I will just start this blog by saying that I am not an experienced trail runner. Sure, I am an experienced runner (even a running coach), but the trails and I only started having a serious relationship a few months ago. I do remember walking into a running store many years ago (back when I lived in the Bay Area) and told the running shoe expert that I wanted a pair of trail shoes. Did I ask for trail shoes because I had started running on trails in the local area? Um, I guess if you count that one trail race I did. I was the idiot who bought the shoes for no reason and then I never wore them (at least I never wore them on any trail).
Then I moved to Florida. The thought of running on trails and getting attacked by a snake or alligator just seemed scary. Yeah, I never really considered it. All my friends ran on the road or paved trails. Well, I moved to Colorado after that. A wonderful place full of many trails within and right outside the metro area. I actually live right down the street from a trailhead that goes up and over the mountain right behind my house. Still, it took me over a year to get my feet on the real “get yourself dirty” trails.
Now that I am roaming wild and free, I figure I will pass along a few tips I have learned within the past few months. Here they are:
1. PATIENCE is very important when running on trails. If you are used to zooming along on the road, achieving personal records and finishing a run in time to get the chores done, then you will be extremely disappointed with yourself when you hit the trails. I had a friend just ask me what my pace is on the trails. Um, somewhere between 8:00 min miles and 18:00 min miles. Don’t expect to be fast and don’t try to run fast or else you will not be able to make it up that last hill. If it normally takes you 60 minutes to run 6 miles on the road, then you can expect to be on that 6-mile trail for an hour and twenty minutes or more.
2. If you can’t embrace HILLS, then the trails are not for you. Sure, some people might argue that the flat dirt trail running through downtown is a “trail,” but that is not the kind of trail I am talking about here. Trails take you someplace where you can witness nature firsthand, scale summits and explore new areas. Those types of trails usually include hills. There is really no escaping them.
3. Be prepared to battle the elements and trail conditions. If it starts pouring, you can’t duck into your friendly neighborhood convenience store. Watch out for the wind that might knock you off the summit or the warm, sunny day that suddenly turns dark, cold and menacing. You just have to suck it up and roll with it. You never know when you might encounter a sheet of ice, a foot of snow or a puddle of mud. And you can forget about any bathrooms out on the trail. Find a tree and pop a squat (but this is really nothing new).
4. In the city you might need to be worried about getting mugged. On an isolated trail you need to not only worry about crazy humans, but also about wild animals that call that place home. I still have a fear of running certain trails in the summer because “Beware of Rattlesnakes” signs are posted everywhere! I have seen deer, rabbits, elk, snakes (supposedly harmless ones), prairie dogs, coyotes and other random living creatures. I carry a knife with me on my runs. It wouldn’t hurt to have a can of pepper spray. If you have a fear of encountering wildlife, then trail running is not for you. A trail running buddy is ideal, but not always possible (or always wanted… sometimes it is nice to run in peaceful solitude out in nature).
5. Stay off the trails if you don’t know how to navigate. Sure, you might find a few trails that are one loop or only have one trail, but honestly, these are usually the trails meant for the out-of-towners who are looking for a quick hike near the city. Yep, that means that they are usually pretty crowded. If you want to really get out there, see wildlife and explore new territory, then you will have to delve a little deeper into the forest or climb a little higher up the side of that mountain. That takes some navigation skills, whether you can read a simple map printed off the internet or use landmarks to find your way. Remember, if you get lost, then you are adding on some extra miles you probably didn’t intend on. And did you bring food and water? Maybe not if you are used to running through the park downtown where drinking fountains can be found every mile. Dang, you are totally screwed if you are lost without food and water.
6. If you were a hiker back in the day and just recently started running trails, then you probably won’t be able to look at trails the same again. Why hike a trail when you can run it? If you try to hike again, then it will be very LONG and SLOW and take all day. Might as well run it and get home in time for dinner.
I think that is enough information for now. If you haven’t tried trail running, then you should because I am pretty sure that I made it sounds like lots of fun! I am not quite sure why I waited so long to try it…