Easy Tips to go from Running on Road to Trail

If you’re like me, you started running on good-old flat, predictable roads. Sometimes there are cracks, other times grassy traverses… maybe even puddles – or the worst, black ice.

But there are no rocks. There are no boulders. And there are few surprises.

In fact, the hardest part about going from road to trail for most of us is constantly adjusting our stride.

If you’re also like me (in that you’re old) you might remember those old school pedometers that required you to set your stride length. It would then count how many steps you took in your run and do some simple multiplication to figure out how far you went.

That worked well enough on roads – but hit the trails and your distance calculation would be way off.

As a general rule you want to keep your strides short, compact and quick. That being said, you’ll need to be able to go between those tight little strides to bound over things: big rocks, roots, tree trunks, streams, dogs, etc.

You might think I’m kidding with the dog comment.

I’m not.


1. Flats and Gradual Slopes

Stay tall and relaxed with your head up. You want to look a few feet ahead: not at your feet. As the adage says, your body will go where your eyes lead… and that includes down.

You want quick, light, even and relaxed steps just as you would on the road. If there are rocks or roots on the path, pick your knees up a bit higher than you think you need to. But keep the effort as relaxed as possible.

2. Uphill

You’re going to need to lean into the hill a bit… but in doing so, stay tall and long through your torso. Don’t collapse at your hips or hunch. You need to keep your chest proud to get adequate air and you need to extend your hips to get full firing of your glutes (aka butt). Your butt is what gets you up the hill, so use it.

Again, take quick light steps. Think about floating up the hill, driving the elbows back and the knees up with a relaxed effort. If it’s a short steep and you have some momentum, you may want to bound up. That’s fine as long as the effort to get up is minimal.

If your heels can touch down, I say let them. You might get to a hill so steep that you end up on your toes. Which is fine… and a great calf workout.

Lastly, if it’s so steep that you could walk faster, or if it’s a long run – power hike. Go ahead and use your hands on your knees too if you feel like it.

If it is a shorter more intense effort though, think about cresting the hills and getting your pace back quickly. You’ll settle back in.

3. Downhill

You love it – or you hate it. Maybe both. Maybe even both at once.

This is certainly the area I have to work the hardest on… let’s put it the nice way… not being the risky type.

I like to think about a waterfall running down the mountain, or a cyclist riding downhill. No impact, just flow.

Just as on flats, your feet should stay under you and your stride should stay circular.  You also need to find the right amount of lean into the hill… lean too far into it and you’ll feel unbalanced, too far back and you’ll end up jamming your feet down ahead of your body.

You also want to look ahead and pick the line flow with the least resistance – – and run it with the quickest, lightest steps you’ve got.

Eventually you’ll end up stepping on something slippery or unstable. If your feet are moving quickly and you’re balanced, you’ll likely just bounce off and keep going.

If the hill is steep, I like to swing my arms about to counterbalance. If it’s gradual, I try to kick my legs up and back (toward my butt) as I do on the road.

Lastly, like anything, it’s mostly just a matter of getting out there and getting used to it. So get runnin’.

Published by Yo Mama So Fit

Coach, obstacle athlete, runner and mother to Amelita and Seren.

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