Trail Running in Chattanooga

Andrew Kornylak
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In a city like Chattanooga, filled with so many outdoor adventures, you're missing out if you aren't partaking in the outdoor fun in at least some way. And trail running is one of the most approachable and enjoyable activities you can choose in the Scenic City.

Maybe you’re not the most avid runner and you’re not sure how to start. Or maybe you’ve been a long-time roadrunner but you’d like to transition to the trails. Whatever it is, here are a few tips to help you get started and get out on Chattanooga's world class trail systems. You'll be glad you did!

1. Protect Your Feet

Rock/Creek

Get fitted for a good pair of shoes. If you're going to start on a wood-chip or packed dirt path, your regular running shoes will do. You can actually use them on most of the beginner trails recommended here, but trail running shoes are a good idea. When you trail run, you move more laterally, so you'll need more ankle stability because there are roots and rocks to navigate, and trail shoes have better outsoles to improve your traction; this is key for rocky and slippery routes. Salomon, Hoka One One, La Sportiva, and New Balance are all great options.

2. Stay Hydrated

Get a handheld bottle for shorter runs or a hydration pack with a belt for longer ones. Take it with you because you might be on the trail longer than you plan, and you’ll have less access to public water sources. Many packs also include pockets for nutrition, so you can carry an energy gel, bar, or food. It’s always a good idea to carry along some sort of fuel.

3. Orient Yourself 

Know where you’re going. It’s a good idea to study a map and have an idea of the trail. Carry a phone in your pack to reference the trail recommendations on RootsRated. It’s also helpful for keeping in contact with family if necessary. Begin on easier paths and walk or run for only 15 to 20 minutes during your first outing. Increase your time and/or distance by about 10 percent each week. This is a good way to begin learning the trails so you have confidence about where you’re going and what you’ll be running on.

4. Take Your Time 

Rock/Creek

Go slow, pick up your feet, and don’t be afraid to hike if you have to. The two biggest mistakes new trail runners make is trying to run too fast and failing to pick up their feet. Don’t think about time or pace, especially if you are transitioning from road to trail. You’ll be running slower because the terrain will be more demanding. You want to be running slowly enough that you could carry on a conversation if you had company. Plan to go for a certain amount of time and think about simply doing an out and back.

Practice running on different terrain. Bruises, cuts, wounds, and twisted ankles come from not lifting your feet properly. If you slow down and lift your feet, staying upright will be much easier. If you're losing running motivation on a steep hill, walk. Don’t feel bad about that. Even experienced trail racers walk at times. You should also walk if you're approaching a tricky obstacle like a stream or log. The more time you spend on the trail, the more comfortable you will feel.

5. Pay Attention

When you’re in the woods, there is always something to see. Take in the views, the interesting trees, and the animals all around you. Keep your eyes moving. You don’t want to take your eyes off the ground in front of you for long, but you also don’t want to miss out on your surroundings. Plan to survey the ground in front of you as you’re running in order to prepare for each stride. Paying attention to the trail surfaces will help you maintain your pace and avoid an unpleasant face plant.

6. Have Fun

Rock/Creek

This includes getting dirty. Enjoy whatever nature sends your way, especially when it comes to the weather. There isn’t a thing you can do about it anyway. Trail running is fundamental and grounding. You can feel like a kid again as you move through the woods, over roots, rocks and downed trees while you improve you balance, agility and coordination.

Here are a few excellent places to go in the Chattanooga area: 

1. The Guild Trail, on Lookout Mountain, is a great starter trail that has stable footing and gradual climbs for 6.5 miles of rolling terrain. You can turn around any time and not worry about getting lost.

2.  At Enterprise South Nature Park, virtually any of the pedestrian trails will be perfect for a beginner. There are some hills though, so be prepared to walk.

3. Finally, Stringers Ridge, just minutes from downtown, offers miles of smooth singletrack that weaves in all sorts of exciting directions, over easily-scaled uphills and down speedy descents. The wider outer trails are perfect for beginners.

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