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The Transition from Road to Trail

February 25, 2015

The Transition from Road to Trail


Running on roads is fairly simple.  I emphasize fairly because we all know that simply getting out the front door for a run can be tough.  But once you’re out there, the possibilities for running routes are limitless. Besides a bit of curb-hopping, roads allow the brain to run on auto-pilot. But while many of us have found comfort on asphalt, running on trails can challenge you in ways you never thought possible.

I’ll never forget my first trail half marathon.  I was fresh off my first road marathon finish, and with all the confidence of the “marathon runner” title under my belt, I signed up for a race on some local mountain biking trails.

I was bottle-necked on single track at the beginning of the race, and the trail switch-backed up steep, rocky hills.  A few brave souls would attempt to pass others by hurdling logs and bushes, but the majority of us were just trying to stay upright.  For this first timer – It. Was. HARD. Turns out, running on trails is a completely different sport from road running or hiking. So here are some tips to mastering the elusive trail run:

  1. You’re running on dirt. This is easier on the body than pounding pavement, but you’ve got uneven footing which works muscles you probably haven’t used much (and will test your ankle flexibility often).  And there are obstacles – rocks, roots and other natural landscape await, so keep your eyes focused about 10 feet in front of you, and be prepared to adjust your footing.
  2. You won’t find street signs here. Unless you’re running on an urban trail, maps can be your lifeline.  I tend to bring a one when running in the forest – unless I’m really familiar with the trail or running with someone else who is.
  3. The more the merrier.  I have friends who run on trails alone, but I recommend bringing a buddy along.  Having someone out on the trail with you can be your key to safety if you miss a turn or find yourself needing assistance.  Plus, it’s always nice to share an adventure with someone else.
  4. Better to be safe than hungry.  Don’t forget your fuel.  You’ll be working hard and likely running in remote areas.  A hard bonk might render you weak and unable to run; nothing a gel or two can’t fix.  Hydration is also key – you never know when the sun might decide to shine, zapping all your energy.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings.  This is probably the most important advice I can offer.  Running trails in the middle of summer on a hot day requires enough experience and preparation that you’ll want to be aware of what kind of terrain awaits you on your run.  Be smart and think ahead.  With the proper fuel and hydration, you can literally run up mountains.

What used to be a love of roads for me, is now a deep desire to hit the trails as often as possible.  The challenge of running up steep single track, or winding through a forest with a thick canopy of branches overhead gives me something to dream about while I’m at work sitting in front of the computer every day.  Exploring new places while running on trails can open a whole new world, and instill a desire to challenge your body in ways you never thought possible.  I’m a convert – and I guarantee you will be too.


Written by: Amy Clark

Amy is a runner, writer, mama of twins and founder of the website, Living (and running) in Bend for over 14 years, she takes advantage of all the trails Central Oregon has to offer.