Summer is coming to an end, and it’s time to break away from air conditioned gyms and treadmills and step back into the great outdoors. What better way to make nature your newest workout partner than by taking a shot at trail running? Getting off the treadmill can put a spring in your step; studies have demonstrated improvements in mood and motivation during outdoor workouts compared to being indoors.

Off-road running can be enjoyed by athletes of all experience levels, but here are some dos and don’ts to get you started:

Do…Plan Ahead

The first step in hitting the trails is finding where to go! The parks department for your area is a great resource, or better yet, consult a professional at a specialty running store or your local running organization. Fleet Feet Pittsburgh has an awesome list of running trails for you to try. Popular hiking trails offer a reliable starting point, as they are well maintained and clearly marked.

A quick checklist of equipment is important too, so always be sure to bring along a snack, a trail map, your cell phone, and water, which can be more difficult to find on the trail.

Don’t…Run Alone

Especially as a beginner, training partners and groups can help you keep on your desired path, keep your mood up, and of course, keep you safe. You can contact trail running groups to inquire about the paces at which they typically run. The North Park Trail Runners is a great Pittsburgh group that welcomes runners of all abilities to join group runs in parks around the city. If you’re not ready to jump into a group run just yet, find some friends who match your fitness level and enjoy the trails together!

Do…Get the Right Gear

Most running apparel companies offer trail-specific footwear. These shoes can be pricey, usually upwards of $120, but they’re not a requirement. A sturdy, comfortable pair of sneakers will protect your feet from the unexpected roots and stones, so your tried and true shoes can serve you well.

A running fanny pack (or “gear belt,” for the fashion-conscious), is an inexpensive addition to your arsenal and will help you carry water and snacks on the trail. As you get more experienced, you might prefer a hydration pack for the quickest way to refuel on the go.

Don’t…Damage the Trail

When trail running, follow the motto of hikers everywhere: Leave No Trace. This obviously includes not littering, but also advises against straying from designated trails. This is the safest route and also preserves the wildlife around the trail for others to enjoy. Likewise, keeping excessive noise to a minimum keeps both animals and hikers happy!

Do…Learn Basic Trail Etiquette

As with any new skill, trail running has a bit of a learning curve, but don’t be intimidated. Though all trails are different, there are a few universal rules to remember for everyone’s safety and enjoyment. Stick to the right side of the path, and if you need to pass someone, announce your presence by saying “on your left,” and pass on that side.

Announcing obstacles to runners behind you is common, and is as simple as shouting “rock!” or “branch!” as you run by something so others are prepared. Keep in mind that trails are often shared between mountain bikes, runners, and hikers, so being aware of your surroundings and the people around you is very important.

Don’t…Get Discouraged

Trail running can be hard. Even if you’re used to nailing a certain mileage on the roads, consider scaling back until you build up confidence on the trails. Rocky, ‘technical’ trails will slow you down considerably, and you’ll likely feel some unexpected aches and soreness from using the stability muscles that road running neglects. Combine this with the unprecedented hilliness of ascending mountains, and you’re certainly facing a new and exciting challenge!
If you feel worn out from a long summer of heat and humidity, you’re not alone. But mixing up your workouts can boost your mood and get you back on track. Fall is a beautiful time to be outdoors, so there’s no time like the present to take to the trails.