It's not long ago that I was new to trail running. Here are some tips that I think would have helped me to keep things in perspective. There's no shortage of beginner tips out there already, so this is my unique perspective on it.
Keep it simple
You don't need any special gear to get started. Standard running shoes will do just fine. There's no need to fork out hundreds of dollars on trail running shoes just yet. You don't need waterproof, highly breathable shoes with special flaps to attach your gaiters. Likewise, you don't need an expensive hydration vest just so you look like a trail runner. Just running on trails will do that.
Shoes with grip are great
I know I just told you to keep things simple, but shoes with a bit of grip will make all the difference to your confidence on tricky terrain. Just don't rush into the purchase. Standard shoes will do the job just fine while you get started. If you're aiming to do a race, maybe don't bother buying your first pair of trail shoes until you've signed up for your first race. Just make sure you have a few weeks to wear them in before the event.
You don't need as much water as people tell you
When I first started trail running I would take a hydration pack on every run, stash water bottles along the trail and drink from streams I found along the way. Actually, that last part isn't true. I'm from Australia. We don't have streams over here. Not the kind that you would consider drinking from anyway. All that water weighed me down, sloshed around on my back, and I didn't even drink most of it. Now I don't bother taking water with me unless it's very hot or I'm running more than about 20km.
You need more water than you think
Running out of water on a run when you're a long way from anywhere because you read my previous tip is just plain silly. What were you thinking? If you're venturing away from civilisation, just take a bit of extra water with you. You spent hundreds of dollars on that expensive hydration vest I said you didn't need, so fill it up before you head out.
You will develop a deep appreciation for watermelon
I have always loved watermelon, but since I started doing long distance trail running, I have and even deeper appreciation for it's sweet, watery goodness. There is nothing more refreshing and satisfying after a long, hot trail running event than to gorge yourself on a whole watermelon.
Run up hills
Hill training will make you stronger, faster and more attractive. OK, maybe not the last one. The point is, don't take the easy option and walk up every hill. Challenge yourself with hill workouts and I promise you will see improvements. Not just with your physical performance, but also your general outlook on life.
Walk up hills
Obviously, running up every hill is not going to work. Be comfortable in walking up hills. Sometimes it makes sense to conserve energy and sometimes it makes sense to enjoy a walk up a hill. Don't worry about what anyone else is doing. Sometimes walking up a hill is the most energy efficient way to get up. Once it's steeper than a certain angle, running is less efficient than walking.
Strength training is important
If I say it enough times, I might do the strength training I know I should. Seriously though, strength training is important for injury prevention, optimal performance and improvement. Also, it doesn't have to be complicated or take a lot of time. 30 minutes to an hour per week is adequate for the average recreational trail runner, and a small number of exercises will strengthen all the important muscles. Keep it simple and you'll be able to stick with it.
Keep things in perspective
Don't complain. Running for recreation is an extreme privilege. I have access to everything I need and I choose a physical challenge for recreation.
So, what have you learnt that you wish you knew when you started? Let me know in the comments.