Your Guide To Trail Running in Philadelphia

We love running the streets of Philly as much as the next person but when it comes to becoming a stronger runner, we know the importance of switching up our normal routine.

If you want to take a break from the pavement, consider hitting the trails for your next training run. Not sure what to expect?

We created this guide to help you choose the right gear, running group and routes to get you trail running in Philadelphia.

What To Expect On Your First Trail Run

Two words: uneven terrain. Try to stay lighter on your feet and not focus on putting all your weight in your heels (you are more likely to twist your ankle). The constant bobbling of your feet will make you slower and you will have to pay more attention to where you are stepping so expect to be 1-2 minutes slower per mile on trails than you are on the pavement.

If you are using a trail run to replace a road run go for time, not distance. If you do 5 miles on the road in 50 minutes, then you might only get in a 4 mile trail run in that same time frame….it’s more about the time on your feet than the distance covered since you are expecting to be slower with the different terrain.

Remember it’s more hilly so expect your legs to work hard. Expect sore lower calves and ankles the first few runs as the stabilizers in the lower legs and feet are working over time on trails….the body will adjust after a few runs.

Look Up and Enjoy the Scenery

Leave the headphones at home. Music can be a huge distraction and could lead to nasty falls. If you’re unfamiliar with your surroundings, go with a friend or a group (more on that later) in case of an emergency.

Where To Run Trails In Philadelphia

Did you know Philadelphia is home to the country’s largest park system? Take advantage of Fairmount Park and other wooded areas throughout the city. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Boxers Trail: “When Muhammad Ali wanted to challenge Joe Frazier, he came to the Boxers’ Trail because he knew he could find Frazier there.” (Fairmount Park Conservancy) – Cool, right? Learn more about Boxers Trail here.
  • Cobbs Creek Park
  • The Wissahickon Trails: The Wissahickon is easily accessible via feet, bike, bus, train, and car. It’s only 5 miles from Lloyd hall. You can start by running on the gravel Forbidden drive before venturing to the hilly trails that shoot off. Friends of the Wissahickon have been working on new trail markers and signs to help keep you on the right path.
  • Ridley Creek State Park
  • Valley Forge National Historic Park
  • John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum Park: With more than 10 miles of trails, the refuge provides many areas for visitors to explore. This hidden gym nestled by the Philadelphia Airport is a runner’s paradise!

Who To Run With: If you’re nervous about trekking out solo, there are a ton of trail running groups to join in Philadelphia! Check out Philadelphia Runner’s Manayunk group on Sunday mornings at 9AM. Chasing Trail, Wissahickon Wanders, and Manayunk Running Club are also great groups to look into.

Choosing the right gear: Our University City Store Manager, Jenny, is an avid trail runner in Philadelphia. We asked her about her trail running “must haves” and here’s what she had to say….

  • Compression Socks/Sleeves: Consider running in compression sleeves (2xu or CEP) to help alleviate the tiredness and fatigue or wear compression socks for quicker recovery.
  •  Trail Running Shoes can be a huge help for traction and foot protection from sharp rocks and roots.
  • Clothing: Your usual road gear works fine but consider a light, packable jacket for ease of carrying and use.  It’s always colder in the woods, so layers are key.
  • Body Glide: Body glide for your inner thighs and feet as they will be moving more from the side to side actions of finding safe footing.
  • Sunglasses: If you have a hard time seeing due to moving sun and leaves, consider polarized sunglasses (Oakley or Tifosi) to help cut down on sun glare so you can see footing easier. A hat would help as well (Nike visor or cap).
  • Headlamp: If you will be starting or ending your runs in twilight or darkness buy a Nathan Headlamp. It is a light weight light on a head strap with a few brightness setting. The woods get darker quicker than on the road as the moonlight won’t penetrate the tree cover as easily.
  • Safety: Consider a whistle. If you get hurt a whistle can be heard up to 3 miles away versus a voice at a 1 mile range.
  • Hydration: Bring water as often there isn’t many places to hydrate in the wilderness (at least not without a filtering system, etc). For more than 8 mile trail runs,  check out Nathan Hydration packs as they offer larger water carrying volume and storage for extra nutrition, jacket, gloves, etc.
  • GPS: Your GPS watch will most likely be a little off on distance….with heavy tree cover and switchbacks the triangulation is not always 100% accurate.

Now that you know what to expect, head out for your first trail run and share your photos on social media using the hashtag #myphillyrun! Do you have a favorite trail route that we missed? Add it in the comments section below!