Get Off the Road: Trail Running 101

Fresh air, nature, exciting trails, dirt tans- trail running is awesome! However, trail running requires more than just running- it requires knowledge, equipment, and training. So how do you get started?

Shannon Payuer trail running with a group through mountainous terrain


Before you head out on a trail, it is vital that you know where you are going. Research the area. Learn about the distance and difficulty rating of the trail. Trails are often rated based on elevation gain/loss and technicality (meaning if it’s challenging to move on due to terrain). You will move a lot slower when the technicality/elevation change of a trail is higher. Look for recent trail condition reports as a lot of trails greatly vary based on the season. You may also learn about potential hazards like trail closures, wildlife, fallen trees, water crossings or damaged trail. Learn about connecting trails so you can get an idea of alternative routes and/or prevent yourself from taking a wrong turn. Once you know where you are going, tell someone about your plan. This is all part of the trip planning process that will help you determine not only how long to expect to be running for, but what equipment to take with you.


It starts off with a pair of trail running shoes and technical clothing (no cotton). If you are heading out on a short popular trail that has cell phone reception, is close to urban areas and you know well, you may only need to bring some basics with you. I recommend cell phone, headlamp, hydration (water and electrolyte like Ener-C Sport), and a snack. A large number of search and rescue operations are due to people getting stuck in the dark. By bringing a headlamp, you can easily prevent this!

Girl cross country candidate running past majestic mountain

If you are running a long remote trail, potentially without cellphone reception, I would recommend bringing a running pack. Equipment needs vary based on season, location, and personal needs, but there are a few standards. These are: cell phone, headlamp, hydration, nutrition, whistle, first aid kit, emergency blanket, warm/waterproof clothing layers, navigation tools (like a map/compass or GPS), pocket knife, and fire starter. The amount of food you need depends on the duration/intensity of your run. In order to keep your energy up, try to eat 150-300 calories/hour. It seems like a lot, but you will still be in a calorie deficit! The amount of water you need depends on the weather, distance/duration, and potential water sources on the trail. Generally, I have 1L minimum in two containers, one water, and the other Ener-C Sport. Now if you are bringing this great safety gear, it’s important that you know how to use it.


Practice using your safety gear to be comfortable with it! A map and compass is no good if you don’t know how to use them. There are great courses you can take to learn these skills. You can also start off your trail running adventures with a trail running clinic. These are great options to meet friends, learn trails and be in a safe group setting. I would always recommend running with a buddy, too. If running clinics aren’t your thing though, the key is to just make sure you have the physical training to run the trail you want to do. This may require strength training and running on the road or treadmill to build your endurance.

Trail running over a bridge in a forest while burning off excess energy and staying fit

Trail running is one of the most fun, engaging and freeing activities around and by starting off with the right knowledge, equipment and training you can help make sure your experience is a positive one!

About Shannon Payeur:

I’ve been competitively trail running for 6 years as a sponsored athlete. During this time, I’ve raced distances from fast 8km races to 270km multi-day stage races around the world. I was a member of the Canadian Mountain Running Team and have represented Canada at the World Mountain Running Championships in 2012 in Italy and 2013 in Poland. When I am not running myself, I keep myself involved in the trail running world through work, volunteering, and social media. I am a race director for MEC and host a number of low-cost trail races each year. I am a volunteer board member of the non-profit organization, Run Wild Vancouver, that promotes safe and responsible trail running through education. Additionally, I am a volunteer member of Lions Bay Search and Rescue. Through social media, I love to share my trail running adventures, inspire others to get onto the trails, and get inspired myself by others!