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!