Trail runners moving quickly

Trail running technique tips

Get ready to embrace roots, rocks, forests and hills. Start with this trail running technique video from Canadian Running magazine and MEC:

Trail running technique tips

Whether you want to get speedier on the trails or are just nervous about negotiating roots and rocks, there are a few key trail running tips to keep in mind:

  • Shorten your stride length: Over technical terrain, keep your steps short so you can easily hop and react without overstriding. Same goes for hills, both up and down.
  • Look a little ahead: It’s tempting to look directly at your feet or the obstacle directly below you – resist the urge. Instead, gaze ahead a few feet to the open space where you’re going next. Your feet and brain will be prepared to handle what’s coming.
  • Listen to your body: Every trail brings a different challenge, and every kilometre brings a different pace.
  • Pay attention: When you’re on a new trail, try not to zone out. Look behind you (especially at trail intersections) so you’re comfortable navigating your way back.
  • Pick up your feet: Think nimble and agile to high-step and hop over natural obstacles.
  • Relax and enjoy: Keep your knees soft, your eyes forward, and focus on curving your mouth upwards (that’s right: remember to smile). Whoops of joy are always welcome.

“Although trail running is accessible to any runner, there are still specific skills that take time to acquire. The ability to move efficiently over technical trails comes from running lots of miles on the trails.” – MEC staffer tip

Uphill running tips

One thing new trail runners are always surprised about? It’s totally cool to walk up hills – trail runners do this all the time and call it powerhiking. If you do want to tackle hills while running, keep your strides short so you increase your cadence. It’s like shifting into an easier gear when you’re on a bike.

Other tips: engage your core for stability and balance, and don’t lean over from the hips. Stand tall as you run with a slight lean forward from the chest and ankles. Finally, pump those arms! It’s amazing how much of a boost you can feel when you get your arms moving.

Downhill running tips

Two runners running downhill

Hold back from overstriding and keep your steps small and light. Reaching way out in front with your feet means you’ll land hard and knock your joints around. A little body positioning helps with this, too – you don’t want to lean waaaaay back. Instead, lead with your chest and engage your core to help get your feet under you (not way out in front of you). Pick your downhill line in advance and watch for potentially slimy roots or loose gravel. Look 4–5ft. front of where you’re about to step and channel your inner sprightly deer.

Trail running etiquette

Group of trail runners waving and smiling during a race

It’s a wild, wonderful world on the trails. Help keep it that way with these 7 trail etiquette tips:

  1. Smile and wave: Have fun! When you see other people, say hi, toss out a wave and share the stoke, whether you’re at a trail race or just out for a fun run.
  2. Stay on the trail: No cutting switchbacks or corners – it’s not much faster and it wrecks the trails. If you come across a big mud puddle, splash right through instead of creating a mess of braided routes off to the sides.
  3. Pack everything out: Carry out banana peels, energy bar wrappers or any other garbage (part of the Leave No Trace principles). Better yet, pick up a piece or garbage you see on your run for trail karma.
  4. Show up prepared: That means you have safety essentials, you have an idea of the route, and you’ve told someone where you’re going. Safety keeps the whole run crew happy.
  5. Music: No headphones is best. But if your climb up Suffer Mountain isn’t possible without a power song, then wear one earbud only so you can hear people coming from behind. Avoid blaring music on the trails.
  6. Give back: Sign up for a trail building day to buff the trails into shape (or create new ones). You’ll always feel a special connection to a corner or chunk of trail you worked on.
  7. Share the trail: There’s a lot of info out there about who should yield to who; sometimes it depends on the specific trail. Some general principles:
  • Whoever is faster should yield. Step off the trail and allow room for others to pass.
  • If you want to pass a hiker or runner from behind, let them know you’re coming with a “Good morning!” or “On your left!” and pass on the left with lots of room. If they’re chugging uphill, give them right of way unless they wave you by.
  • Bikers are usually rolling faster than runners, so yielding to riders tends to make it easier for all involved (even if the standard rule is faster users yield to slower ones).
  • Always slow down and yield to horses. Move off the trail on the downhill side.