Are you tired of running on treadmills or the same old roads? We’re here to introduce you to the wonderfully challenging world of trail running and expand your running horizons beyond paved, mostly flat surfaces. 

Trail running is defined as any run that takes place on an unpaved path outside in nature. The key difference between trail running and road running is that trail running is more technical: you have to think about where you’re putting your feet as you change terrains and elevations throughout your run. Rugged terrain and climbs are part of the total package, making these runs harder on your body overall. 

Running in the mountains or even just wooded trails can seem intimidating, even to seasoned road runners. Take local trail running couple Nancyanne and Clay Hickman, for example. While they’ve always been a run-loving couple, they had no idea how much they would grow to love trail running before participating in the Fillmore 50K in 2010. 

“That was our first big trail race, and we immediately became hooked on trail running,” Clay says. “When I started running, I thought a full marathon was totally out of reach, but it opened up an entirely new universe and unlocked a new mindset – like, what else can I do?” 

It turns out Clay and Nancyanne can do a lot of running together. Since getting married twelve years ago, they’ve run more than 80 races together, ranging in distance from 5Ks to 100-mile runs. Throughout all the mileage, they’ve maintained a deep appreciation for not only the act of trail running but for the community it provides. 

“I love being outside in nature and the woods and trees,” Nancyanne explains when asked what she loves most about trail running. “And it’s more of a total body workout than road running because of the hills and terrain – it’s not just about putting one foot in front of the other.” 

It also gives her and Clay a reason to get out and explore the world. They’ve traveled worldwide to participate in races, from Texas to California and Italy to Switzerland. 

What the couple loves most about trail running is its welcoming, supportive community. Clay and Nancyanne describe the trail running community here in Memphis as open, friendly, and often more willing to help their fellow runners when they’re out on the trail. They note that there are tons of running groups in Memphis but mention that they’re huge fans of the Breakaway Running trail runs. In addition to making challenging trail runs more fun, the community helps runners hold themselves accountable. 

Nancyanne recalls a specific incident in 2019 when the trail running community showed up for her. While racing in the Run Rabbit Run 100-mile run in Colorado, she began suffering from intense leg pain that significantly slowed her down. 

“The trail running community came through in a big way for me out there,” she recalls. “A friend on the trail was able to advise and coach me through the pain, and that’s the only reason I made it to the finish line.” She made the cutoff time with only five minutes to spare – and she credits it all to the strength of her community. 

The trail running community also showed up for Clay and Nancyanne this past August when they competed in intense 100+ mile trail races overseas. 

Clay competed in the 2022 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), an exclusive race featuring a 106.5-mile course with over 32,800 feet of climbing that encircles Mont Blanc, starting and finishing in Chamonix, France, while traveling through Italy and Switzerland in the process. 

Nancyanne and six friends (Ellen Bransford, Bryan Roberson, Casey Hyneman, Jennifer Payne, Olaf Schulz, and Kyle Grady) participated in the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa (UTMR), a more rugged route that tackles 106.25-miles across four days. Once they completed their race, they immediately went to crew Clay while he ran without stopping. 

On such a difficult course and long distance, without a pacer to support him, Clay relied heavily on the support of his wife and their running community. He also emphasized the importance of managing your food and water intake on an intense run. 

“Especially when you’re at a higher elevation, you’ve got to be taking in calories and hydrating,” Clay explains. “You’ll want to hydrate and refuel every eight to twelve miles and ensure you’re consistent throughout the race, so your body doesn’t melt down.” 

Clay and Nancyanne know their stuff when it comes to trail running. So, what advice do these elite athletes have for aspiring trail runners? 

• Get involved with local groups: Everyone on the trail is so friendly. Many trail running groups in Memphis can help you push yourself, stay consistent, and, most importantly, have fun! 

• Sign up for a race: There are plenty of opportunities for runners of all distances to compete in a trail run in or near Memphis. 

— Bell Ringer Trail Run • Dec. 10 

— MRTC Winter Off-Road Series • Jan 15 

— Mike Cooley Overton Park 10K Trail Race • Jan 28 

— West TN Trail Run for Clean Water • May 6 

• Have the right equipment: If you want to get into trail running, make sure you have the right shoes because climbs and hills can get intense. You’ll also want to invest in a hydration vest – as Clay pointed out, proper hydration is vital when you’re out in the woods for hours at a time. 

Not sure where to find the right trail running group for you? The President of Trail Trippers, a local running group, William Collins, recommends signing up for a race and jumping in. 

“Sign up for a big race like Big Buffalo 50, and you’ll have an opportunity to meet all the big running groups and see which one best fits your vibe,” he says. 

Trail Trippers comprises about 50 runners who average 30 to 40 miles a week. The group has runners of all different speeds, so it works for everyone. They run at various local trails like Wolf River, Big Hill Pond, and Shelby Forest – and they’re working on building a new trail at TJ Fuller State Park. 

“We’re passionate about giving back to the Memphis running community and are excited to keep building trails, so everyone has more places to run,” William says. He encourages anyone interested in volunteering to be part of the build to reach out to @trailtrippers on Instagram. 

There’s a thriving trail running community here in Memphis ready to welcome runners of all speeds, distances, and athletic abilities with open arms. Though getting started may be intimidating, in the words of Clay: “just take that first step – you never know what more you can do.” 


Rabbit Women’s Smashems 2.5Running Shorts 

Rabbit Men’s Shredders 5Running Shorts / $75.95 $84.95 

Crush it all day in our ultimate trail performance shorts with built-in storage that all other shorts envy. Six waistband pockets let you stuff it all in and pack it out. Bonus: two elastic loops store hiking poles to whip out when the going gets tough. 

Nathan Terra Fire 300 R Hand Torch / $45 Nathan Luna Fire 250 RX Run Light / $39 Nathan Ripcord Siren + Strobe Light / $29.99 

Illuminate those once-scary nighttime roads, paths, or trails with powerful spotlights. Handheld or clip-on illumination for a faster, safer run. 

Altra Lone Peak 6 Trail Shoes / $140 

The Lone Peak 6 is ready to challenge any terrain with trail features like the grippy MaxTrac™ outsole with TrailClaw™ canted lugs designed to keep you going. This generation’s updated upper construction and customizable lacing system provide a more secure fit so you can confidently face the trails 

Nathan Hypernight Quickstart 2.0 4L Hydration Vest / $90 

The minimalist design is a combination of safety, comfort, and convenience. Be seen with the expansive reflective graphic that covers over 75% of the pack. 

Altra Trail Gaiters / $25 

Keep the rocks, mud, and debris out of your shoes with the Altra Trail Gaiter, a strapless and breathable barrier between your shoes and the elements. 

Grivet Outdoors Richardson Trail Hats / $25 

Breathable performance fabric and adjustable mesh back make these the perfect trail running accessory to keep you cool and comfortable. 

On Cloudtrax Hiking Boots / $189.99 

Designed for both street and mountain peak, this hiking boot is engineered to give you ideal comfort and performance. (Waterproof!) 

On Cloudventure Trail Shoes / $149.95 

Newly configured CloudTec® joins forces with Helion™ superfoam to offer you the smoothest and most comfortable ride on tough and rocky terrain. The new slingshot Speedboard® provides direct and fast feedback from the ground, while the improved Missiongrip™ offers On’s best grip yet. 

GU Energy Gels / $1.60 EACH 

GU Energy Gels are crafted to supply energy and essential nutrients like electrolytes and amino acids to keep you feeling strong and energized. 

By Lucy Modzelewski 
Photo by Tindall Stephe