Running: Take it to the Trails
How to transition from road to trail runningby Alex Sepulveda
I awoke in the middle of the night to a call of nature. As I shuffled groggily away from my campsite, a bit dizzy from the altitude, I was surprised to see a dot of light on the ridgeline high above bouncing along at an impressive clip. “What the? Who would be running up here at this hour?” Suddenly, the light came to a dead stop, paused briefly, bent over, and the summer night’s silence was broken by a series of retching sounds from the headlamp’s owner. As if only a minor distraction, the dot of light sprang back up and resumed its course, prancing along the craggy ridge into the night.
The next day I discovered that the mysterious nocturnal trail runner was participating in a 100-mile race along the crest of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.
He is a rare breed indeed. The casual trail runner doesn’t compete in 100-mile mountain runs, and you needn’t be a superhuman athlete to reap the benefits of trail running.
The benefits of trail running
The sheer beauty of mountainous terrain lures many to the trails. But the fact that trail running offers a workout far superior to pounding pavement, with much less impact on the body, is the real clincher. You don’t have to live at the base of 11,000-foot mountains to do it, either. A dirt track at a city park or in nearby hills will do just fine.
The uneven terrain of trails improves balance, stamina and endurance. Your calves, hamstrings and buttocks will all become stronger from running uphill; while running downhill helps build abs and quads, improves balance and forces you to keep your eyes a few steps ahead of your feet (making trail running an excellent off-season sport for skiers).
Trail Running Gear
If you want to get into trail running, there are a number of things to consider, beginning with essential gear.
First, you’ll want to acquire a trail specific shoe. Don’t rely on your road running shoes.
Trail running shoes have a more aggressive outsole with superior traction and deeper lugs. Since your foot moves more on the trail than during the linear stride of road running, a secure fit—especially in the heel and midfoot—is crucial. In some cases, trail running shoes have a plate between the midsole and upper that prevents rocks and debris from poking your feet. This “push through” protection is particularly important on rugged terrain. Finally, you’ll want a bit of room in the toe box so when you’re descending your foot isn’t smashed at the front of your shoe.
There are a variety of trail running shoes on the market today. An excellent and affordable choice is Salomon’s incredibly popular XA Pro 3D. If you’re looking for cutting edge technology, check out The North Face Endurus XCR Shoe, which utilizes the Boa lacing system.
Next, you’ll want to have the right clothing. Avoid wearing cotton as once it’s wet from your sweat, it will stay that way. Instead opt for a synthetic or merino wool (yes wool) T-shirt or base layer. These shirts wick moisture away from your skin to the fabric surface where it quickly dries. For maximum comfort, combine with wicking underwear.
Camelbak Flashflo (L) and The North Face Endurus XCR (R)
Hydration and caloric intake are also critical factors when trail running. The rigor of running uphill will undoubtedly produce more thirst and burn more calories than road running. You’ll want to take the right amount of water and nutrients according to how long you’ll be out there. Many opt for streamlined hydration packs like the CamelBak FlashFlo or Salomon Hydrobelt which feel less cumbersome. If you’re going on an extended run and/or into remote areas, go for a larger hydration pack where you might store a light shell for inclement weather and more substantive snacks than PowerBars and Carb Boom.
Finally, when you’re ready to get out there, know exactly where you’re going and the route you will follow. Consult local sporting goods stores, guidebooks or software like the Trail Finder Deluxe. A partner is never a bad idea.
Start slow by integrating a couple of short trail runs into your weekly routine to grow accustomed to the differences and to gain a sense of balance.
The transition from the road to the trail
DO NOT measure your trail runs in terms of distance, as you might when road running, but rather time. A few miles on a trail is usually much more demanding than a few miles on the road, so focus on the time and effort you put into your run instead.
Most importantly, enjoy the scenery and quietude a trail offers. Who knows, you may end up competing in a 100-mile mountain race.