Trail Running: How to get back out after a winter away

Howard Hewlett, DPM

H. Austin Hewlett DPM, FACFAS, QME

by H. Austin Hewlett DPM, FACFAS
Upperline Health, Orange
Upperline Health, Newport Beach

Spring is here, and people are headed outside. This is the time of year that we all want to enjoy everything that nature has to offer. For many of us that means trail running. We want to make sure we do everything we can to optimize our time and enjoyment on the trails. This starts with making sure our feet are free from pain and able to handle the demands placed upon them.

When it comes to the health of our feet, we want to look at some of the key factors involved in optimizing our foot health: stretching, our training program, and our choice of gear.


Probably the most overlooked component in any form of exercise is stretching. I often tell my patients “The truest song any of us ever learned we learned in kindergarten; your toe bone really is connected to your foot bone which really is connected to your ankle bone” and all the way up. We need to view our bodies as a unit, and as such we need to stretch our entire body. The good news is there is no need to reinvent the wheel here. You can go on to YouTube, search “full body stretch,” and find more routines that you could ever do. The important thing is to stretch your entire body.

Training Program

Now that we are all stretched, out let’s talk about our plan to “get back into it”. Your training program should start with the mantra “steady as she goes.” If you have not been active, get back into it slowly and build up to the goal you have set for yourself. There is nothing more frustrating than being fired up about hitting the trails only to have your enthusiasm cut short by a preventable injury. So listen to your body; it’s saying “Train hard, train smart.”

Running Gear

Now we are all stretched out and a training plan. We need to make our choices for gear – specifically socks and shoes. This is where what you wear matters.
When it comes to socks, make sure to select pairs that are durable, well-padded, and comfortable, with the ability to keep your feet dry.

Shoe choice is difficult because it is so individualized. When you get a pair of trail running shoes remember, you are getting them to run trails, not enter a fashion show. Function is your friend. Some things to consider when buying the shoes you will be training in:

  • Try on and purchase shoes toward the end of the day as your feet tend to swell during the day.
  • Try the shoes on with the socks you plan to train in.
  • Walk around in the shoes at least 3-5 minutes. If the store has a treadmill, spend at least 5 minutes on the treadmill.
  • Break your shoes in, even if you have had the same pair in the past.

In the past 5 years there has been a paradigm shift in the design of trail running shoes with a shift toward a stiffer shoe with decreased flexibility, meaning you can’t fold the shoe up and put it in your pocket as you could with many popular shoes in the past. You will find most major shoe brands now offer trail shoes that fit this model.

The most difficult part of the entire equation is finding the shoe that feels and fits best on your foot. This is why it is so important to try on several pairs of shoes to see what each one feels like. A good pair of trail shoes is essential in preventing injuries that can result from a shoe that doesn’t fit your foot correctly.

Where you buy your shoes can also make a difference. I prefer smaller local stores for a couple of reasons. The employees tend to be better trained, with most of them being trail or road runners themselves. In addition, I find that they want your return business, so most will take the time to look at your feet, watch you walk and make an intelligent suggestion to ensure you’re getting the best fit, not because they are trying to clear space for the incoming season’s models.

We have only just scratched the surface of what you can do to prepare for trail running, but please use this information as a starting point to develop a plan to get back out there. Happy trails to you!

About Dr. H. Austin Hewlett

Dr. Hewlett is a Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. As well, he is the Sports Medicine Fellowship Director at the Specialty Surgical Center of Irvine.

Prior to his academic education, Dr. Hewlett spent four years traveling the world surfing and studying Viticulture in Australia. Following his return to the states, Dr. Hewlett graduated from the University of California San Diego before going on to Temple University for his Doctor of Podiatric Medicine. After completing his Surgical training, he joined Cambridge Foot and Ankle Associates, Inc. and has been a partner there since 2005. He currently serves as Sports Medicine Fellowship Director at Specialty Surgical Center of Irvine as well as being a member of the Orthopedic Executive Committee at Saint Joseph’s Hospital.

Dr. Hewlett has been serving the Orange County community with compassion for 17 years. This coupled with constant education allows him to offer his patients the highest level of care available.

Please call our office at or visit us online to schedule your appointment. Dr. Hewlett and his staff look forward to meeting you.

Upperline Health – Orange
1038 East Chapman Avenue
Orange, California 92866
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Upperline Health – Newport Beach
2131 San Joaquin Hills Road
Newport Beach, California 92660
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