The last two Sundays I’ve run 9-10 glorious miles on beautiful trails with a group of 5-6 friends. With our Ragnar Trail Race (Vail Lake) in less than 3 weeks, we’ve been meeting weekly at various trails around San Diego to prepare. Luckily one of our group members is an avid trail runner and he has introduced our group to trails in San Diego that we never knew existed (or would never have made the effort to go navigate ourselves).
I’m finding that I absolutely LOVE to run the trails. The Gamin and its paces, numbers and data stays at home and I run through the trails focused on my footfalls or a conversation with a friend. I run hard on the trails – way harder at times than I would on the road, yet the miles fly by and I finish feeling exhilarated more than exhausted. It’s safe to say that the trails are helping me find my love of running again.
Although I have a guide, I don’t really know a ton about trail running. After some research I found some helpful tips for anyone who is in the same boat as me – trail-curious but not sure how to go it on their own.
1) Don’t expect to run at full force at first. Trail running is much more about learning how to navigate tough terrain – rocks, gravel, tree roots, steep descents and teetering cliffs. You don’t want to rush anything. Trail running takes a lot of focus and you’ll want to use that focus to figure out how to not fall on your ass, not how fast you can go.
2) Keep your back straight and eyes upward when climbing hills. The natural reaction to a large hill is to hunch over but it’s important to open your chest to receive much-needed air. Shorten your stride, keep your eyes and head upward and don’t hunch!
3) Anticipate descents by looking 3-4 feet ahead. As you head down on a steep hill, your body will be moving quickly with the momentum. You won’t have much time to anticipate large obstacles in your way if you are staring at your feet. Try to focus on 3-4 paces ahead of you. “Keep your weight back slightly—as if you’re quick-stepping down the hill on your heels–and swing your arms with bent elbows up high, near your chest. Hold your arms out just far enough from your sides to ensure good balance (source).”
4) Carry a lot of water AND toilet paper! I learned this one the hard way. While some trails will have bathrooms and water throughout the park, you can’t count on them. Never run without water as you won’t know if the water source you counted on will be available. I use my handheld water bottle but one of our team members goes as far as to carry a CamelBak. Also, women (and men even!) may want to carry toilet paper as I learned the hard way – there aren’t a lot of restrooms on the trail if you have a I-gotta-go-right-now situation.
5) Be cautious of other runners, mountain bikers and equestrians. Always keep your ears open (which also means do not wear headphones on the trails!) for approaching fellow athletes on the trails. Often trails that you want to run on are equally appealing to mountain bikers who will usually give you notice that they are approaching, but not always. Be alert and step to the right of the trail (you should ideally be running on the right side but due to various obstacles in the trail you will tend to be all over the place as you run). If necessary, stop running and let others pass – especially horses or large groups of mountain bikers.
6) Walk if necessary. As I discovered on some of my very first trail runs at our ACTIVEx camp in July, sometimes you just physically CAN’T run up a portion of a steep trail. Other times, the trail is so steep that you probably could run but you will save more energy (and likely will get to the top not much slower) by walking. Trail running takes patience and some of that involves putting the ego aside and knowing that your body will endure longer without a super crazy spike in heart rate as you try to crush a massive hill. Another time that it’s very wise to walk is down technical descents or over unstable rocks or water crossings. Don’t risk injury for ego.
Trail running and I have had a great start. I’m so excited to hit the trails even more and see where it takes me.
Do you have any trail running tips for newbies like me?