What is Trail Running?

trail running

Whether you are a fan of running, or simply getting outside in nature, you might find the sport of trail running to be extremely enjoyable. Trail running is a fast-growing sport that combines running and hiking on unpaved trails. Trail running is similar to cross-country running, but is typically run in longer distances.


While trail running has grown exponentially in popularity in the past 15 years, its origins can be traced back to Sacramento, California in 1905. Two runners made a bet to see who could run the fastest over Mount Tamalpais from Sacramento to the Dipsea Inn in Stinson Beach. They enjoyed themselves so much that they formed their own race the following year, called the “First Annual Championship Cross Country Run, Mill Valley to Dipsea by the Sea.” Trail running has since grown to be an excellent source of competition, exercise, and fun.

Since 2008, the number of trail running competitions has increased by over 1,000%, from 160 global competitions to over 1,600. In the present day, trail running competitions are held all around the world, ranging from Europe to Alaska.


In competition, the objective of trail running is to get from the starting line to the finish line as quickly as possible, and before the other competitors. Aside from competitive trail running, objectives of trail running include practicing healthy habits and enjoying nature.


Trail Running Equipment

Trail running requires a specific set of equipment that is different from other types of running

  • Trail Running Shoes: Trail running shoes are similar in shape and style to typical running sneakers, but have much thicker soles in order to protect the feet from sharp rocks and other obstacles.
  • Crampons: Crampons are attachments that go on the bottom of a trail running shoe that help with traction during inclement weather such as snow or rain.
  • Trekking Poles: Trekking poles are used by some runners to increase stability and speed.
  • Water Bottle: A water bottle is extremely important to bring on a trail run as dehydration is one of the most common causes of injuries in running sports.
  • Hydration Pack: A hydration pack is an alternative to a water bottle that is strapped around either the torso or arm of the runner.
  • Sunglasses: Sunglasses are essential for trail running on days where the sun is shining bright, as they will help protect your eyes from hours of UV exposure.
  • Insect Repellent: Bringing insect repellent on trail runs helps with the comfort level of the run, as insects that cause irritating bites are common in areas where people trail run.
  • Sunscreen: Sunscreen helps to protect against harmful UV rays, and is crucial for long trail runs in the sun.


Trail Running Rules and Regulations

In trail running, both in and out of competition, there is a certain set of rules and standards that runners should follow.

Some rules and standards include:

  • Runners should always stay on designated trails, as running off the trail or “bushwacking” may cause other runners to follow the path that was bushwhacked.
  • Runners should avoid running over obstacles such as puddles or downed trees, as running through them could cause damage to the trail.
  • Runners should never take objects from on or off the trails, as this could cause destruction to the ecosystem of the surrounding areas.
  • If you have trash from your run, dispose of it in a trash can after your run, under no circumstances should a runner litter.
  • If there is a faster runner behind you, let them pass so you are not inhibiting their experience.


What is trail running?

Trail running is a hybrid sport combining hiking and running. Trail runs are typically run in long distances, sometimes hundreds of miles in length and weeks of time. Trail running has grown in popularity over the past 15 years, and is now a common form of exercise for people all over the world.

Is trail running dangerous?

When following all of the proper steps, trail running is a very safe sport. Trail running is only dangerous when certain safety precautions are not taken. For instance, if a runner does not bring a water bottle on a 15-mile run, they are certainly at a high-risk to dehydrate and suffer a heat-related injury like heat stroke.

Who are some of the most famous trail runners of all time?

Ryan Sandes is one of the most well known trail runners in the world. He is the first person to win a trail running competition on every continent in the world.  Pau Capell is another famous trail runner who started running competitively after suffering an injury playing soccer that ended his career in the sport. Since then, he has become one of the top trail runners in the world, winning multiple major trail running events worldwide.

What is considered to be the hardest trail running course in the world?

The Great Himalayan Trail is considered to be the “Holy Grail of Trail Runs.” At 1,435 kilometers in length, the Great Himalayan Trail is not the longest trail run compared to other major competitions, it is certainly one of the highest in elevation, at over 5,000 meters above sea level. The current time record on the Great Himalayan trail is 28 days, accomplished by the duo of Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel in 2018.