8 Pros Share Their Best Trail Running Tips

From fuel to attitude, here’s how the pros stay motivated to train and crush come race season.

If you want to run farther or faster—or just explore the trails and have more fun than ever before—take note of these words of wisdom from some of the best trail runners in the world.

Cut the Crap

Despite moving up in distance from short and speedy track races to 100-milers, 2016 Leadville 100 Champion Clare Gallagher learned to take it down a notch to go further than ever before: “I run fewer crap miles. I began trail running thinking that every single run needed to be long, over an hour, and I quickly realized this wasn’t sustainable. During my second year of trail running, I got metatarsal stress fractures in a foot [while] training and racing the Leadville Marathon [in 2015]. I still placed third but realized that racing on a broken foot was not a sustainable method for making podiums in the future.”

Eat Real Food

World-class trail, mountain, and adventure runner Anna Frost keeps it real when it comes to fueling to prevent nasty energy highs and lows. She’s been known to snack on PB&Js on the trails and homemade chocolate and pizza after: “For longer races and adventures start hydrating/fueling early and eat whole foods like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, beef jerky, and energy bars. Save the sugars and caffeine for later.”

A photo posted by Anna Frost (@annafrosty) on

Set Long-Term Goals

Tim Tollefson is a regular on the podium at nearly every trail distance he races from half marathons to 100-milers. He lives and trains year-round in the 8,000-foot-high altitude mecca of Mammoth Lakes, California, a location currently experiencing one of the biggest winters in the town’s recorded history—almost 400 inches of snow and counting: “Winter training can be pretty rough. Those cold, dark, and snowy mornings can make the thought of staying in your cozy bed a few extra hours pretty difficult to resist!  Having a long-term goal helps keep me driven on the particularly tough rough weather windows. I know that every day I skip a run, I cheat myself from gaining ground on my goals.  It doesn’t make the training any easier, but, it keeps me honest!”

Tim Tollefson | Photo: Fernando De Samaniego

Embrace New Challenges

Ben Robinson, a newcomer to the trail scene who placed 5th at his first ever trail race (the 2016 U.S. Trail Half Marathon Championships), took on the challenge of trail racing and running to inspire his transition from track and road. He shifted his thinking to make the trails seem less intimidating: “Trail racing is very difficult. At first I was taken aback because it felt super uncomfortable, but I saw it as an awesome new challenge and it really made me fall in love with the sport.”

Go with the Flow

Maria Dalzot (2014 U.S. Trail National Champion—Half Marathon) knows that when it comes to trails, you must be ready for anything. But it takes time to develop that mentality. The best way to zap the fear that comes with unexpected terrain? Mentally prepare yourself for anything and run, then run some more: “When you first start trail running, it is easy to get caught off guard by the steepness and length of a climb, the rockiness of a trail, or the fact that a rope has been installed for safety purposes. After many years on the trails, the climbs are just climbs—no matter how long or how steep. No longer being surprised allows you to just roll with whatever you may encounter on-course.”

A photo posted by Maria Dalzot (@mariadalzot) on

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Three-time U.S. Trail and Mountain Running Champion Megan Roche wants to make sure you slow your roll before you hit a wall on race day: “Trail racing requires a lot of strategy and understanding of how to expend your energy and properly fuel. Sometimes, runners can take trail races out too fast and really max out on the first climb. Going ‘lactic’ on the first climb can hinder your ability to perform later in the race.”

A photo posted by Megan Roche (@megroche3) on

Practice Everything in Moderation

Two-time Western States 100 Champion Timmy Olson focuses on mindfulness and meditation to balance his life as a professional athlete and family guy. To ensure your life is fulfilling on all levels, don’t let your training plan take over your life: “Remember to balance external as well as internal factors. You can be training like an animal, but how does this affect your work, relationships, and other hobbies? Balance is the key.”

Learn As You Go

Endurance ace and adventurer Jenn Shelton has a simple and direct tip for aspiring and veteran trail runners alike: “Don’t overthink, just go—it’s the best way to learn.”

Jenn Shelton, Col des Fours, Tour du Mont Blanc, France | Photo: Andrew Burr

Remember, everyone trains and races differently. What spurs one trail runner to success may or may not be the best option for you. Take note of what works (and what doesn’t work) for you during each race, trail run, or adventure, and integrate what you learn into your future preparations. Hitting the trails with an open mind and willingness to learn will help you improve and enjoy the feeling of dirt beneath your feet.