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Pick Up Your Feet: A Beginner’s Guide to Trail Running

Hailing from the midwest, most typical running routes are found on roads during the summer and treadmills the other nine months of the year. There are obvious benefits to running on roads such as running at faster speeds and limiting your focus to just your run (and any pedestrians, bikers, and cars you wish to avoid). However, road running can have its drawbacks. Road running is incredibly high-impact, so it can be tough on your knees and take much longer for your body to recover.

And again, distracted drivers can be problematic. I can't begin to tell you how many times people have been texting and almost run into me!

I love both running and hiking, so to try and combat some of the downsides of road running, I’ve ventured into the world of trail running. I have a very high-energy, easily-distracted dog that has to be on-leash if we’re outside, so trail running gets us away from the noise and out into open space. Running itself is a high-impact sport, but trails provide more cushion so your joints don’t take such a beating. Particularly in Reno/Sparks, trail connectivity allows you to just go and go. There are dozens of popular spots around Peavine, Mayberry Park, Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, Keystone Canyon, and Hidden Valley Regional park to name a few. You can find specific trail routes and details on the Trail Run Project and All Trails.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started on your own trail-running journey: :

Good running shoes:

You definitely don’t need $200 shoes to start running—just find shoes that give you support where you need it and don’t hurt your feet! Trail runners are great because they provide greater traction and help with impact, but if you’re just starting out any running shoe will do.

Athletic wear:

Wear whatever you’re most comfortable running in. In the spring, I’m a running shorts and long sleeve, dry-fit shirt kind of person. If you’re running in the morning, it’s nice to have a light zip-up jacket that’s easy to remove as you warm up. With our wacky weather, you never know what you might get!


A little sip of water goes a long way for your endurance. Some people prefer holding a water bottle, but there are also running hydration backpacks that can store water bottles and/or hydration reservoirs. Check out options like GearHut, or other nonprofits and thrift stores, to support local businesses while you gear-up for your new endeavor.

Sun Protection:

I’m sure there are fancy running sunglasses out there, but mine were $10 from Amazon and they work just fine. I highly recommend both sunglasses and sunscreen to protect your skin and eyes while running outdoors. If you’re concerned about losing your glasses, you can also purchase a tether that will keep them around your neck if they fall. If sunglasses aren’t your thing, grab a baseball cap—you can always take it off if you don’t end up needing it.

If you’re bringing a dog, please pick up and properly dispose of any pet waste, follow leash laws, and respect other trail users. It’s a good idea to bring multiple pet waste bags, water, a collapsible bowl, and treats for them. If you’re thirsty and hungry, chances are they are too.

Now that you have your gear, let’s review a couple tips before you hit the trail:

  1. If you use headphones, be sure to leave one out of your ear or have the volume low. You should be able to hear if someone is cruising along on their mountain bike or running at a quicker pace. That way, you can step off the trail and let them pass safely.

  2. It’s okay to slow down and hike! I know people that can run up a 60% grade full speed and feel nothing. Personally, running uphill is the bane of my existence, so I take it slow. If it’s particularly tough, I slow down to a hiking pace. Take short, quick steps when going up hills and use your arms to pump you forward. Lead with your heel and push up as you step.

  3. Keep your eyes on the trail and pick up your feet. Looking four feet ahead instead of gazing at the landscape can save you from twisting your ankle or taking a big fall. It requires more mental work, but that’s the fun part!

  4. Take rest days! Whether you go for a walk or roll out the yoga mat, it’s essential to give your body a break. Trail running works muscles you didn’t even know you had, and they need to recover to get stronger.

  5. Quiet your inner critic. This is applicable to nearly everything, but most people aren’t natural born trail runners the first time they hit the trail (or even the fiftieth!) If you’re typically a road runner, your pace is going to be much slower, but you’re also doing a much more technical route. Give yourself credit!

These five tips merely scratch the surface of trail running. There are endless online resources related to nearby routes, techniques, gear, and training strategies to help you along your trail running journey. Really, the most important part is to be safe and to have fun!

I also want to acknowledge that running, in particular, is considered an intimidating activity by many. I’ve come to terms with the fact I will probably never run a 6-minute mile, and that is okay! Do I still beat myself up when I see someone run like it’s nothing? Occasionally, but it’s a process to say to myself “Hey, Miranda, run your own run.” I run because it’s one of the only times my brain can clear out the clutter and focus on one thing: the run. There really isn't a right or wrong way to do it. If you try it a few times and still absolutely hate running, find an activity you do enjoy! You’re more likely to be active and reap all the physical and mental benefits that come along physical activity and that’s the important part.

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