Trail running is a sports activity that involves running and hiking over unpaved lanes and often takes place in hilly and mountainous terrains. Unlike cross country or road running, trail running is less governed, and the participants usually run for long distances.

This sport is gaining a lot of participants with more brands and organisers coming up to support it.

Differences between trail running and road running

Although both require training and are enjoyable, there are differences between these two types of running. Such as:

  • Aid stations from road runners are more frequent and appear after fewer miles with volunteers throwing drinks at you while you are running. Trail runners have none or few aid stations.
  • Unlike road running that does not get you dirty, trail running involves stepping on mud and walking over sandy surfaces that get you dirty. The trail runners should be eventually decorated with mud or sand.
  • Trail runners must be self-sufficient and do not rely on the race organisers or sponsors for refreshments. They usually strap water bottles on their waist, unlike road runners who have refreshment stations along the way.
Photo Credit: 123RF

Benefits of trail running

We all know the benefits of running but trail running has something different to offer:

  • Since trail running is done on trails, you will not experience the disturbance of urban life like motorised vehicles, people, and buildings on the way. You do not have to stop at every block to cross the road. You are also sure that accidents that may involve motor vehicles are not likely to happen.
  • Trail running is a good exercise that prevents knee and joint injuries. The sports activity is easier on the knees than running on cemented pavements. Furthermore, trail running helps you to strengthen your muscles as it works on the ankles and has less impact than the concrete for your knees.
  • The surrounding environment is beautiful and relaxing. Melodies from the birds and cool wind breezes will give you a comfy running experience filled with adventure. As you are stretching your legs and arms, you will be admiring the beauty of nature and never get bored.
  • A lot of ultra-marathons run on trails. If you start running on trails, you will be making yourself worthy of an ultra marathon and compete favourably with other runners.
  • Trail running does not require expensive preparations and establishing unique venues for the event. The whole world is filled with mountainous terrains making it possible to do the sport from any location.
  • Trail running allows you to discover fresh and untouched trails around the world and it’s a healthy reason for exploration and travel.
  • Trail running involves running up the mountains and along ridges. The exercise will not only build your running momentum but also enable you to operate efficiently at an elevation.
  • Running on a trail allows you to burn 10 percent more calories than regular road running.
  • You can easily relax on a tree log, under the shade of a tree or on a mountain peak when the running gets tough Unlike road running where it is uncomfortable to rest on the streets filled with noise.
Photo Credit: 123RF

What you need to starting trail running

Brave Heart

Good trail runners need to be brave and not afraid of wildlife. The sport is more of an adventure, and you are likely to encounter strange insects, lizards, dogs, snakes, owls, chameleons, monkeys and other creatures on the way.

You need to develop strong thighs and ankles before you start trail running. You can achieve this by cycling and doing leg exercises frequently. You also need to develop the culture of going into the gymnasium, swimming and doing hamstring exercises.
Weight lifting and drifts before embarking on trail running will give you functional strength for your joints to help you combat uneven terrains.


Patience will help you a lot while running on the trails. You will face trails with crazy twists that force you to slow down. Unclear paths filled with roots and rocks will also make you go slow. You need endurance and patience to become a successful trail runner. The more you run on the trails, the more your endurance will increase, and your patience will become manifest.


Respect nature and everything that lives within it. Well we’re not being superstitious here but basic respect like not disturbing the wildlife or plucking beautiful plants goes a long way towards ecological preservation.


Other than endurance and patience, you need more self-control while participating in trail running than anywhere else. You can gain a lot of muscular strength by starting the race slower and letting the trails work on your behalf. Resist from taking anything out from the trail, what exists at the trail, stays at the trail. Likewise, don’t litter along the trail.


Trail running tests your concentration skills for a longer period. If you fail to focus on your trail path, you will be distracted by falling stones, roots, chirping birds and the scenic environment. You may find yourself staring at a beautiful plant or creatures on the way leading to a slower pace. Whether you encounter a rolling rock that diverts your attention, you still need to pull yourself together and recover from such encounters.

Photo Credit: 123RF

Sense of adventure

It sounds logical to conclude that trail runners are an adventurous bunch of people. The trait will enable you to interact with natural scenes like mountains, wild animals, rivers, trees and flowers in a perfect way. You also need to enjoy running outside the city without street lights, cars, and fewer people.

Commitment and dedication

Being dedicated and fully committed to trail running should come as no surprise if you want to experience the sport. You may run for a while without getting any significant results any time soon. Whatever the outcome, you must remain patient and continue training without feeling de-motivated. The results will come slowly but steadily.

Tips and Techniques of Trail Running

Running on ice

Avoid making long strides when running on ice to ensure your feet remain under you. Look for snowshoes and put screws on the out sole to bite into the ice.

Running on mud

The mud will attach to the bottoms of your shoes making you feel like you have extra weight. Look for shoes that have self-cleaning soles. You can also use your hands to remove as much mud as possible.

Photo Credit: 123RF

Running on slopes

Hold onto tree branches and twigs when climbing a trail to boost your stability. When running down a terrain, you can also hold onto the trees to regulate gravity pull and ensure you are not off the path.

Observe the surface you are running on

Trail running involves the surfaces you are stepping on changing now and then. You must be careful on the surfaces you step on. Look out for potholes, animals and sharp stones that can injure you.

Running uphill

Uphill is the most difficult terrain part of trail running. Shorten your strides while lifting your knees higher. Also try to shift your weight to the balls of your feet and move your legs from the hips. You short swing your arms in brief and sharp movements, and your legs should make brief but fast strides.

Running downhill

Maintain your momentum and balance by using your arms and reduce your operating speed.

Dangers of trail running

Every sport has its risks and dangers and that includes trail running. But with caution and vigilance, these dangers should not affect your enjoyment of the sport.

Wild animals

You will likely be staring at creepy animals during the run like bugs, chameleons, snakes and lizards. You can avoid bugs like mosquitoes and ticks by carrying a spray or clothing yourself to cover all the skin on your body.

Dangerous Terrains

You will be running over slippery mud, sandy surfaces and rocky grounds that can result in serious accidents. Wear shoes designed to walk on the surfaces without slipping. Always carry your cell phone and ID to help you access help in case of an accident or dangerous encounter.

Getting lost

For a beginner, you will likely get lost on the trails, and you can avoid this by running on familiar ground. Avoid evening running and ensure someone knows where you are running or run with company.

Photo Credit: 123RF

How to conquer different terrains

Try to understand the terrain

Different terrains pose different dangers and challenges. Avoid the unknown by understanding the dangers that you will likely meet in the race. You will find that human concern and wildlife concerns will bring different challenges. If the terrain has a lot of wildlife, carry a cell phone and be in the company of other runners. Also, consider bringing your dog to run along with you if permitted.

Stay focused and alert

Do not disturb wild animals like bears, snakes and monkeys along the way. In most cases, these animals will attack you only when they feel threatened. Try as much as possible to avoid their territories.

Carry protection

You can bring along portable tools like spray to help you in a case of danger.

Equipment needed for terrain running:

  • Gaiters: They help your shoes from gathering mud and sand while running. Fitting Gaiters is ideal for keeping small stones and mud from entering your shoes.
  • Socks: No, matter what your preferences for which socks to wear are, you need something that gives you comfort and protects you from an exterior environment. High and thick socks protect you from blisters, cold, and bites from insects.
  • Poles: They help you recover your balance when you feel unstable. They also increase stability while boosting your propulsion.
  • Medical kit: The contents of the medical kit should include bandages, antibiotics, sprayers, goggles, and wipes.

Challenging and Great Trail Running Events in Asia

SHANGRI-LA marathon

The SHANGRI-LA Marathon & Ultra is the premier adventure race, a bucket list race that must be experienced by running enthusiast. Featuring a challenging mountain trail running experience that takes place on some of the most breathtaking mountains in the world, the Meili Snow Mountains, or Kawagarbo Mountains as it is known by local residents and pilgrims, part of the grand Himalayan Mountain range bordering Tibet in China.

Dali 100 ultra endurance race

Dalian 100 Cross Country was founded in 2013 by the famous trail running athletes.

China Camp Trail Run

Once a thriving village of Chinese settlement subsisting off shrimp fishing, China Camp is now a state park popular with boaters, hikers, and mountain bikers. An extensive trail network with views of Mt. Tam, San Pablo Bay, and San Francisco Bay will greet you as you traverse beautiful single track trails climbing up and over the peak and winding along thick forests until descending again to open trails on the San Pablo Bay side of the park. China camp is a rare locale for a running race, so be sure not to miss this special event.

Thailand Ultramarathon

Thailand Ultramarathon 2K16 is a physically demanding mountain ultra, in the beautiful jungles and forest of north west Thailand.

If you are a runner or a supporter, you will love this race. It is in the mountains of Mae Hong Son province, very close to the Burmese border. This sparsely populated area is off the tourist track, and the route for the races heads into some very isolated areas. This is Thailand’s first mountain ultramarathon, and it’s tough, so be prepared for some big hill climbs and steep descents.


TransLantau, is a trail running event on Lantau Island, the biggest outlying island of Hong Kong. With 90% of the course on trails and covering two country parks, participants get to push their limits as their eyes feast on the landscape of undulating hills and long coastline, untouched by the urbanization of Hong Kong.

Vietnam Mountain Marathon

Welcome to the hardest run in Vietnam! VMM is Unique trail running of 10km, 21km, 42km, 70km or 100km in a spectacular mountain region of north Vietnam.

Photo Credit: David W Lloyd Photography

Ultra Trail Jeju

Jejudo is a volcanic island which is east to west 73km, south to north 31km and Mt.Halla stands in the middle of the island. Jejudo is called ‘The Volcanic Museum’ since it has unique and various volcanic terrain.

Mustang Mountain Trail

The Mustang Trail race is a multistage trail running challenge through the wild, spiritually rich landscapes of Upper Mustang in Nepal. It is race of eight stages of around 15 to 30km totaling just under 200 km at altitudes between 2,900-4,300m (9,500-14,100ft) with 8200m (27,000ft) of elevation change. These distances are harder than they seem at these altitudes.

Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra

Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra Run race is a unique event that aims to challenge your inner spirit and physical state, as well as to provide race participants with magnificent natural beauty and environment of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park in East Java – Indonesia at various altitude level.

The Shaman Trail

The Shaman Trail is the first ever major trail running race in Myanmar. Starting from the hill town Kalaw, participants will run from village to village on natural trails towards the southern tip of the beautiful and large Inle Lake. Total distance will be 70 km and elevation gain moderate, making this race the perfect pre-Christmas and end-of-season event for many a trail runner.

The North Face 100 Singapore

Promoting the genuine spirit of exploration since its kick start in 2008, The North Face 100® has become the most well-received and anticipated distance trail running series across the Asia Pacific Region and includes seven stops in: Thailand, Philippines, China, Singapore, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong.

Start Trail Running Today and You’ll Never Look Back

Trail running is slowly becoming a popular sport, gaining attraction to people who want to avoid road races. With twisted paths and off road surfaces, this king of sports is for the adventurous, the active and the hardworking.

Have you tried trail running before or do you prefer to stay on the road? Whatever your reasons are for trying or avoiding the trail, we’d love to hear it!

Dr Vicky Lauren

Dr. Vicky Lauran is a certified holistic life coach and nutritionist, she also has 8 years' experience as a power yoga instructor and holds a Ph.D. in exercise, nutrition and health. She has worked with major online publishers like Web MD and Huffington Post and now is a residential contributor at RunSociety. She loves bringing what she knows to the community and hopes to help everyone on the road to happiness.

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