6 Pieces of advice from trail running expert, Ian Sharman

According to the American Trail Running Association, over the past decade trail running in the U.S. has increased as well as an uptick in trail race participation.

After receiving feedback on my safety tips, I decided to reach out to a professional. Ian Sharman is a trail running expert, ultrarunning competitor, and Head Coach (USATF certified) at SharmanUltra.com.

Sharman has been trail running since 2005 and coaching since 2010, completing over 200 ultras and marathons in over 30 countries in every type of weather and on all terrains. Recently he’s had success as the 2015 and 2013 Leadville Trail Champion and is the current Grand Slam of Ultrarunning record holder.


Ian Sharman at the start of the Western States 100. Photo Courtesy: Amy Sharman

Phil: Ian what safety suggestions do you have for beginners and more advanced trail runners?

  1. Let people know where you’re going and how long you’ll be, plus start off with easier, more well-traveled trails.
  2. Take more food and drink than you think you need, unless it’s just a trail in a city park. 
  3. Take appropriate gear and clothing for all weather eventualities, not just the weather at the start at the trailhead – a running backpack is helpful, especially for longer runs.

Phil: What if any types of equipment do you suggest? 


  1.  The most important difference compared to road running is the shoes are more rugged and have more grip on the sole, but they still need to feel very comfortable as a priority.
  2. Then for runs that are longer, or in more remote areas, more gear is needed, dependent on the type of terrain and conditions that could potentially be experienced. It’s always better to be over-prepared than underprepared, so a map is essential if you’re unfamiliar with the area.

Phil: Do you have any thoughts on using electronics, headphones, watches?


One of the benefits of running is that it’s a very simple form of exercise with little essentially needed for technology. In fact, getting out on the trails is a great way to connect with your surroundings and avoid the constant distractions of emails and phones in our daily lives.

Phil: What are your recommendations on hydrating during a run?


  1. Drinking on a run is a simple question – if thirsty then drink, if not then wait until you are thirsty. All animals have developed the thirst mechanism through evolution, and it’s just marketing that’s tried to make runners believe that when you’re thirsty, it’s already too late (it’s not based on any credible science and would lead to animals dehydrating in the wild if it was true). Whether on roads or trails, take liquids with you on a hotter day if you’ll be running long enough to get thirsty, which usually means on anything longer than an hour.
  2. There are multiple ways to carry liquids and the choice comes down to what feels most comfortable from handheld bottles; some form of a backpack with a bladder or pockets for bottles; or a waist belt with bottles.


Photo Courtesy Ian Sharman

Phil: Water or Sports Drink?


  1. The main benefit of sports’ drinks is that they include calories, which is very helpful on longer runs, particularly over two hours. The electrolytes are much less important, especially for non-ultra distances.
  2. Another thing to consider is that sports’ drinks can cause stomach upsets with some people, so it’s important to try different brands out on runs, and for most runs water is sufficient.

Phil: Any thoughts on whether runners should participate in an organized Trail Running Group? 


One of the easiest and most fun ways to get into trail running is to either go with friends and let them show your some routes or to join a local trail group or running store group run on trails. That way it’s much safer, you won’t get lost and you can make some new friends!

Phil: Thanks Ian for the lost comment.

Phillip Potenziano

About Phillip Potenziano

In addition to blogging, Dr. Potenziano works as an Assistant Superintendent, and volunteers on the board of a southern Maine local non-profit. He is happily nestled just north of Portland, with his 3 kids, a wife and lots of projects awaiting his attention. He loves early morning runs, donuts and sometimes coffee. Two lessons he tries to remember are: "Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him" and "At the moment of commitment, the entire universe conspires to assure your success."