The Novice Trail Runner

Breathtaking views courtesy of the Centennial Cone trail just 10 miles or so from my home.

Breathtaking views courtesy of the Centennial Cone trail just 10 miles or so from my home.

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…  

 

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Porta Potties, Bumpy Roads & Lots O’ Hills

Image200 miles of uphill battles, dusty roads, oncoming traffic, nasty porta potties, roaming cows & horses, stinky teammates, greasy hair, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, bumpy roads, honks & shouts, high fives, sleepless hours & baby wipes.  That’s pretty much what you get if you decide to do a relay.  Fun stuff.  Really.

It started like any other day.  Well, more like my Mondays when I have to get up at 4:30 AM except this time I had to get up at 4:00 AM.  I took a shower, but I wasn’t sure why I was even bothering.  I guess I just wanted to smell good for a few hours.  We packed ourselves into the van and headed north to Fort Collins.  I only knew one person on my team of 12, but that would soon change…

Our team was split into two groups.  Six of us in each van.  The six of us would be together for the next 30 hours… living in that van.  If you want to get to know someone, then spend 30 hours with them in a van.  The name of our awesome team: Kicking Assphalt!  Our van was soon decorated with stick figures of 6 people running through the mountains and a window dedicated to “road kill” (the # of people passed).  

 Our first runner was off!  The first few hours seemed like any other day of running a race.  You got out and did your best (which for most people means pushing yourself as hard as you can).  We each took our turn as the day started getting hotter and the elevation started getting higher.  My run was relatively uneventful with the exception of the dust in my mouth and the bull that gave me an evil eye as I ran past his calves (please note that there was NO fence separating me and this bull).  I looked ahead and I looked back, but there was no one around to save me from a charging bull.  I kept going and hoped for the best.  Then I met a cow down the road who also gave me the evil eye and started moo’ing at me.  It didn’t take long for all of the other cows in the field started moo’ing.  I was getting a tad nervous so I tried to run faster up the hill.  

Much to my relief I made it to the highway without getting charged.  I reached the crossing guard and had to stop.  I looked back and saw an old man runner (okay, maybe he wasn’t that old) running towards me.  The competitiveness in me suddenly surfaced and I jetted across the highway as soon as I was given the green light (by the crossing guard).  Of course I was faced with another freakin’ hill and my strength was weakening.  Then I heard his voice behind me: “Take me home” he said.  That made me visualize some scary movie, but I became more annoyed than scared.  I was so annoyed in fact that I started sprinting to the exchange (my finish point where I tag the next runner).  I crossed the road without waiting for the crossing guard to give me the okay (well, I had actually misinterpreted his waving flag as the okay… but I said “sorry” and he was cool with it).  I sprinted as fast as I could and high fived my teammate before that old man could even make it across the parking lot.  That’s what you get dude!  

Since I was runner #6, our van was inactive for the next few hours while the other half of our team was out on the course.  I was relieved to see that our exchange point had a church that was offering food and its bathrooms.  Real bathrooms!  I was able to wipe down with paper towels and baby wipes, change into clean clothes and sit inside an air conditioned building to eat my lunch.  We were living in luxury (for about an hour).  Then we decided that we should head to the next exchange point where we will meet the other van in a few hours.  It was a church, but we were not invited inside.  I grabbed my sleeping bag and tried to take a snooze on the grass, but that didn’t really work out.  

The next thing I knew it was time to head out onto the course again!  

To be continued…