Story by Acadia Gantz.
Fall is a perfect time of year in the Northeast. Outside your window, vibrant red, yellow and orange leaves gleam against a pure blue sky. The sun shines freely without being hindered by the humidity of the summer, and the contrast of warm sun and cool breeze create the perfect conditions for a run.
Whether you are an experienced runner who has never run on a trail, or you are completely new to running, fall is the perfect opportunity to explore the vast and differing trail systems that Maine has to offer. From accessible trails maintained by local land trusts to rugged mountains, there is a running trail for everyone.
Find a trail
As simple as it sounds, the first step to becoming a trail runner is simply to run on a trail. Easier said than done right? First, you need to find a trail. The AllTrails app and the website Maine Trail Finder are great options for finding a local trail. Most trails are suitable for running, although some trails are easier to run on than others. One good indicator is elevation gain/loss on the trail — flatter trails are generally better for running.
Another great option for finding great local places to run is to join a local running club. The Bold Coast Runners in Washington County, Trail Monster Running in southern Maine, Run for the Hills Run Club in the Lakes Region, Trail Sisters in Portland and the Trail Runners of Midcoast Maine are just a few of the wonderful trail running groups in Maine. All have options for beginner trail runners that allow new trail runners to not only learn local trails but also to make friends!
Invest in the right clothes and shoes
You will also want to consider gear. If you are already a runner, much of the gear you use on the road will also be relevant for trail running. The first piece of trail specific gear you will want to invest in is a good pair of trail running shoes. Road shoes are often able to handle the more smooth, hard packed or flat trails, but it won’t be long before you will want to venture further.
In contrast to road shoes, trail running shoes have more grip on the sole, in the form of deeper lugs and more sticky rubber, than road running shoes. This allows you to have better traction, which can be especially important on the wet rocks and roots that are prevalent in Maine. Trail shoes are also made to withstand more wear and tear and protect your feet in the process, with features like rubber toe guards and rock plates.
The best place to find shoe information is your local running store. There you can try on different styles of shoes, and learn the pros and cons of each. When shopping for any running shoe, the most important feature is comfort. A running shoe should be comfortable from the first time you put it on in the running store. Take the shoes for a test run around the store and if they’re not comfortable, move onto the next pair.
As beautiful as fall weather is, it also means colder weather and earlier darkness. As the weather cools off, be sure to dress accordingly. Dressing in layers can be a great way to ensure that you are always comfortable during your trail run. Choose fabrics that are breathable and moisture-wicking, such as polyester or wool.
Safety is an important consideration when trail running. It is important to always have a good idea of where you are going, and have a way to navigate back to your car in case you get off trail or take a wrong turn at a trail junction. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
It’s also important to remember that every day (until December 21, at least) the sun is setting just a little bit earlier. Be sure you can finish your run before dusk — and remember that it seems dark much earlier in the woods — or carry a headlamp with you. Nothing can ruin a good trail run like being stuck out in the dark unexpectedly!
Prepare to slow down
Don’t focus on your pace. This is the most common mistake new trail runners make. If you are used to a certain pace while road running, you should let those expectations go when you hit the trail. The terrain, elevation and beauty of the trails will all slow you down. Find your happy pace and enjoy the time you get to spend on the trails.
Becoming a trail runner doesn’t have to be complicated. Trails of all types are easily accessible in Maine. With a good pair of shoes and an hour or two to explore, you can become a trail runner.