As more and more of us live in urban areas, finding ways to escape the traffic, the concrete and the noise of the urban jungle is vital. Trail running takes you off the road and to right into nature. Our guide tells you all you need to know about getting started in this increasingly popular sport.  



What is trail running?
A trail is basically an unpaved footpath. Trails can be flat or hilly – a soft forest path, parkland, sand dunes and beach, hills and mountain tracks. Find the one for you and you’ll be bounding over rocks and splashing through puddles while making your way through beautiful scenery.

Ireland is a perfect destination for trail running. We have the landscape and the wow factor when it comes to location! If you love to explore beautiful places or find hidden gems in this spectacular country of ours, then get out on the trails.  

Is trail running seasonal?
Trail running is a year-round sport, you can run no matter what the weather holds, so it’s a great way to stay motivated and fit all year long. Don't let the cold weather put you off - it's just rain,  wind or snow. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and always adds to the fun of trail running. Yes, you will get wet and muddy, but you will have an absolute blast.



What are the benefits of trail running?
Running on trails allows you to become immersed in nature and get back to basics away from traffic, noise and pollution. The physical and mental health benefits are huge. 

The mental benefits

  • Trail running is a great way to clear your head as you become absorbed in navigating the trail and the terrain. This helps you put aside the stresses of the day and focus entirely on yourself and the moment. 
  • As with all running, it activates serotonin, so you are definitely going to feel good about yourself afterwards. 
  • Running through constantly varying scenery and dealing with the challenges of the trail means you don’t have time to get bored. Watching out for the different surfaces, steep ups and downs, the scenery, the peace and quiet, all add to an experience that is both mentally and physically challenging.
  • Trail running can give you a greater sense of achievement as you will feel you have taken on a greater challenge than a road run.
  • And it’s great fun! The freedom, the fun of running down a hill splashing through muddy puddles, what’s not too love!

The physical benefits

  • Trail running works your body in lots of other ways. You train your balance, flexibility, coordination and control by running on uneven surfaces, taking on the hills and dealing with the elements. 

  • Trail running helps to build a strong core, positive foot placements, good posture and quick reactions. Not only will you be using more muscles, but the variety of terrain will also make you stronger and improve your endurance. 

  • It is really good for your joints to run on nice soft ground that absorbs the impact, helping your knees and ankles. Once you feel the soft, bouncy ground under your feet, you might never want to jar your bones against asphalt again!
  • The changeable surfaces can build up strength and refine your technique, helping you to stay injury-free for longer. As the impact on your joints is greatly reduced and your fitness improves, you may even find you can run for longer! 

How is trail running different to road running?
Trail running is quite different to road running, the boundaries are gone and you’re free to explore. 

  • Trail running is a stimulating, 3 dimensional experience, unlike road running where the physical actions can become unchanging and repetitive.
  • Incorporating uphill and downhill running and the changing dimensions of the surfaces means that all your muscles get a workout. You’ll never be running on the same surface, so no fear of suffering from repetitive strain on your limbs and joints are not affected in the same way as when pounding the pavements.
  • If you still love to road run, bringing trail into your training also has benefits as the changing landscapes help to strengthen your legs and core as well as your flexibility, balance and reaction time. When you get back to running on smooth, flat roads you will really notice the improvements in your fitness and your old runs will feel so much easier! 
  • The benefits of trail running as an aid to your road running are widely recognised and most club runners will tell you how the cross-country season provides them with a lot of strength for the road and track season ahead.



What equipment do I need?
One of the great benefits of trail running is that you don't need any fancy equipment. If you have a pair of running shoes and a desire to explore then you are good to go! 

  • Trail running shoes - Any pair of running shoes will generally be ok to get you started, but a pair of trail running shoes is the recommended key piece of kit. These provide good heel support, strong soles and lots of grip in the slipperiest mud. There are many varieties of trail running shoes on the market, so do your research and get the right shoe for your needs. The main thing to look for is grip.

  • Wind/waterproof jacket - any jacket that will keep the wind off and help you stay warm will suffice. There are loads of low cost jackets suitable for running on the market. 
  • Base layer – if you are running in the cooler months, you’ll need a good, breathable base layer to keep the core warm.
  • Tech & other equipment - If you are getting really confident then you might want to bring a map and compass, or even a running GPS. In the darker months it’s wise to carry a head torch just in case, as street lights don’t come as standard with footpaths!



Do I need to be an experienced runner to start trail running?
Trail running is for anyone who runs or who would like to start running. You might think that trail running is elitist, but it really isn’t, it’s accessible to everyone! You can go as far, as slow, as high as you want. You decide. You don't even have to run the whole thing - walking is allowed.

Like all forms of exercise, it takes practice and a steady build up, but once you get it, you’ll never look back. You’ll need to start at a low level and work up - don't go out on day one and try to summit the mountain! But you can have it as a goal in the background. Find your local trail, start slow, get comfortable, take your time and have fun.

Where do I find suitable routes for trail running? 
Getting started is easier than you may think. You’ll be surprised when you start to look around that trails can be found everywhere - a countryside path, or even a trail around a city park is a good place to start. 

Ireland’s towns or cities are never that far from the countryside, and many have great parks, forests and green areas which can be explored. Irish Trails [] and Coillte Trails [] are also a great place to start. Soon you will start looking at every trail you pass and making plans to come back and see where it takes you.

What about the hills?
We know that many people don't like running or even walking up hills – and if you are a road runner or just starting out, they can be daunting. It’s all about technique and starting small. Don't give up no matter what, as the reward at the end is always worth it :)

  • When running uphill, get low, bending over from the core and pushing down on your legs, powering up the hills at a level you are happy with. Take short steps and stay within your comfortable pace.
  • When running downhill, shorten your stride and move with faster feet. Embrace the downhills - it’s a great way to unleash your inner Roger Bannister and set new personal bests!
  • Use your arms for balance - stick them out if you need to.
  • Start small with a couple of easier hills/bumps before you work your way up to the mountains.

Is trail running safe?
There is a perception that trail running can be dangerous but with a few simple preparations and good technique you can stay safe and avoid injury on the trails.

  • When running keep your head up and your eyes ahead looking for that safer path to plant your feet on. Try to stay tall and light on your feet with smaller steps. Don't bend over too much or look down at your toes! Just go with the flow. 
  • Always tell someone where you are going and how long you are planning on staying out – text, leaving a note, or use the beacon text function on Strava (or your favourite running app) to track your location. 
  • If you are running at dusk or in the dark, a head light is essential. Always know where you are going and how your head light works before heading off in the dark! 
  • Know your route! Don't just figure it out as you go. Look at maps, use Google Earth or GPS to get an idea of the route you intend to take.  Another great resource is Strava which lets you track your run out so you can return back along the same route. 
  • When you are running, follow something easily recognizable until you are happy with your surroundings - a train line or road, a fence line or tree line. These give you something to follow if you want to get off the beaten track or get lost.
  • Look at the weather forecast and dress for the conditions.

Where can I find out more?
IMRA and NIMRA are great ambassadors for trail running across the island of Ireland. The trail running community is a friendly, supportive and welcoming bunch. Once you start to look, you’ll find trail running groups and events around the country and further afield.



Having an event to train for is the ultimate motivator! There is a trail running event out there for everyone. For your first race, be realistic about your goals and the amount of time you have in your daily life to train. But once you get the bug, there’s no going back! If you’re not sure where to start your training, we’ve put together some training guides for you to follow.

Where do I sign up?
Suitable for first timers and experienced runners alike, the Gaelforce 10K Trilogy is made up of three amazing trail runs spread across the year, providing perfectly spaced goals to work towards, and a way to push your running boundaries without ever getting bored. Each event is different - start on a spring morning in the Wicklow countryside Kippure, a summer afternoon near the sea in Bray and finish your running year with a late autumn run to spectacular Howth Summit. You can take on 1, 2 or all 3, so sign up now and we’ll see you on the trails!