider seeking professional guidance. A coach or personal trainer can help you create a personalized training plan that is specific to your needs and goals. They can also provide guidance on proper form and technique during exercises.

Gradually Increase Your Mileage

As a trail runner, increasing your mileage is essential to building endurance and improving your performance. However, it’s crucial to do it gradually to avoid injury and burnout. In this section, we’ll discuss the importance of gradually increasing your mileage, how to do it safely, and the benefits you’ll see from this training technique.

One of the biggest mistakes new trail runners make is increasing their mileage too quickly. Your body needs time to adapt to the stresses of running, and if you increase your mileage too fast, you risk injuring yourself. Gradual mileage increases also give your body time to recover, which is essential for preventing burnout.

So, how do you gradually increase your mileage? A general rule of thumb is to increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10%. For example, if you’re currently running 20 miles per week, you can add 2 more miles the following week, and so on. However, this percentage can vary depending on your experience level, fitness level, and running goals.

It’s also essential to listen to your body when increasing your mileage. If you’re feeling overly fatigued or experiencing pain, it’s a sign that you may be increasing your mileage too quickly. In this case, it’s better to take a step back and re-evaluate your training plan.

Incorporate Cross-Training

Cross-training is an essential part of any training plan, especially for trail running. It involves incorporating different exercises into your routine that complement running and target different muscle groups. This helps prevent injuries, improve overall fitness, and boost performance.

Some popular cross-training activities for trail runners include swimming, cycling, yoga, and strength training. Swimming and cycling are low-impact activities that provide cardiovascular benefits without putting too much stress on the joints. Yoga helps improve flexibility, balance, and mental focus, while strength training builds muscle strength and endurance.

Incorporating cross-training into your training plan doesn’t mean you have to spend hours doing other activities. Even a short 30-minute session of yoga or strength training can make a big difference in your overall fitness and running performance. It’s important to find activities that you enjoy and that work well for your body and schedule.

Remember, cross-training is a supplement to running and not a replacement. It should be used in conjunction with a well-designed running plan to achieve your trail running goals.

Stay Motivated

Staying motivated is essential for any training program, especially when it comes to trail running.

  1. Set realistic goals: Make sure your goals are achievable and relevant to your abilities and lifestyle. This will help you stay focused and motivated throughout your training.
  2. Find a training partner: Having a friend or family member to train with can help you stay accountable and motivated. You can encourage each other and push each other to reach your goals.
  3. Mix up your workouts: Don’t be afraid to switch up your workouts and try new things. Variety can help keep you interested and motivated.
  4. Use technology: There are many apps and gadgets available that can help you track your progress and stay motivated. Consider using a fitness tracker or downloading a running app to help you stay on track.
  5. Reward yourself: Celebrate your achievements and reward yourself for reaching your goals. Treat yourself to a massage, a new piece of gear, or a nice meal.


What are some ways to condition your body for trail running?

To condition your body for trail running, you can incorporate a mix of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and mobility work. Gradually increasing your mileage and intensity of your workouts is important, but it’s also crucial to allow for adequate rest and recovery time.

How can you build endurance for trail running?

To build endurance for trail running, you can gradually increase the distance and duration of your runs over time. Consistency is key, so it’s important to establish a regular training schedule and gradually increase your weekly mileage. Incorporating cross-training and strength training can also help to improve your overall endurance and reduce your risk of injury.

What are some tips for beginners starting trail running?

For beginners starting trail running, it’s important to start with shorter, easier trails and gradually progress to more challenging terrain as your fitness level improves. Investing in proper trail running shoes and gear can also make a big difference in your comfort and safety on the trails. Additionally, it’s important to listen to your body and prioritize rest and recovery as needed.

Is trail running more difficult than running on pavement?

Trail running can be more difficult than running on pavement due to the uneven terrain and elevation changes, but it can also be a more rewarding and engaging experience. Trail running also typically engages more muscles and can lead to greater improvements in overall fitness and endurance.

Is trail running harder on the body?

Trail running can be harder on the body than running on pavement due to the impact and stress placed on the joints and muscles from uneven terrain. However, incorporating strength training and cross-training can help to reduce the risk of injury and improve overall physical resilience.

Does trail running put a lot of strain on the knees?

Trail running can put additional strain on the knees due to the uneven terrain, but proper technique and strength training can help to reduce this strain. It’s important to listen to your body and adjust your training as needed to prevent injury.

Can trail running help with weight loss?

Yes, trail running can be an effective way to aid in weight loss. It is a high-intensity, full-body workout that burns a significant number of calories and can help to improve overall fitness and metabolic health.

How often should you trail run per week?

The frequency of trail running per week depends on your fitness level and training goals. For beginners, starting with 1-2 days per week and gradually increasing as fitness improves is recommended. Advanced runners may train 3-4 days per week or more, but it’s important to balance training with rest and recovery time to prevent injury and burnout.


So there you have it! Trail running can be a challenging yet rewarding activity, and with the right mindset, gear, and training, anyone can take on the trails. To summarize, here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind:

  • Start slow and gradually increase your mileage to prevent injury and build endurance.
  • Invest in a good pair of trail running shoes with appropriate features for the terrain.
  • Incorporate cross-training and strength training into your routine to improve overall fitness and prevent muscle imbalances.
  • Follow a training plan and seek professional guidance if needed to help you reach your goals.
  • Stay motivated by setting realistic short-term and long-term goals, finding a running partner or group, and mixing up your routes and workouts.

Remember, trail running is a journey, not a destination. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone. With hard work, dedication, and a positive attitude, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a seasoned trail runner in no time. So grab your gear, hit the trails, and enjoy the beautiful scenery and fresh air!

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Ras Vaughan
When possible Ras and Kathy will post trail dispatches to their personal Facebook pages, their Team UltraPedestrian Facebook page, and their Instagram account. Also, video dispatches will be posted to YouTube channels. Follow them on : Youtube, Instargram
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