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Trail Running for Beginners

Updated: Apr 29

Trail running has been growing and maybe you’ve been keen to give it a try. Here are the 5 most important things to get you started.

Am I A Beginner Trail Runner?

Being a beginner is a mindset, not a mileage. You may have been running your entire life and never set tread to trail. Or perhaps you’ve been testing your legs and lungs on some local trails but want to go all-out! Reading this article might even be the first step you’re taking to start running (woohoo!). In any case, if you approach trail running with a beginner’s mindset, you’ll go far!

And if you need some convincing to start trail running, stop in the store sometime! We’re avid trail runners (addicted, maybe?) with trail experience from fast 5ks to 100-mile ultramarathons and everything in-between. It’s our passion to start and keep people running, and trail running is our absolute favorite. 

What kind of shoes do I need for trail running?

Before anything else, we have to talk about shoes! First things first, you don’t need trail running shoes to run on trails. The trail doesn’t care one bit what shoes you have on. Or even if you’re wearing shoes at all.

That said, you may enjoy trail running more if you have trail running shoes, but don’t let that stop you! It’s especially true here in Tulsa that you can run on trails without trail running shoes because most trails are pretty easy to navigate or have smoother/easier options on signposts.  

Trail running-specific footwear gives you a few things you might want:

  1. Aggressive traction and deeper lugs to grip the dirt and keep you on your feet. 

  2. More durable materials designed to prevent tearing or fast breakdown against the elements (wind, water, earth, fire, and that tiny root you didn’t see).

  3. Better side-to-side stability than road shoes. Your trail running shoes should not let your foot slide too much laterally. 

We have a full breakdown of trail versus road running shoes in the works, and we’ll link to it here once it’s complete! In the meantime, come to RunnersWorld Tulsa and we’ll show you around our super exciting trail shoe selection!

1. Find a trailhead and start running!

Okay, right, there’s more to it than just “running” but hold your horses and hang with us here.  

One of the joys of running is its simplicity. You can run anywhere, and it saves you a lot of time to pop out your front door and grab some miles. You may have to log some driving miles to get off the beaten path unless you’re fortunate enough to live near some trails.

Where do you trail run in Tulsa? 

You may be surprised that Tulsa is great for trail running! Not only is it within a few hours of some extensive and remote trail systems (think, Tahlequah, Ouachita Mountains, Osage Hills, Heyburn, to name a few spots), but there are a bunch of accessible and technical trails right in Tulsa’s backyard! Two of the most convenient and satisfying trail systems in Tulsa are Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness and Keystone Ancient Forest.

Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness

Turkey Mountain is a legacy trail system that’s received some pretty significant developments in the last couple of years. At one time a private network of barely marked routes beloved by mountain bikers, it has become a local hub for all kinds of outdoor recreation. From hikers to mountain bikers and–of course–trail runners, Turkey Mountain has something for everyone…especially if you know where to look!

We can’t give away all of the secrets of Turkey Mountain, where’s the fun in that? You would hate us. This is for your own good. Just know that there are trails upon trails around Turkey Mountain, and you really feel like you're “out there,” out there. 

Our race management arm, RunnersWorld Racing, organizes a bunch of races out at Turkey Mountain! Check out our events page to see if a Tulsa’s Backyard Series race or the Half N Half is coming up soon.

Speaking of the Tulsa’s Backyard Race Series, the Herman and Kate Kaiser YMCA butts up to the north east side of Turkey Mountain and is chock-full of fun trails that connect to the Turkey Mountain trail system! Officially known as “Tulsa’s Backyard,” these trails are a lot like those found in the main Turkey Mountain trail area. So if the upper and lower Turkey Mountains lots are full, drive around to the Herman and Kate Kaiser YMCA–you’ll love it. 

Keystone Ancient Forest Preserve

If you don’t live as close to Turkey Mountain (just south of downtown Tulsa), you should check out the Keystone Ancient Forest! Scratch that, regardless of where you live around Tulsa, you should go to the Keystone Ancient Forest!

The Keystone Ancient Forest is in Sand Springs, OK near the intersection of Sand Springs Expressway (64) and 151. Because it’s “Oklahoma's first and only forest included in the national Old-Growth Forest Network” (the Nature Conservancy for more info and cute wildlife pics, click here!) the Ancient Forest is only open on select days. At the time of this blog’s writing, those days are:

  • Thursday, 7am to 2pm

  • Friday through Sunday, 7am to 6pm

There are four main trails at Keystone Ancient Forest, the Frank Trail, the Less Traveled Trail, the Wilson Trail, and the Falls Trail. The Frank Trail and Less Traveled Trail (1.4 and 4.1 miles each, respectively) are fairly tame in terms of trail running. The Wilson Trail and Falls Trail (1.0 and 3.4 miles), on the other hand, may give you a run that gets your adrenaline pumping a bit more thanks to some generous elevation change!  

2. Make Sure You Warm Up Before Trail Running

We should all warm up before EVERY run, but the consequences of not warming up before a trail run can be more dire than if you don’t warm up before a road run. Why? Because trail running is less predictable. It’s one of the most enticing parts of trail running, but sometimes the trail throws you a curveball and you have to do some fancy dancin’. 

To prevent unexpected jumps, twists, and turns from aggravating your legs and other parts, do a dynamic warm up at your car before hitting the trail. A good dynamic warm up gets your heart rate up above resting and moves your joints through their respective ranges. Here’s a basic warm up:

  • Walking knee hugs

  • Walking quad pulls

  • Lunge walking

  • Lateral lunges

  • Leg swings, forward to backward and side to side

  • High knees

  • Butt kicks

  • Cross-over side-steps (carioca)

  • Skipping

These should all be done for at least a minute or so and no stretch should be held for more than a few seconds. You don’t want to tell your body it’s time to relax! You should end your warm-up feeling physically (and mentally) ready to run! 

3. Trail Running Includes Hiking–It’s Okay To Walk!

Trails aren’t always hilly, but they usually are. Everyone who calls themselves a trail runner walks sometimes–typically it’s on the uphills. There are even some incline grades at which it’s more efficient AND faster for most people to walk instead of run! 

So, if you’re a beginner and feel like you can’t run up that hill today, it’s okay to walk! One of the beautiful parts of trail running is its complexity. You’ll have ups, downs, and technical sections that test your will. Soon, though, you’ll be moving quicker and more comfortably than your past self ever imagined.

Give yourself a break on the uphills and technical downhills (technical = rocky, unstable, steep). You’ll save energy so you can go farther and develop your lung and leg skills for next time.

4. Embrace Being In Nature When You Trail Run

Research emphasizing the benefits of “green exercise” has been growing and growing. Green exercise is essentially exercising outdoors. The American College of Sports Medicine touts research that green exercise improves mood and self esteem while decreasing tension, anger, and depression (compared to indoor exercise). 

This article (published in 2017) also found that, because people tend to enjoy green exercise more, they have better chances of sticking to their exercise goals.

Don’t most people already run outdoors?

Well, yes, 10 points to Gryffindor. Though we often have people in the store say they only run on the treadmill. Which we think is sad. You’re missing out!

So, how is trail running different from road running in terms of benefits from being in nature?

Research is not yet explicit on this, but here are two takeaways from an article that reviewed 28 other studies comparing green exercise against indoor OR urban outdoor environments. Participants had:

  • More energy and less anxiety

  • “Greater intent to repeat the activity”

  • Less perceived exertion

The thing that separated green exercise from indoor or urban exercise was “scenes of nature.” So here’s what this (perhaps unnecessary) discourse into research means for you:

Stop to take in the views! 

Whether you need a break or not, looking up from the ground in front of you can increase the benefits of green exercise and give you more motivation to get back out there!

5. Trail Running Is Even Better With Friends

Don’t get me wrong, I live for those solo trail adventures. But there’s nothing quite like trail running with friends. 

Lucky for you and me, trail running is a very communal activity. It’s nearly impossible to truly be alone the entire time you’re trail running. If you do find yourself in need of some trail running buddies, though, use our store! The Monday and Thursday group runs at 5:30pm are the perfect spot to make friends and schedule a trail date. Better yet, head to Turkey Mountain's Lower Parking lot at 6:30pm any Tuesday and you'll run into the TOTs! ("Training On Turkey" a weekly run or hike of around 4-6 miles).

Don’t Wait To Start Trail Running!

After reading this article you might feel tempted to wait for the perfect day to trail run. Don’t do that! Unexpected rain, cold, heat, or armadillo run-ins, are what make trail running fun and SO good for us! When running on roads generally keeps things in your control, trail running can really mess with your plans–and you’ll be better for it! You are capable of more than you think. 

Go on, get out there! And we’re here for all your shoes, snacks, gear, and motivational needs.

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