The Road to Trail Running

Have you crossed your fair share of 5K finish lines around town? Maybe it’s time to escape the pavement, get a pair of trail runners and see some new, exciting scenery. Gretchen Walla, volunteer coordinator and marketing manager with Northwest Trail Runs, provides a helpful plan for making the transition to trail running. She says the benefits of going off-road range from stunning views to connecting with community.

Terrain Tips

Obviously, the biggest difference between road and trail racing is the terrain. If rocks, roots and hills make you nervous, Walla says slow down. Her motto is, “Run the fun and hike the hard,” and it’s a technique even elite trail runners use. “Trail running is challenging. It’s OK to go slow. If you come up to a hill and you want to hike it, that’s fine. When I do ultras [anything over a marathon length], I hike more than run,” Walla says. Slowing your pace can also help with energy conservation and morale by allowing you to take in the beautiful scenery.

Choosing Your First Race

There is no shortage of trail races in the Pacific Northwest. Northwest Trail Runs alone consistently packs the calendar with lengths varying from 5 to 50K. For beginners, Walla recommends one of their events at Redmond Watershed Preserve. “It’s less technical and there are wider trails. It’s a great course to start.” Walla says. She also likes the “Trail to Grill series,” which is a fun, laid-back event that takes place every Tuesday night during the months of May through August.

Where to Train

Whether you’re on the Eastside or in Seattle, there are plenty of training trails to try your hand at the sport. Walla lists Discovery and Carkeek parks as good places for shorter loops in case you’re worried about getting lost. Redmond Watershed Preserve is her favorite Eastside location, and she also lists Soaring Eagle Regional Park as a well-marked (although bit more technical) trail. “I would look for places that have a mix of concrete and trail to ease your way into it.” If you graduate to longer distances, like Walla, who recently completed her third 100-mile race, head to Tiger Mountain for long stretches of training ground.


Walla quickly lists her running vest as the most important piece of gear to get comfortable with during trail runs—personally, she uses UltrAspire or Ultimate Direction brands. But she says her No. 1 piece of advice is to go to a running shop and get properly fitted for shoes and other gear. She recommends Seven Hills Running Shop in Seattle or Shoes-n Feet in Bellevue and Super Jock ‘N Jill in Redmond. “They will watch your run and help you get the shoes for what you want to do. The last thing you should do is just go grab a pair of Nikes and hit the trail,” she says.

Mental toughness

Like many sports, trail running is as mentally challenging as it is physically, especially when you start hitting the longer distances. “People can be their most physically fit but if they’re not mentally fit, it can be very difficult,” Walla says. For her, it’s the people around her that tend to keep her spirits up. “I love my crew and the people at aid stations. It’s really helpful to see your community; they brighten your day and send you off. A lot of times I think, I can get to the next aid station and go aid station to station. It’s easier when I know I’ll see my crew in six or seven miles.”

For a calendar of races and more information, please visit

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