Monday, October 27, 2008

Getting Started in Trail Running

Do you want to add some fun to your running routine, train different muscle groups, and see something besides the cars zipping by you? Lace up your running shoes and let’s go on an adventure together. Whether you want to start running up mountain trails, desert valleys, river ways, through the woods, or the beach, I can help get you started. You do not have to be an experienced runner to experience the joys of trail running.

I started running on trails back in 1993 when a good friend suggested that we run Mission Peak located in the Bay Area in California. We were both seasoned vets of flat asphalt running. From our office building in Fremont, we could see Mission Peak rise approximately 2500 feet off the bay. It looked impossible. I had run half dozen marathons, dozens of 10 k races, and hundreds of high school and college races. Surely trail running the mountain the mountain had to be harder than a marathon. I was wrong. It was one of the most joyful experiences in my running life.

Our first run up the peak was addicting. It was a clear day in June. What I really noticed was the lack of noise. It was so quiet early in the morning. We started out while it was still dark. Gradually, the sun rose in brilliant red and yellow hues. We saw all kinds of red tail hawks circling in the air. Mission Peak used to be the home to a herd of domestic goats gone wild. We saw them. They had the long hair and curled horns just like the wild ones!

Fast forward 15 years and I am still running Mission Peak and many other trails in the Bay Area. The goats are gone, the trails are more worn, and there are many more people on the trail. Nevertheless, I can still find the solitude that I so desire on the trails if I start out early.

What started out as a challenge to conquer new running territory has turned out to be a my all time favorite past time. Running no longer seems like a chore or something that I have to do. It is something that I get to do.

I take my 2 boys on flat trail runs and they get to experience the dirt on their bicycles. I have yet to convince my wife on the merits of running. She enjoys the runs when I take our 2 boys with because she gets a few hours to herself.

The first year of running added all kinds of injuries that were related to me not being careful. I tripped over rocks, stepped in holes, got poison oak. I had a medical doctor tell me to stop running and all my pains would go away. This was not an option for an addicted runner like me! I still get the occasional running pains. Gone are the shin splints, knee pains, and other sore parts of my body. I took the advice of running sage Jeff Galloway and run injury free.

If you want to start running on the trails, I can offer a few suggestions. When I started running trails 15 years ago, all I brought with me were the clothes and shoes that I had on. No water, no food, no brains. Nowadays, I use a fanny pack that carries 2 water bottles with extra room for running essentials. Water is just as important as clothing! I keep a light weight pair of running gloves in one of the pockets. I always bring a light weight LED flash light. This comes in very handy for early morning runs in the dark. If you run in the mountains, you need to carry additional clothing. Better to carry more than you need than be cold. I always have a hat. It may be a baseball visor cap for summer runs or a beanie cap for winter runs. Head protection is very important in maintaining body temperature. If there is a hint of rain, I carry a light weight rain jacket. I carry snacks for runs longer than 2 hours. I can write an entire article on sports nutrition. Bring food that easy to digest and high in complex carbohydrates. For winter runs or runs longer than 4 hours, I use small back pack with a water bag in it. Cell phones are great too. I call my wife when I can get a signal.

When you make the transition from pavement to trails, be especially careful of the terrain. Run slower. A small trip can send you head over heals. In my early days, I did not carry a flash light. I tripped so many times. I am fortunate that I did not break any bones. Most injuries happen when you run down hill. Slow down. Trail running is not a race-at least not yet. I always recommend running in groups when you start out. Trail running can be very lonely. Even if you seek solitude, there is safety in numbers. I have encountered mountain lions twice in the past 8 years and I am happy that I have been with one other person each time. Always let someone know where you are going and when you will return. Even if you run in a group, adhere to this rule. It could save your life.

Some of you may be wondering about trail running shoes. This all depends. I have used trail specific shoes when I run on very hard rocks. I always wear what is comfortable. I want a durable shoe. I want a shoe that will not let dirt or rocks in. There are many excellent companies out there. Some offer 100% money back guarantees. Pay a little extra and go with the comfort guarantee. You will not regret this.

Trail Runner Checklist:

Running shoes

Comfortable socks


Food (gel, energy bars, dried fruit, raw nuts)

Electrolyte replacement for runs longer than 2 hours

Rain jacket



Cell phone

Visor cap

Beanie cap for cold runs

Light weight gloves

Enjoy yourself and share your adventures.

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