Dossier: Trend sports

Trail running: tips and tricks

The outdoor trend of trail running combines endurance and strength training with the outdoors. But running off-piste can also be tricky. What equipment do you need and how should you prepare?

Text: Julie Freudiger; Video and photo: Moviemaint

If you’re looking for a sporting challenge to take time out from the daily routine, trail running offers the perfect combination of hiking and jogging. So, is it a hobby only suitable for experienced runners who sprint up steep mountain peaks and balance over narrow ridges? No, says trail running expert and professional cross-country skier Jonas Baumann. “Trail running is any run that takes place on unpaved paths. It doesn’t necessarily have to be high alpine terrain – field and forest paths are just as good. Anyone can do trail running, regardless of age.” 

Already popular in other countries, the outdoor trend is slowly gaining momentum in Switzerland, too, with more and more people appreciating this versatile form of exercise outdoors in nature and away from paved roads. What sets trail running apart from “normal” jogging is the rough and difficult terrain. Trail running requires – and improves – endurance, stability, strength, coordination and reactions. You run skilfully and non-stop over narrow, uneven and stony paths often criss-crossed with tree roots. The routes can be flat, uphill or downhill. Trail running routes are fun and versatile. 

How do I get started with trail running? 

Running off-piste is more challenging than running around your local neighbourhood. So anyone new to trail running should take their time and get used to the sport slowly. Jonas Baumann advises that you adjust the pace and route to suit your ability and endurance. If you’re not used to running off the beaten track, don’t start with the most technically difficult routes. “There’s always room to improve.”

The same applies to the length of a route. It’s a good idea to start with shorter trails. Jonas Baumann provides tips for beginners in the video. What equipment do you need? How should you prepare? And what’s the best technique for trail running?

Varied training plan 

Running on trails requires endurance, strength, balance and coordination, so your training plan will need to cover all these bases. To enjoy trail running, you need to do at least one or two running sessions a week, while other endurance sports, such as road cycling, can be added to supplement your cardio training. The pace and distance you choose depend on your experience.

To improve your trail running technique, it’s a good idea to do running exercises (website available in German, French and Italian) once a week, such as the knee lift, where the knees are raised alternately over a distance of about 20 metres. The arms move along with the knees. You can find additional running training exercises online. And don’t forget to train your core stability to boost your balance and leg strength. Your training should also include exercises such as planks, lunges and squats. It’s also a good idea to do specific exercises to strengthen your knees

The best equipment for trail running

When do I need to buy trail running shoes?

It’s important to buy shoes suitable for trail running. If you want to run up mountain tracks, you need stable shoes with a good grip and maybe toe bumpers. If you prefer gentler trails and forest paths, you can opt for lighter footwear. Whatever your preferences, trail running shoes are generally less cushioned and have more contact with the floor than conventional running shoes to offer more stability and grip off-road.

Opinions differ on the question of whether trail running shoes should be waterproof. The advantage of waterproof shoes is that water doesn’t penetrate into the shoe through the fabric, but likewise, water that runs into the shoes from above can’t escape. It’s best to try it for yourself and see what you prefer.

What are trail running poles?

If a route covers many metres of altitude, light trail running poles can be a useful aid – both uphill and downhill. Going uphill, using poles helps to increase strength, while going downhill it takes the pressure off the leg muscles and joints. Like hiking or trekking poles, trail running poles are made of aluminium or, to save weight, of carbon. Most poles can be folded up like tent poles to fit easily in a ruck sack or a trail running jacket.

It can take a bit of time to adapt to walking with poles – it requires a bit of coordination. But with a little practice, poles can come in very handy. Tip: to make sure your poles are the right length, hold your upper arm against your body and stretch your lower arm forward. The hand on the grip should be about a hand-width higher than your elbow. 

“You can go trail running practically anywhere.”
Jonas Baumann, trail running expert and professional cross-country skier

The most beautiful trail running routes in Switzerland

With over 65,000 km of sign-posted hiking paths, Switzerland is a paradise for trail runners. There’s a great selection of trails, regardless of whether you want to run on flat trails or in the mountains, whether you want to cover several thousand or a few hundred metres in altitude and whether you want to do an easy route or a more ambitious tour. “You can go trail running practically anywhere. But, of course, you always have to make sure it matches your level of experience,” says Jonas Baumann. It’s impossible to select just one trail as the most beautiful, but we’ve managed to narrow it down to three top routes:

Easy: Bettmeralp circular route

What: 848 m ascent, 848 m descent, distance: 22 km 

Where: Scenic route along the Aletsch glacier, UNESCO world heritage site, with start and finish in the idyllic and car-free village of Bettmeralp.

Details and map  

Moderate: Le Moléson trail run

What: 1,187 m ascent, 1,597 m descent, distance: 18 km

Where: The Le Moléson summit is located between Fribourg, Lausanne and Montreux and offers a breathtaking view over Lake Geneva, the Jura mountains and the Alps. 

Details and map 

Difficult: Anarosa run

What: 1,228 m ascent, 1,755 m descent, distance: 30 km 

Where: This challenging but rewarding day tour runs over wild trails from Splügen through the Beverin natural park and the Anarosa alp  

Details and map