You've heard about this whole trail running thing. You're curious, maybe even downright interested. And you want to give it a try. But where to start?
Well, we can quickly break that down into two simple steps:
1) Find a trail.
2) Run it.
Some of you will have stopped reading at this point and are off on the trail. And those folks will probably be fine, and probably won't be eaten by big foot. Because I'm pretty sure big foot is a vegetarian. But if you're still reading, you're probably hoping for a little more.
If you read the mainstream articles about trail running, many of them seem centered around the gear. Since the mainstream magazines are sponsored by gear companies, that makes sense. This article will touch on gear, but won't be centered around it.
Lets start with the definition of trail. I have discovered that this word means lots of things to lots of different people and the definition of what a trail looks like will have some regional twists. So, lets say a trail is a "more natural" path through a less developed area, often with a "softer" surface. This may be a poorly maintained piece of asphalt. It may be a beautifully groomed ribbon of hard pack gravel. Or it may be a piece of single track with all sorts of rocks and roots and other neat trail terrain. If you're used to roads and sidewalks, you'll know it's a trail because it should be a bit removed from where most vehicles can go.
(Photos copyright SlimSidePhotos (http://slimsidephotos.com/ or find slimsidepics on instagram) and used with permission.)
And some of you are looking at those pictures and thinking, "Whoa. I don't have anything like that where I'm at." And you might not. But some regional trails look a lot more tame. Take the following as an example.
(Pictures copyright Elizabeth Oviedo Robinson and used with permission.)
In some areas, that counts as trail. Roll with it. Enjoy what you have. Some of my most enjoyable running miles have been with good friends on a path very similar to that.
So how about some tips for getting out, and getting back safely?
1) Slow down. No, you don't have to run slow on trails (check out Kaci Lickteig, she screams through the dirt!) but until you get used to the ground not always being in the same spot it's just a good idea. Besides, when you slow down you get to appreciate nature a little more.
2) Step ALL the way over whatever that is in the trail. Make sure you get BOTH feet safely over. Trails have something that roads and sidewalks just don't - a technical factor. That is to say that some trails are more difficult to move over than others. There are things that may try to trip you, or make you slip. I should probably be ashamed at how often I fall...
3) Learn your local rules. This is the part that gets tricky. There are some basic rules that apply pretty much everywhere, like "Leave No Trace" and "Pack it in, pack it out." Then there are a slew of rules that vary by region and trail system. Know who has the right of way. Usually it's the horses, then the people walking, then the people running, then the bikes. Know what the local policies are for muddy trail conditions. If a trail is marked as closed, please respect the sign. Most importantly, if something isn't clear, feel free to contact your local land manager and ask. The folks I've spoken with in the various land managment organizations have always been very helpful and open to questions. Just be respectful.
OK. Now gear. I see all this trail running gear. What is really needed? Why? What does it do?
First thing first - shoes. Do you need trail shoes? It depends. First, if you're just going to give it a try and see what the hype is all about, you probably don't need trail shoes unless your regular road shoe resembles a racing flat. If your local trails tend to be pretty smooth and pretty well maintained, you can probably work with a road shoe. After running a few trails, if you still like it you can take a trip to the shoe store and see what they have.
The more technical trails tend to eat road shoes pretty quickly. And many trail shoes are made with a softer rubber compound in the sole and will wear out more quickly on the roads.
Believe it or not, trail shoes are pretty similar to road shoes. They consider all the same functionality and body mechanics. There are a couple differences though. The first is the tread pattern. Trail shoes tend to have a more "aggressive" tread pattern. Just like that Jeep in the parking lot with the big scary tires, trail shoes are meant to help get better traction. Another difference is what is known as a "rock plate." Not all trail shoes have this, but many do. It is simply a reinforced part of the shoe that protects the bottom of the foot from some of the rougher and sharper parts of the trail. In my mind, those are the two biggest differences between trail shoes and road shoes, and also the two biggest benefits to trail shoes for a trail environment. There are some other differences, but we'll stop there for now.
What about all that other gear?
All that other stuff? Well, as much as it pains me to say it, most of that other stuff is either a gimmick or produced to fill a specific gap. If you currently have something to carry some water and a snack, you should be OK using what you have until you really get into it. Then, the other stuff will become clear. Like the pack that will carry 100oz of fluid, a seven course meal, and a full change of clothes.
So... Those hills...
I underand that look and the questioning tone. Here's the deal. It isn't a race. It's a trail run. Sure, there might be some big hills. Go as slow as you need (up and down!) to keep it fun and safe. Even the pros will walk a hill during a race. There's no shame there. Simply walking up a really big hill can keep your heart rate right in the sweet spot and make it feel like work.
But what if I get lost?
Well, lost happens from time to time. It's always a situation we want to avoid. Sometimes turns are easy to miss. It's not uncommon for people to carry a map and compass on the trails. At a minimum, it's a great idea to try and memorize as much of the map as possible. (It will get easier with time and practice.) Know where the major roads are, and roughly how far away they might be. Find notable landmarks like mountain peaks, rivers, trail junctions, and valleys. Don't be afraid to talk to other trail users! Sure, people hit the trails for some solitude, but most of us are perfectly fine helping someone with directions.
So, are we all set to head out and do some trail running? Well, mostly. Let's pause a moment and think through some of the common sense things that should really apply to both trail and road running.
Good. Lets go for a run.
My RunJunkEe family may remember I announced around the new year that this would be the year I chased down the title of "Ultra Runner." And as part of that, I promised to share as much of the experience as I could. And this is part one of a many part story. This is in no way an attempt to stroke my own ego or call myself a badass. This is simply me sharing what it takes to make my ultra a reality.
I have been running through the winter. You've seen the pictures. I get a good ice beard. It's safe to say this is the best shape I've been in after the first week in March since my last competitive hockey season. The running has been going very, very well. My goal for January was to simply keep running and log 20-30 miles/week. (Nailed it.) February launched the first month of my training plan. This plan goes through May 2 and a 50K.
The 50K training plan looks very similar to the marathon training plans I've used before. This plan has two big differences. The first is back-to-back long runs. The idea with this is to learn to run tired. I will get to that in a bit. The second difference is the one that I have has caused me the biggest challenge - Monday rest day. This one took some mental adjusting. For as long as I can remember, Monday was the day everything started. If you have a "typical" 9-5 job, or attend school, you get this. My solution was to simply reformat the training plan a little bit. My running week now starts on Saturday with the first long run, and ends on Friday with a rest day. I understand the shift is merely something to address my mind and it doesn't change a single thing, but the way I vizualize the layout really helps the mental anguish. And that's enough.
The back to back long runs are interesting. So far they aren't quite as bad as I had expected. And in fact I seem to be able to go faster than expected. I wasn't ready for that. After 16 miles yesterday, I did 10 miles this morning starting out running down my mountain, and then five miles back up. Usually I take the trail, but today I took the road. I've done this a couple times, but this one felt great and the clock shows it as a PR on the climb. (Again, not stated to stroke my own ego. Just demonstrating what I'm going through.)
Another slight difference in the plan so far is an emphasis on hills, trails, dirt roads, and jeep roads. My usual weekday runs tend to be on either well groomed dirt roads, poorly maintained pavement, or this one piece of pretty nice road. And as the snow melts (please, let the snow melt eventually...) I will add in some very regular trail loops. My weekend long runs are supposed to focus on trails and "off road" components to better match the big events. The 50K doesn't have a lot climbing, or a lot of technical trail, but the 50M a month and a half later does, as does the 100M in September. With the road marathons the trail running was just a nice way to mix things up and keep the knees happy. With this plan, the road is to be avoided when possible. With the road marathons, most of the hill training was there to build strength and speed. Now, the hills are there to prepare me to head straight up the ski slope (both the 50M and the 100M are at ski areas).
As with my last marathon, I am taking extra steps to keep myself healthy. Part of this is addressing small, irritating pains before they become big issues. I am not heading to my usual accupuncture and massage guy. And I kind of miss him. But it's a simple matter of geography. He's 45 minutes away. I simply don't have 1.5 hours of driving in me often enough to make it worth the trips. Instead, I'm checking out a much closer chiropractic office that offers massage and "dry needling." We haven't gotten into the needles yet. I have been receiving ART treatments and minor adjustments from the chiropractor. All of this is focusing on lower body pains at the moment. The good doctor has also diagnosed yet another muscle imbalance centered on my glutes. But it's the other side this time. So I guess I worked the former weak side into a dominant side. I have also been receiving deep tissue sports massage every other week. It hurts so good...
I've been working to dial in my nutrition and hydration strategies. The cooler months are focused on finding things I can digest well while running without causing cramps or other issues. It's not perfect yet, but it's getting there. Next up is trying to figure out more precisely what I need to do in the heat. I'm confident we are on the right track and will get it figured out.
And that's the ultra training (so far) in a nutshell. To borrow a phrase from a former coworker, it's like marathon training, only more so.