Friday, January 27, 2012

Trail Running

Two years ago I left the pavement. I saw the opening in the trees and stepped onto the natural surface of the trailhead and from then on I was a trail runner. Running out on the street was becoming difficult for me. I was tired of putting up with traffic, exhaust, stop-lights, sidewalks, noise and I’m not a very disciplined runner, so the thought of forcing myself to sprint around a track for speed work sessions was about as exciting as mowing the lawn.

So on the advice of my buddy, Dexter Pepperman, I joined him for a trail run one morning out at Francis Beatty Park. I didn’t have trail shoes at the time. I ran in a pair of old, spongy Asics DS Trainers. We did about 5 miles and I was hooked! I wanted to come out there everyday and run through the woods like Natty Bumppo.

The first thing people say when I encourage them to start trail running is, “Oh no, I’d probably fall and hit my head or break my ankles out there. ” While this can be true in trail running answers like that usually come from people who hardly spend any time running out on the trails. I was one of those people. As a kid who sprained his ankles every few months from playing too much basketball I knew first hand what my limitations would be when I subjected my clown ankles to the “punishments” of a North Carolina trail. I saw every root and rock as tools that the trail was using to buck me off of it like a cowboy on the back of an angry bull.

Trail running w/ my brother near our house.

Running trails is more than just buying a new trail shoe (although, it helps). It takes practice and patience. You have to slow down and, without sounding too new-agey, it’s about understanding and working with the trail. In the end, you still may catch your toe on a hidden root stub and find yourself crashing face first into a patch of red clay.

I’ve run into herds of deer, a coyote (which I’ve never seen in NC before. They were practically pets where I grew up in CA), hawks and owls. I saw a guy out on a trail dragging off a piece of an old car that had been abandoned out in the woods and a few weeks later the entire rest of the car was gone. I’ve been caught in thunderstorms. Been slightly lost a few times. I’ve been bloody and muddy.

But that’s exactly what I love about trail running and why I can’t get enough. I don’t worry about qualifying for Boston. I don’t get disappointed when my workout doesn’t go well. Leaving the asphalt for the trail is about enjoying the adventure of running out in the woods and not knowing what you’re going to find.

So, here are a few tips that have helped me and might keep the trail from buckin’ you off it’s back or least keep you holding on for the ride a little longer:

  • Wear a hat with a bill. I like to do this because it gives my face (especially eyes) one more second of protection from little branches that hang down into the trail.
  • Take a watch or don’t take a watch. Sometimes I need to take a watch or I’ll be out there all day. Time slips away from you. That’s the exact same reason I mention not taking a watch.
  • Wear comfortable shoes with plenty of room in the toe. Your feet will be swelling. Your toes will be wanting to crash into the end of the shoe. You need room to let these things happen.
  • Pepper spray. You never know who you’re going to meet out there. Although, I’ve never really had trouble with people, I did have a run in with dogs.
  • If you’re going for a longer run and you can’t get back to your car until the end, bring some water and some sort of fuel.
  • Cross-train. Believe me, I hate cross-training, but I’ve definitely seen its benefits come out in my trail running. I have a stronger core, better flexibility and stronger ankles.
  • No headphones. First, there’s the safety issue. Sometimes there are mountain bikers on the trail and you need to be able to hear them coming. Sometimes there are other people out there and you need to be aware of your surroundings. Second, wearing headphones defeats the purpose of running out in the woods. You don’t need them. You’ve got enough media stimulus creeping into your brain all day. This is your time to get into nature and run like a wild animal.
  • And finally, just get out there and try it. Experiment with your form. Practice your footing around tricky roots & rocks. Take your time and have a ball!

No comments:

Post a Comment