Trail Run in Any Weather: How to Conquer Shoulder Seasons

Keep running through spring and fall with these key tips.

Developing good running habits is all about consistency—but the rain, sloppy trails, and unpredictable weather of spring and fall can deter even the most disciplined among us. There may be days during these so-called “shoulder seasons” when you arrive at your favorite trailhead only to find mud and slush. There may be afternoons when you leave the house in a T-shirt only to encounter a spring snowstorm mid-run. And in the fall, there are other surprises to contend with. There’s nothing quite like enjoying a peaceful fall run—only to be surprised by the sound of gunfire because you forgot about the opening of deer, elk, or turkey season.

Use the following tips to take the uncertainty in stride, and keep up your running practice no matter the conditions.

1. Mind the Mud

Both spring and fall can bring muddy conditions. To preserve the quality of the trails, it’s best to stay off them when they’re deep in mud. However, if you encounter a surprise muddy section, don’t try to sneak around it. Running beside or around puddles widens trails, destroying vegetation and turning singletrack into braided highways over time. Instead, either turn around or run right through the center of the trail. (Pro tip: Wear your waterproof running shoes and bring a sense of adventure.) 

2. Shorten Your Stride

The trail isn’t the only one that can get wrecked on muddy days. To avoid slipping and falling on slick trails, shorten your stride. It’s a lot easier to recover from a slip in the middle of a short stride than it is during a long stride. Also, a shorter stride gives you more control of your footing because you’re contacting the ground more often. 

3. Look Out for Ice

Early spring can leave “black ice” on otherwise dry trails. If temperatures are cold enough to freeze yesterday’s precipitation, keep an eye out for slick, dark sections of trail. These are especially likely at higher elevations and in the shade. If you encounter ice on your run, take small, slow steps to avoid slipping. 

4. Have a Backup Plan

If you head out for a run and encounter a trail that’s too muddy or icy right from the get-go, your best bet is to find an alternate trail. Trails in full sun and those on south-facing slopes will dry or melt out faster than those in the shade or on north-facing slopes. And if even those are wet? It might be the day for a road run or a treadmill workout


Photo: Lars Schneider/Tandemstock

5. Layer Up

Shoulder seasons are often characterized by huge temperature swings. Cold mornings can turn into sweaty afternoons. Likewise, afternoon runs can start off warm and end up frigid. During spring and fall, it’s best to prepare for the worst, no matter what the forecast says. Dress in layers that you can easily shed and carry if the sun comes out. For example, wear a wool or synthetic T-shirt with a windshell or light jacket that can be tied around your waist. 

6. Dress for Hunting Season

If you run in wooded areas or near open fields, it’s best practice to keep tabs on hunting season dates. Legal hunting of deer, elk, turkey, and other animals usually takes place throughout the fall months. Before autumn comes around, first find out who manages the land where you like to run (most public land in the U.S. is owned by a city, county, state, or federal agency). Look through that land manager’s website for hunting regulations, and either avoid those areas or take precautions while hunting is permitted. While most hunters are conscientious about avoiding trails and keeping pedestrians safe, it’s best to wear bright, fluorescent colors during hunting season.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.