Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Happy Trails to You

Nature. So much more challenging and fun than a treadmill.
Photos courtesy of Brazen Racing.

Running trails makes me feel like a medieval warrior, or some kind of wild gazelle. If I could learn how to carry a pack on my back, run in sandals, and chuck spears, I would join a tribe and just live in the wilderness. At least I would drive out to the wilderness and hang out on the weekends. If my tribe had a hot tub, that would be awesome.

Running trails is also terrifying. One slip on a wet branch, or over step around a tight single-track turn, and you are going down. There are all kinds of bruised and scraped up people at the end of a trail run. Badge of honor, people! I've fallen during at least half of the trail races I've done. Luckily, I've only bled once, and the rock pieces eventually grew out of my palms.

It can be difficult to keep motivated in the winter months. For the past couple of years, I've worked trail workouts into my winter schedule. Trails are a great break from the norm, they keep my aerobic/anaerobic fitness up (notice I didn't call it "cardio"), they force me to slow things down and think technically about running, and they are an awesome addition to an otherwise flat workout routine. I live in northern California, so I'm lucky to have an abundance of parks within 30 minutes of my front door. The worst element in my neck of the woods is a drizzly downpour, or having to run through puddles or around a downed tree trunk. After spending grueling hours on the gym treadmill, it is a joy to be outside because I occasionally like to do thing that scare the crap out of me - like running up (and down) hills -  in the middle of nowhere.

When planning a trail run, it is important to remember to do the following:

1.) Bring your own food supply and water. Nature does not come equipped with drinking fountains.

2.) Look at a map! Remember all of that high school geography? Finally, you can put those SAT skills to good use. If you still aren't good at reading an elevation map, guess what? There is an app for that! Mapmyrun, or Strava come to mind.

3.) Pay close attention to the type of terrain you will be running on. Trails are dirty and full of obstacles like fallen trees, puddles, branches, leaves, and other things to trip and fall over. The secret to don't fall is - slow down! It could be a dirt trail, or a rocky trail, or maybe even a paved fire road trail.

4.) Note tree cover. Are there trees, or is the trail exposed? Whether or not there is tree cover will greatly effect temperature.

5.) Look out for animals. Hopefully just deer and bugs, but don't let it surprise you. You are on their turf.

6.) Wearing a small backpack, camel back, or even a fanny pack is perfectly acceptable.

7.) Walk!  The first time I "ran" a trail race, I thought I was just getting out to run in nature, and didn't take into consideration running outside on a natural obstacle course. I had to walk/hike - a lot. I had always prided myself on never walking during a race, but during a trail race, especially as a novice, walking is totally normal. This shocks a lot of people. It shocked the hell out of me.

8.) Bring a friend. I am lucky to have my friend, Erika, who is a crazy trail runner girl. She is currently training for a trail 50k. Um, yeah. I told you she is nuts.

9.) Remember that exercise is about effort, not distance or reps. Think of taking on a steep incline as keeping up intensity in a workout. If you are a runner with a GPS who looks down and thinks, "OMG! I've only gone 0.5 miles?" you are missing the point. It helps me to think about workouts in increments of time and not miles.

10.) Read the book "Born to Run" - even if you don't like nature, or don't run. I read "Moneyball" and I think baseball is super boring. It's about life, challenging yourself, and people who are super insane.

I ran Brazen Racing's Summit Rock Half Marathon this weekend. My favorite part of the trail was a two mile stretch of short ups, and downs. It was fun to bound up the hill, then wheeeee back down, then bound up, then wheeee, bound, wheeee, bound, wheeee.

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