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Congratulations if you are one of the millions of new runners who took up the sport in the last year. Welcome to the club and bravo on making a great decision to support your health. To keep you moving towards your goals, it's always nice to work in some novelty. I'm inviting you out on the trails with me. Here's how to transition from treadmill to trail running.

Related: Running safety for women

How to Transition from Treadmill to Trail Running

Why Trail Running Rocks

First, let's dispel the myth that trail runners are super skinny, slightly reckless twenty year olds. In my world, everyone is welcome on the trails. I discovered trail running in my 40's as a way to reconnect with the joy of running. When I'm on the trails, I feel unplugged and deeply immersed in nature. Nowadays, about 50% of my running is done not on pavement or on a treadmill, but out in the wild. 

For women especially, time spent outdoors can be a balm. Whether you are running LITERALLY away from your family for a few miles, or running towards your next chapter, be it menopause, a new job, a breakup or a better version of YOU, you might just find it on the trails. 

Getting Started with Trail Running

The best place to start is your local park. Look for some easy dirt trails to get you started. The big difference between your treadmill and the trail is the footing. Trails inherently have uneven footing. You'll spend about half your time looking down for rocks and roots.

Trail running has oodles of benefits, aside from the mental health aspect, you'll also be working on balance as well as cardio. Trail running is a challenge to your proprioception--this is your body’s ability to perceive its own position in space. Leave the headphones behind as you start off on the trails.

On your first run, you're going to notice some things. It's harder and easier than running on a treadmill. 

Harder because the surface is uneven, hilly and the temperatures vary.

Easier because you are out in God's great big beautiful playground. 

You'll likely need to dial back the mileage on your trail runs and your mile times will be slower. EMBRACE IT! This is all about learning something new.

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Transition from Treadmill to Trail Running

Where to find the trails

Are you in? Great. After you've exhausted your local park, you can start looking for trailheads to explore. Google of course is a good place to start. You can also use to find trails.

What You Need

I've got more good news for you, all of this gear is likely already in your home. 

  • Shoes. Just use your regular old trainers to get started. There's no need to invest in a spiffy new trail shoe before you know if you are hooked. 
  • Water. I usually carry a waist belt with basic first aid (antiseptic wipes and bandages), water and a snack. When I was starting, I carried a water bottle and just stuffed everything else in pockets. This is a good one to try. 
  • Sunscreen and bug spray. Depending when and where you are running, you might want to apply these before you head out.
  • Something high vis. Wear a least one bright color. This makes you easier to spot on the trails.

The Rules of the Trail

  1. Walkers and hikers go first, then runners, then cyclists. Well, at least in a perfect world.
  2. Learn how to take a restroom stop outdoors. As you get more adventurous with your runs, you'll likely need to pee on one of them. The best idea is to step off the trail as gently as possible and find a nearby tree to pee behind. If you've got to 
  3. Stay on the trail. While a big mucky mess might not look like a fun way to proceed, the best way through is forward. If you veer off trail you stand the chance of damaging flora in the area. Plus, getting a little mucky is fun!
  4. Pay attention. That means no headphones. Save the podcasts for the treadmill. Let you brain take in everything as you travel through the woods with nothing in your ears. 
  5. Help Maintain. 

What if you encounter an animal

The best advice is to get big. Most of what I have encountered over the years are elk, bears and moose. In general Take your hands up over your head, act confident and don't flail. And plan your outings: dawn and dusk are the most likely times to meet, um, friends. 

I can't wait to see you adventures!

Transition from Treadmill to Trail Running


  1. Tips for Taking the Tough Mudder 5K Challenge
  2. Tips for Running with Tweens and Kids
  3. Essential Running Gear for Safety


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Momtrends was not paid for this post. I did get a goody bag full of clothes to spruce up my running wardrobe.

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