Coach Christy is all smiles when she’s out on the trails.
Morning temps are cooler and fall foliage is just a few weeks away. If you’re dodging busy school buses at every corner or your neighborhood out-and-back route is feeling stale, this is the perfect time to mix it up and sprinkle in some trail running.
Need a little nudge to add some dirt and vert to your workouts? TLAM Ultra Coach Christy Scott chimed in with recommendations for staying safe, being prepared, and having fun. Read on for her words of wisdom.
(Need more encouragement to escape to the trails? Listen to Sarah’s interview with Trail Sisters founder Gina Lucrezi here.)
1. Always plan ahead.
Most trails have adequate signage and decent directions, but don’t assume that’s always the case. If a trail isn’t frequently traveled, overgrowth and natural erosion can hide the obvious path, and trail signs fade over time. Use a trail app like this one and chart your course. Many apps allow you download the trail so even if your cell service disappears you will still have access to your route. If one is available, a paper trail map tucked into your back pocket is invaluable in case your phone battery dies.
2. Always carry your phone.
In today’s world, this feels non-negotiable. Not only is it a way to check weather and call for help, this allows others to track your location if you get lost or injured, even if you are unable to communicate. If you’re going to be out on the trails for the entire day, a portable phone charger will give you peace of mind knowing your phone will always have enough juice.
It’s tempting to put your earbuds in and crank up the music, but it’s safer to leave the headphones at home. Running on trails means being 100% aware of your surroundings. And no offense to Taylor Swift, but listening to the rustling leaves and chirping birds is way more enjoyable without the noise distractions.
3. Share your location.
Once you’ve decided which trail you’re going to tackle, tell someone where you’re going. Based on the length of the trail and how long it takes to drive there and back, let them know how long you plan to be gone and pick a time to check in with one another. A sprained ankle or a lost car key is more manageable if there’s someone expecting to hear from you. Yes, you can run alone, but running with others is an extra precaution that will help you feel safer if being alone on trails makes you uncomfortable. Besides, trail running with others is an absolute blast!
4. Keep your eyes up.
While running trails, keep your eyes slightly ahead of you. Constantly scan ahead for rocks, roots, and wildlife. You want to be able to see any upcoming hazards and allow enough time to make decisions about your footing. If you are running with others, be sure to stay far enough back so you can avoid taking them down with you if you happen to trip.
Speaking of wildlife, leave them alone. Most critters want nothing to do with you unless provoked, so don’t mess with them. If you are running in an area with snakes, familiarize yourself with which ones are venomous and which are not.
Running through the trees? Yes, please!
5. Practice trail etiquette.
Some trails require you to go in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. If the trailhead sign instructs you to follow a certain direction, be sure to adhere to the rules. Unless otherwise posted, hikers coming uphill have the right of way. Mountain bikers are required to yield to hikers and runners, but don’t assume they will. (Another reason to not wear earbuds. Mountain bikers can come screaming down a trail at a ridiculous pace and plow into you if you’re not careful.)
It seems obvious but…stay on the trail. Running around puddles or rocks or taking shortcuts widens the trail and causes more rapid deterioration, which just spoils the fun for everyone. Now is not the time to bushwhack your own path. Stay on the marked trails and help maintain their integrity.
6. Carry hydration + fuel.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to carrying hydration and fuel. You can use a waist belt, vest, backpack, or handheld bottle, but the longer you’re out on your feet, the more fuel you’ll need. One of the benefits of a hydration pack is the extra pockets. (More room for snacks? You betcha!) After you’ve loaded up on water and food, don’t forget a small first aid kit, a rain jacket, or anything else that seems just-in-case appropriate for the day.
7. You can’t skip strength training.
Sure, running on hilly trails is a great cardio workout, but trail running without strength training is like driving your car without a full tank of gas. It will only take you so far. Strengthening the muscles of your legs, hips, and core will boost your balance and allow you to navigate uneven terrain. It will also help improve your performance and keep your legs from fatiguing as quickly. Fun fact: Trail running is way more fun when your legs don’t feel like bags of wet sand.
8. Wear proper footwear.
While a flat, dirt-packed trail is usually tame enough for road shoes, navigating surfaces beyond pavement can take a different kind of shoe. Technical trails with loose dirt, roots, and slick rocks just feel better in footwear that offers toe protection and improved grip. It may feel excessive to have a separate pair of kicks for the trails, but they really do make a difference when you’re maneuvering around surfaces that aren’t as stable as the road. Nothing ruins a run faster than slipping on gravel and shredding your hands and knees because you wore the wrong shoes.
The more you get out there, the more comfortable you will feel. Adventure awaits! All you have to do is get started.
What tips do you have for a trail running newbie?