One of the great things about living and running in Charlotte is our access to the mountains and beaches. In between, there’s a ton of great trails for every kind of trail runner. We’ve touched on a few resources here. If you’re still noodling on the “how and why” to get started, we checked in with some locals who know their way around Charlotte trails for some local know-how on hitting the trails with ease.
It’s good for body and sole… and soul.
“Obviously, there’s the benefit of decreased impact on your feet and joints from running on softer surfaces,” starts Will Hayes, Performance Manager at Novant Health Sports Performance Center. “Plus, there’s the stimulation of running on uneven surfaces.”
Stimulation? As in, it’s going to literally wake up muscles that don’t generally get a workout when we’re running on the very linear, predictable pavement. That’s a good thing.
“And there’s the psychological good that comes with getting outside, too,” reminds Hayes. Can’t argue with that.
It’s the shoes. Choose wisely, grasshopper.
“For trails — especially technical ones — I recommend wearing trail shoes,” says Chad Champion, president of the Charlotte Running Club and trail aficionado. “If you don’t have any, visit your favorite Charlotte running store and have them find the best trail shoe for you.” Mud, rocks, roots, and uneven terrain will take a different toll on your shoes.
But don’t let gear keep you from going off the beaten path. Depending on how technical the trails, what’s in your current lineup might work just fine.
“As much as we love running the trails around here, not all of them are as technical as say, Crowder’s Mountain,” adds Charlotte Running Company’s Eric Custodio. Eric says most road shoes with sturdy outsoles are sufficient for experiencing entry-level trail running around Charlotte. If you find you enjoy it, you can always get a purpose-built shoe to explore more aggressive trails.
Or if you’re just looking for a reason to buy new shoes, permission granted!
Mind the ups and downs.
“Keep your eyes out for roots and rocks,” says Lisa Landrum, founder of runCLTrun. “You’ll fall anyway. It’s ok. You’ll get back up.” Brush it off and keep going, and maybe even keep an extra band-aid in your shoe. Mom would be proud.
Bryan Hojnacki shared similar advice: “Keep a 10-foot focus.” He says it’s his running mantra, which has gotten him through ultra races and many miles of trails around Charlotte. “If I can run the 10 feet in front of me, I can go forever. If you’re not focused on that 10 feet, you’re going to trip, hit a tree branch, or twist an ankle.” Not only does this mantra keep him in the moment, he finds a lot of stuff, too. He even devotes an Instagram account to it.
The sound of nature is calling, too, so stop and listen. No cars, no stereos, no leaf blowers – but there may be other runners, bikes, or horses on some trails. Having an ear out for nature also gives you a good heads-up when the silence is broken by faster or bigger traffic on the trail.
Know before you go …or take a buddy who does.
New trails are great to explore, but count on your phone to help if you’re deep in the woods. If it’s a new trail, you might want to bring a friend who’s been there before.
“With so many different options and extensions it’s easy to get lost,” says Champion. “At the least, make sure to have a map available.” A map – on paper. In a plastic baggie.
“And don’t cut the switchbacks,” says Landrum, “in running and life.” Good advice, especially because we know running IS life, right? Enjoy the scenery. Plus, staying on your trail will lessen your chances of getting lost in the first place. Most Charlotte area trails are well-marked, so become familiar with those markings and recognize where the trail exits are on the map, and review them before you head out.
Since most trails don’t pass through a Wawa, you’ll want to BYO water or snacks. Champion recommends a handheld water bottle or hydration pack for any outing beyond an hour.
“Don’t try to compare your road pace with your trail pace,” says Landrum, “they’re not even the same kind of running.” Sure, set your watch and run for whatever time or distance, or make a loop that covers the distance you want to cover. But you won’t be winning at both, so don’t do that to yourself. Just enjoy the challenge of something a little different.
“There’s no need to go too hot out of the gate,” adds Hayes. If you’re new to trail running, you’ll want to give yourself time to adapt to the overall changes in terrain and previously under-utilized muscles being added to the mix.
“It’s ok — more than ok, actually — to hike up hills or stop for a minute and look around, take a deep breath and notice the quiet,” says Landrum. North Carolina’s beauty is a treasure. Trails are one more way to experience it. Keep it that way, and pick up your trash.