How to Make Trail Running Fun
In partnership with Merrell
Even if you don’t consider yourself a runner, trail running might still suit you. It’s an activity you can take with you anywhere with very little gear required.
And unlike running on a treadmill or training on a track, taking this mode of exercise to a trail turns it into something different with a varying pace and interesting landscape. You’ve got uneven ground, new textures, more to see, feel, and smell.
But still, trail running is fun in the same way other sports are fun: it can be drudgery or it can be an energizing mood-boost, all depending on your attitude.
Eight of our best tips to make your next trail run more fun:
Think of it as an adventure, not a run
Since your pace will be faster than a regular hike or walk, you can squeeze a little more into your run time.
So, why not use the run as an opportunity to do a hike you wouldn’t normally have time to do? Or, choose a familiar trail—but shift your mindset to one of discovery. Going out with an intention of adventure sets you up to explore a new route with eyes open, or at least pay attention and appreciate the subtleties of changing seasons, wildflowers in bloom, or other sights and smells of somewhere you’ve already been.
Don’t worry too much about pace or mileage
Turn off Strava (or whichever app you use to track your speed, route, etc.) and enjoy the experience of being out there, rather than focusing on speed or distance traveled. It’s just not about the running anyway. After all, trail running can be hiking, can be walking, can be a luxurious stretch break to enjoy a view.
Make sure you’re comfortable
Some things that are not fun: Blisters, chafing, excessive sweating, cold ears, a skinned knee.
Being properly outfitted in the right shoes and apparel can make a world of difference in your comfort and stability, and therefore enjoyment of a trail run.
Light, breathable, weather-appropriate layers paired with trail specific running shoes that have flexible support and sturdy traction are a good combination for comfort. We also can’t overstate the value of quality socks—but you probably already know that.
Pick the right trail
In particular, think about your elevation. You might want to start with something lower elevation if you aren’t used to being up high. While a high alpine run can sound fun, a higher elevation can feel more challenging than you might want it to be—even if the terrain is flat.
Take a camera
As part of your trail adventure, bringing along a camera (a smartphone counts) can be a great way to enrich the time spent on the trail. Yes, it’ll mean pausing now and then take those snaps, but since we’re not worrying about our time anyway, we might as well:
- Get up close to nature. Check out the veins in a leaf, the texture of a velvety petal, or the rich green of moss blanketing the edges of the trail.
- Use the run as a time to see how many plants, animals, rocks, or birds you can identify.
Make your hydration fun, and don’t forget snacks (or a treat!)
For tasty and replenishing hydration, bring electrolytes you’re excited about—but try not to bring anything that will be fizzy (it’ll lead to a stomach ache as you run).
Snacks are also a great place to get creative. Especially if you’re going on a longer trail run, bringing along fuel is important for sustaining your energy level. Plus, some sort of special treat (like chocolate chips or gummy bears) can be a great incentive or on-trail pick-me-up.
Invite a friend (human or dog)
Having company is both motivating to go in the first place, and a welcome addition to the repetitious miles of a familiar route. Whether that means a friend to chat with as you hike an incline, or a pup who’s excited to match your pace, is up to you.
If you don’t have your own dog, you can always ask a friend to borrow theirs for an outing. Alternatively, you can sign up to be a dog walker on apps like Rover or with your local animal shelter — just make sure the dog’s guardian is okay with a trail adventure, and that the dog is the right age and fitness level to safely run with you.
Not sure how to find a friend to run with? This might help -> Adventure Friends: How to Make and Keep Them
Take a podcast or playlist with you
Even if you’re not worrying about pace, a favorite playlist can be a welcomed accompaniment to your own trail rhythm. Don’t want to compete with a beat? Use the trail time as a chance to catch up on your favorite podcast episodes, or discover a new one.
These are some of our favorite podcasts.
This article was produced with support from our brand partner Merrell, who believe the outdoors is for everybody and every body. The runners featured in these photographs are wearing Antora Trail Runners and Bare Access Flex 2 Trainers.
Photos by Hailey Hirst and Laura Hughes