A Beginner’s Guide to Trail Running
You don’t run with a beaver carcass dragging behind you, do you?
The advice I got from a hunter when I inquired about the best way to avoid bear attacks in the bush. Advice I really needed – I was about to embark on the most outdoorsy of all outdoorsy pursuits: trail running.
If you’re the adventurous sort or it you’re just looking for a change in routine, here are some tips and advice to help you have a successful run in the wild.
Know your woodland friends. Depending on where you live, you will have a variety of woodland creatures that you can meet along your travels. Knowing what to do before you run into an animal is far more helpful than trying to remember what someone’s friends sister told you to do when you run into a bear. Was that run or don’t run? Was that make eye contact or don’t make eye contact?
A great resource for this is your local wildlife or conservation officer. It’s their job to know what kind of animals are around your area and even have some great resources for you about what to do if you encounter Yogi.
They also get notified for any unusual animal sightings which is information you want to have. If a stray cougar is in the bushes, it’s best to pick a different day.
Strap on a pair of goggles. Not kidding. Those branches come out of nowhere. Whether it’s sunny or raining, you need eye protection. While running along you are going to be primarily concerned with the ground a few steps ahead of you. The branches that will get your face – not on the ground, see? That’s right, you won’t!
Watch out for gaiters. Ever go for a run and get something in your shoe? Ever go running and get something in your shoes every step you take for an hour? It’s terrible and with trail running there is a constant supply of debris, stones, twigs, prickers and thorns just waiting to take up residence in your footwear. Gaiters, are the fast, and obviously very fancy option, to solve this problem. They also help keep mud and various junk out of your laces too, bonus. I managed without these obviously and you can too but it’s something to look into if you’re going to make a habit of trail running.
Another plus with gaiters is they protect your ankles from thorns, sticks and scratches. Mine currently look like I was malled by a miniature cat, not a good look.
Don’t get lost. When you’re new to trail running it would make sense to try and stick to trails close to home, that you know well, or find someone to come with you. It’s much easier to face plant while running over roots and logs than on pavement and it’s easier to get turned around without road signs. Bring a phone, most running gear as a million little pockets for phones and iPods. You won’t even notice it’s there, until you need it and then you’ll know exactly where to find it.
A helpful Twitter (@dortybitestoto) friend also threw out a good piece of advice prior to my foray into the wilderness: bring extra water. Great advice. If you do get turned around or end up having to take the long way back, extra water is important.
Just think of it like an outdoor stability ball. Running on a road, however flat, requires the use of different muscles than trotting along on a perfectly flat treadmill. Every time you move forward, change a limb position or jump, your body’s center of gravity changes along with you. Your muscles work differently to keep you upright and stable. You may have met the big business variations on stability training: the stability ball or the BOSU.
Running on a trail requires constant adjustments to body position, and the use of stabilizing and core muscles. And it’s all brought to you by mother nature.
It’s not a workout, it’s an adventure. Spending an hour running through trails feels a lot different than an hour on the treadmill. Considering the muscles used to power both activities you get more bang for your buck in the woods too. If you’re missing the gym for those staples like free weights, no fear, you’ll likely find a fallen log for tricep dips and a flat stretch for pushups.
Sometimes you need to walk before you run. Trail running can often involve steep inclines. Steep incline with roots and tree branches sticking out. A natural assumption, since you are trail “running” is to run up these obstacles.
Part of being a smart runner is knowing that running up steep hills may actually be a poor choice. Here’s why: running up a hill raises your heart rate, sometimes dramatically. Walking up a hill raises your heart rate less dramatically. Due to the nature of trails, running up a hill may not actually decrease your time all that much because you can’t really go that fast anyway. You trade a slightly faster speed, for a huge increase in heart rate.
The less fit you are, the longer it takes to get that heart rate back down. By walking up those steep inclines, you keep your heart rate at a lower level, good for sustained workouts, and you don’t really sacrifice all that much speed. It’s also just plain safer too so use your judgement, listen to your body and know that walking is part of performing this activity safely.
Now you’re set! All you need to know to get outside and go for it. Trail running can breath some fresh air back into a stale fitness routine and doesn’t require a lot of special equipment to get started. Have fun but there’s one last thing to remember:
Don’t drag any carcasses behind you and you’ll be fine
Beginners: If you’re new to fitness and don’t yet run regularly, learning to run on a trail is just a bad idea. Couch to 5K can be done on a trail but maybe once you’ve done it on the road first. If you’re looking at starting a running program now’s a great time, we have two Fitbloggers starting Couch to 5K and you can run along with them. Meet Jules and Alan.
Rita is the editor of Fitblogger. She is currently attending college to receive her personal training certification while tackling random fitness milestones. She can also be found tweeting on Twitter @Rita_Barry_and can be contacted through the Contact page.