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Trail running – A Beginner’s Observations

I recently signed up for an 8-week trail run training program.  I thought it would be pretty cool to get off the concrete, see some new sights, get some exercise and train for the Wild Moose Chase 10K trail run coming up on 9/29. (side note: I’m not crazy about the name of that run…I mean really, “Wild Moose Chase?’  Not enticing to a slow runner who is terrified of moose. )

Anyway, next Monday is Week 7 of the training program and, as a new trail runner, I have made some observations I’d like to share with anyone out there who might want to try out trail running.

OBSERVATION #1 – Trails are hilly.  I don’t know why I pictured trail running like this:                           photo source here

Green, lush, soft dirt for my feet to pitter patter on.  Hell no.  The trails I have been running on look like this:

trailrunning1 trailrunning2  hillytrails

If you can’t tell by the pictures, this is some seriously rocky,  hilly and steep terrain.  My feet weren’t quite pitter-pattering on this stuff…they were more like galumphing.

OBSERVATION #2 – Trails are dirty.  Sure, they’re made of dirt with a dash of basalt rock, but I didn’t know I would get so dirty.  I came to the conclusion that if a runner is  doing it right, at the end of their trail run, they will have a nice coating of dust around their ankles and legs.  Maybe even some mud!!   Nothing cuter that taking off your socks only to find a perfect dirt circle around your ankle.  Kind of like an ankle bracelet from nature.  And speaking of dirt, your shoes will get thrashed so don’t even think about trying to keep them looking clean.  Trail running will take your shoes to a whole new level of dirtiness and smelliness.

OBSERVATION #3 – Trail running is harder than I thought.  I assumed that since I have been running for the last couple of years, I would be in pretty spectacular shape (she wrote sarcastically).  Well, not so much.  Running on those trails, up those hills in 90+ degree heat was really hard.  I was huffing and puffing as if I had never run before.  My calves burned, my legs quivered and my sweating was profuse.  I was a hot mess…literally.

OBSERVATION #4 – Trail running can have some dangerous elements to it so running in a group setting is the way to go.  There is safety in numbers! We all have our little quirks and mine is being a runner with an over active imagination.  I can’t help it.  I could never run on trails alone because I would be worried about so many things.  I’d worry about a deer or moose chasing me.  I’d worry that a serial killer was lurking in the woods, stalking me until his moment of attack.  I’d worry that I might stumble on the remains of said serial killer’s other victims.  I’d worry about tripping, falling, breaking my leg and no one finding me for days or weeks.  So, with that said, I believe running in a group, or with a buddy, is a safe bet (safer, at least).

OBSERVATION #5 – Trail running often translates to trail walking.  As a beginner, I can tell you that I do a lot more walking/hiking than I do running.  I kind of feel like I’m misleading you when I say I’ve been doing some trail running.   Truth be told, when I go uphill, I walk.  When I go downhill, I walk (only when it’s steep and rocky).  I try not to get disappointed over the amount of walking I do because I’m new at this trail running business and I still have a lot to learn.

OBSERVATION #6 – Trail running can be hilly, dirty, hard and dangerous but let me tell you….trail running is also spectacular, rewarding, breathtaking and well worth the extra effort!  Last week I completed a 5 mile trail run/walk/hike and when I got to the top of Eagle Peak, I completely forgot the challenges I experienced getting there!  The panoramic view of the valley was amazing!

trailrunningEaglePeak

rantothetop

I made it to the top and was able enjoy the downhill run on the way back.  Most importantly, I was proud of my trail running/walking/hiking accomplishment.

Anyone out there an experienced trail runner?  I’ve got my big 10K trail run coming up and I’m a little nervous and could use your advice.

when a runner’s imagination runs wild

Maybe it’s because I’m a new runner or maybe it’s because I have a natural tendency to let my imagination go a little crazy.  Whatever the reason, sometimes the thought of an early morning solo run is a little unnerving to me.  Sure, there’s something wonderful about being outside running as the rest of the world soundly sleeps, but thanks to my active imagination, I get nervous thinking about being alone and having no back up should something go wrong. Even a run in my own neighborhood can make me twitchy.

I have a really cool trail behind my house that is perfect for a nice, quick run but I rarely run that trail because I don’t like going out there alone.  It’s weird.  I have this fantastically ridiculous imagination that always runs amok when it comes to planning a solo outdoor run.    Here  are some actual “what if” scenarios that run through my head when deciding whether or not I should head outdoors for my trail run (thanks in advance for not judging):

  • What if a  cougar stalks and attacks  me while I’m  on the trail?!  You might be thinking, “Wow! Slow girl has a cougar in her neighborhood.  I’d be scared too.”  But that’s the thing.  I do nothave a cougar in my hood.  There  is a little tabby cat that roams around, and I’ve seen a bunny too,  but nothing really ferocious that should keep me from enjoying a nice outdoor run.  Except maybe for that gigantic owl that most likely has the ability to swoop down and cause God knows what kind of injury to me.
  • What if maybe, just maybe, there is a crazy man that lives in the rocks on the trail. I’ve seen the cave-like openings from afar and a person could totally live in those rocks. I picture this Big Foot type guy, but not big (which means his name would just be Foot). Anyway, Foot most likely takes shelter in the rock caves during the night then really early in the morning, he moves stealthily on the trail and sets booby traps and stuff to catch his prey.  I would unwittingly go for a nice morning trail run, I’d fall into the trap, break my leg and be a goner come nightfall.  See what I mean about the imagination thing?

I know that the “what if” scenarios are ridiculous.  Welcome to my demented brain.   Check out this real life scenario.  One morning I decided to run to a local park, jog a few miles on the park’s course and run back home.  As I was running through the park, minding my own business, fiddling with my iPod, I looked up and right in front of me was a deer.  It kind of freaked me out because I wasn’t expecting a deer at the friendly neighborhood park.  Swings, a slide and some picnic tables I expected, but not a deer.   I tried to act cool because I did not want to get attacked by a deer.  Not that day.  Not ever.   Bambi can be downright brutal when necessary and I’ve seen it happen on a television show once.  Knowing that no one would believe the tale of Bambi at the Park, I slowly reached for my camera phone and bravely took a picture of Bambi.   After carefully putting my phone away, I  ran away as fast as I could because the threat of a deer attack was more than I could bear.

bambi

(picture of the actual deer in the tale of ‘Bambi at the Park’)

These silly fears are just that, silly.  However,  I do take running safety very seriously.  I thoroughly enjoy my outdoor runs and I don’t want my active imagination to stop me from doing something I enjoy.  To put my mind at ease, I decided to do a little research on runner safety.  Here are the highlights of some lessons I learned.

  1. Run with a buddy.  A friend, a dog, or running group are great options.
  2. Tell someone where you are going.  I always tell my husband where I’m going and to start looking for me if I’m not back by a certain time.
  3. Run against traffic.  It’s safer if you can see oncoming traffic and they can see you.
  4. Don’t listen to music while running alone.  This is a tough one for me because that’s one thing I LOVE to do while running.  I started putting only one headphone  in and keeping the music low so I could still hear things around me (including my labored breathing).
  5. Wear bright colored clothing.
  6. Carry a phone and identification.
  7. Know your route.  When I did my recent 11 mile run, I had never been on the trail before and I knew I would be on it for a long time.  I invited my husband and son to join me so they rode their bikes along the trail and we had a great time.  I felt better knowing I had back up nearby.
  8. Trust your gut.  If something doesn’t seem right, pay attention to your intuition!

Here are a couple of great articles on safety tips for runners:

How to Run Safely Outside by Christine Luff at About.com

Stay Safe While You Run – from realbuzz.com

Have fun on your run and remember…safety first!