Trail Running

15kTrailRunThis past weekend my husband and I joined some family and friends for a post Thanksgiving 15k trail run held in a local forest preserve. In the weeks before we were able to get together for a few training runs which made it pretty exciting to look forward to the race!
Trail running can be both fun and dangerous. There are ways to ensure you have a great time and stay safe. First, make sure you are fitted with the proper gear. There are trail running specific shoes you can wear, but any sturdy pair of running shoes will suffice. I would not recommend minimalist shoes or regular street shoes for a run on the trails. You need to be aware of the rugged and irregular terrain on out there because it is easy to roll an ankle or worse. Not having proper footwear makes it even more difficult to navigate the trails. Good shoes are a runners best friend!
Most running clothing is appropriate for trail runs, however it is important to think about what you might encounter out there. I have done a trail run in the mountains and come across some pretty cold streams that I had to cross as well as some nasty thorn bushes that left me with some pretty bloody knees by the time I was done. Running tights might be more appropriate than short running shorts to help protect your legs if you encounter thorns or a likely spill.
The most important thing you need to remember about trail running is to slow down. If you run an 8:00 minute mile during training, don’t plan on that being your pace on the trail. The varied terrain and other obstacles force you to slow your pace down significantly. In a way this is really great, because you have to focus on each footfall and the beautiful scenery, the miles will likely pass without your having to think about it. One thing I always try to focus on is areas covered with leaves. You need to be careful because you have no idea what lies beneath those leaves! On my trail race up the mountain I came up to a racer and tried to pass them but they sped up. I got so excited and frustrated with the other runner that I sped up and lost focus of what I was doing. My ankle rolled, I heard a snap, and all I could picture was me being helicoptered off of the mountain. I was able to put weight on my foot and finish the race, but I spent my post race bliss time in an ice bath and missed a few weeks of running to mend my sprained ankle. For months after the race my ankle would swell after any run. Bummer!
One great thing that I love about trail running is that I can get out of my usual overly competitive mindset. You can’t worry about your PR’s when you are in a trail race because no two courses are alike. Even when you are running the same trail for a second time you have no control over the changes that occur from day to day such as the weather, fallen trees, and soggy grounds. There is something so amazing about the organic environment and your feet doing their thing!
Running trails can be a part of your weekly training if you are looking for a nice way to mix up your workouts. It will help slow your pace down and work some muscles you don’t normally use during road runs (my glutes were singing the next day!). It is a great way to put away the watch and break up the monotony of your daily runs. The fresh air and new scenery might be the mental change- up you need to get yourself out of a training rut.
Just make sure before you go that you take along a cell phone and let someone know where you will be going and when they can expect you to be arriving back home. Make sure you are also aware of what you might encounter on your run such as skunks, or other animals that may be on your course.
Get online or ask your local running store for some recommendations of area trails. Rail trails are a great option as are local cross country ski courses. They are already groomed for you and often enjoyed by runners and mountain bikers alike.
Happy Trails!

Group Running

Happy Thanksgiving!

This week I went to my local running store and inquired about joining a running group.  I don’t know a lot of people in the area, and I thought that joining other likeminded runners would be a great way to get to know some new faces.  As luck would have it, every Wednesday night they host a women’s running group.  So this week I laced up my shoes, showed up and tagged along on a nice easy paced run through the city.

I have never done a group run.  All I can say is I have been missing out!  This is not a training workout, but it is a great way to log some miles, chat about life and have a good time.  The best part of the night was, I hung out with some really awesome ladies who spent the entire hour telling me how great the other people in the group were.  How refreshing to hang out with women in a sport who aren’t beating each other down, and instead spent their time talking them up and singing their praises!

There are many benefits to a group run.  You don’t always need to go fast, and in fact a nice slow, conversation paced run (where you can comfortably hold a conversation) has many benefits both mentally and physically.

On the mental level, a nice slow group run allows you to get those miles in without the pain and discomfort associated with faster paces.  Running with a group can make the perceived effort seem far less rigorous as you may feel running on your own.  How many times do you hit the pavement and start to let your mind wander and talk yourself into being tired?  A little distraction never hurts!

But the benefits go much deeper, to a cellular level.  Slow running helps train your cardio system to get that oxygen in and use it efficiently.  It also trains your body to push out that carbon dioxide and lactic acid (ugh, those achy muscles you get when you first start running) more quickly.  Let’s face it, we feel much better when we can breathe out there on our runs!  A nice slow steady effort trains your muscles, ligaments, and tendons to get strong and used to the stresses of running.

If there is a running group in your area, I strongly encourage you to join.  You don’t need to, nor should you do all of your workouts in a group, but there are benefits to be gained.  If you can’t find a local running group, find some friends who might be interested in getting together, or consider starting a group of your own.  Many of my friends have joined some awesome groups that work with a special cause: Team in Training, Team DetermiNation, and Run for God are just a few examples.  With a little online research you will likely find a group fits your style.  You can also do what I did and stop into your local running store for more information.  They are a very valuable resource and I have found that most of the employees are just like you, runners!

As for me, I plan on going back next week for another fun evening with the ladies!