How to Trail Run (and Not Get Punched By Nature)
Welcome to the woods. A few tips to help you enjoy.
So maybe you're thinking about trying the 5 Tribe 5K, or any kind of trail running for the first time, but you have some reservations about leaving the streets and heading out into the unpaved, unpredictable running route we call Nature.
I mean, sure, you've always wanted to try it, and the forest looks green and beautiful, and the feeling of freedom is amazing... but still... aren't there, like, cliffs you might fall off?
It's true, Nature can seem a bit intimidating at first. We've all heard stories and seen movies where Nature punches city-dwelling people like us in the face. Hard. So before you can enjoy yourself, your brain has some questions. Important questions like, "Will I trip on a rock?" and "Will I get lost?" and "Will I be attacked by bears/ticks/Bigfoot/poison ivy?"
I'm happy to report that you and Nature are very likely going to be lifelong friends. Especially if you take these 5 bits of advice for beginning (and experienced) trail runners:
1. Be Present and Aware
Trails can be twisty, tricky things, requiring extra attention. Keep your mind in the present moment, aware of your surroundings, so you won't miss a turnoff or slip in mud. When I trip while trail running, it's usually because I've let my thoughts wander to some problem at work or what I'm going to eat for lunch. When I catch myself doing that, I remind myself to "Be Present and Aware." Not only is it safer, but you'll enjoy being more attuned to the sights and sounds of the forest, from the breeze in the trees to rewarding glimpses of wildlife.
2. Toes Up
The mechanics of trail running are a bit different from road running. Besides the extra lateral moves as you maneuver across uneven terrain, your feet won't be able to sweep the ground as low as they can on a road. If your toes drag too low, they'll catch on a rock or a root and possibly send you sprawling. Think about carrying your feet just a little higher and lifting your toes as you swing through the recovery of every stride. When I see I'm about to run through an extra rocky stretch, I tell myself "Toes Up" and then make sure my body is listening.
3. Know Your Blazes
Trails are marked by blazes – different colored markings on trees, sometimes painted, sometimes little placards nailed in place. Before you run any trail, you should print out a map online or grab one from the kiosk at the trailhead, and then make a mental plan of where you're going. (Safety note: It's best to tell someone your plans in advance, and don't rely on your phone to text your position, since reception is non-existent along many trails.) Then pay attention to the appropriate trail blazes as you run. Beginners sometimes get so caught up in watching their feet that they "forget" to look at the trees, which can lead to missed turns and a lot of general confusion. One bit of reassurance for 5 Tribe 5Kers: The race takes place in family-friendly Wolfe Park and is very well marked.
4. Set Your Expectations
Your trail running pace will be significantly slower than your road pace, so plan on your run taking anywhere from 20 to 40% longer. Don't go out too fast or the trail will beat you, and don't beat yourself up for going "too slow." Also – trails are often hillier than roads, and there can be some real doozies. (The 5 Tribe 5K is mostly flat, with a challenge at the end.) Even the most expert trail runners don't run every hill, so walk when you need it. There's an old saying about hills in trail running: If you can't see the top, stop. Around here, the hills aren't so bad and you can usually see the top, so I've modified that adage to my own: If you see the top and it makes you squawk, walk. It's awful poetry, but a good reminder.
5. Pack Wisely
So what should you take out there with you? Perhaps a future blog will discuss my personal brand favorites, but for now here are a few basics to get you started: Trail running shoes are a worthwhile investment, because the trails require more traction and lateral support for your feet than your road shoes can handle. A running vest. Either a handheld water bottle (the kind that straps to your hand for easy carrying) or a water reservoir that fits in your running vest. Your GPS watch. In my car I keep bug spray which I apply before my run. In my running vest I carry a few bandaids, a safety whistle, and energy gel for long runs. Finally, I pack my trail map and my phone in a sandwich bag so they don't get sweaty and ruined.
So there you go, 5 tips to help make you a happy, healthy trail runner. Enjoy the trees!