Let’s face it: gyms are stinky, tracks are so boring you’re lucky to make it around ten times before falling asleep, and treadmills are just ridiculous. Who wants to run on a conveyor belt? Most of us humans are under the impression that we’re not pieces of luggage, so treadmills are out of the question.
So what’s a runner to do? Many of us are trapped in cities or suburban areas where gyms and treadmills are the main options for daily running. Traipsing along the sidewalks is fine, but if you’re on a similar schedule to most other Americans, you’ll be competing against dog walkers, young couples with strollers, power walkers, joggers, and any number of other slow perambulators for running space. Just thinking about that, the treadmill starts to look less ridiculous. But don’t compromise your values. You can enjoy the great outdoors and still get a decent workout by trying trail running. The following tips can help you search for a running trail near you, find the right equipment, and work through some of the challenges that face trail running beginners.
Finding a Running Trail
You can’t try trail running without finding a trail, and it’s advisable to find a trail that’s actually been listed for the purpose of running. This will help keep you from getting run over by bikers, foiled by walkers, or just plain overwhelmed by trails that are meant to be hiked. You can come at this from a few different directions: find a group of trail running junkies in your area and ask them which trails are best, search online for running trails in your area, and/or interrogate the employees at the outdoor equipment store when you go to buy your trail running stuff. To find other trail runners, try the “activities” and “groups” listings on your local Craigslist community board. Otherwise, the American Trail Running Association offers a great webpage to help you find running trails in your area by state, with results sorted alphabetically by city.
Stuff You’ll Need
Your main investment in trail running will be a pair of shoes, but unless you run more than 20 miles a week at first, you can wait on buying them until you know you’re hooked. If you’re not concerned about the expense, go ahead and pick up a pair to maximize your safety on the trails and prevent injuries. The best way to learn about trail running shoes is to ask the people who work at your local outdoor equipment and sporting goods stores. Check out a few different ones to see what’s available before you decide. While you’re at it, grab a water bottle and some insect repellant. As far as clothing goes, you might want to wear some of your older running gear – you might tear it on overhanging branches or go crashing into a mud puddle. Trail running is not for the finicky, the prissy, or the phobic. It’s for people who want to get out there and feel like real runners.
Some Things to Consider
If you want the best possible experience with trail running, discard any cute gadgets you might have picked up for running at the gym, on the track, or on the dreaded treadmill. Trail running is about your body and the terrain, not your appearance, accoutrements, or entertainment. You won’t need to be plugged into an mp3 player because you’ll either be focused on enjoying the natural world around you or you’ll be trying not to let the trail beat you. To help you out with that last part, try some of these tips:
- If you encounter sandy trails, run at the edge to take advantage of the most well-packed surface available to you. If you’re still stuck running in loose sand, dig in your toes and lengthen your stride as if you’re running up a steep incline. You’ll have to power through the sand until you reach a better surface for running.
- Mud lovers, beware the fact that getting the stuff stuck to your shoes adds extra weight and slows you down. Avoid wet mud and try not to run straight through the middle of dried mud, as you might sink in and add weight to your shoes.
- Keep your legs up around rocks to avoid tripping. If you start to lose your balance, slow down and navigate with caution until you’ve gotten more experience under your belt and can maneuver around rocks more easily.
- Running through the forest? This can be a beautiful experience, but stay aware of tree roots and take them like hurdles. They’re often covered with leaves, so watch out and don’t run straight through leaf piles.
- The best tip for trail running beginners is to simply fight your way through until you learn what to watch for and how to respond quickly enough to keep your pace up. Jump in and enjoy the challenge.
Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching various online degree programs and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.