Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Trail Blazers....Trail Running 101

What is trail running? Well it's exactly what it sounds like! It is just running on dirt trails that are often referred to as hiking or fire trails. They are most often in national or state parks, but I have run on some trails that weren't technically in a park of any sort, but they were definitely in the wilderness. The whole point is that you are NOT running on or along city streets or on a treadmill.

Why trail running? There are SO many reasons to go trail running.
The trails at Parc du Mont Royal in Montreal, definitely an all time fav.
- First of all there is the fact that trail running, although more tedious, is softer on your joints than running on pavement; it is always bad to run on just one type of running surface, but trails are a much friendlier surface than city streets since they are softer.
- Trail running also works more muscle groups than running on pavement, especially the supporting muscles that you use to compensate for uneven terrain, or uphill/downhill paths that you would not encounter in street or treadmill running.
- In addition to the physiological benefits of trail running there is also the pure joy that comes with running in nature. I love trail runs because running in the wilderness is just such a liberating and euphoric experience. I am going to risk sounding super granola for a second, and say that trail running really makes you feel so connected to nature and mother earth. 
- Trail running is much more scenic than running city streets or treadmill running; most of the trails I have run have pretty great views at some point or another, and it's nice to stop and revel in the beauty of the view to which your own two legs have carried you.

Things to know about trail running (according to me):
Trails to the the Nike Missile Tower.
Starts in Tarzana at the end of Reseda Blvd.
- It is going to be harder than other types of running. Even if your net elevation gain/loss after your run is zero, the uphills, downhills, and effort required to deal with the terrain will require more energy than the equivalent distance run on streets or a treadmill.
- Downhill is not the time to be Speedy McSpeedster: I know, I know, you worked hard running up a hill and now it would feel so awesome to pound down that hill at awesome speeds, but it just doesn't work that way. Pounding down a hill at very high speeds is one of the easiest ways to get injured, if not from wiping out, then from straining your joints and supportive tissue with the heavy impact of speeding downhill. Running downhill will definitely be easier, and A LITTLE faster than running uphill, but the key is to take small, quick steps and always be mindful of where your are stepping.
- There is a sun.....and it burns. I know that this is the case with all types of outdoor running, but it's always good to remember to slap on some sunscreen before heading out for a run.
- You will want water. No matter whether or not you go on 5, 10, or 15 miles runs on streets without water (which is actually never a good idea, hence why I have done it numerous times) I have found that trails have the magical power of making me far thirstier on my runs than I would be had I run the equivalent distance on the streets.
- There will be others......and they will have dogs. I am a dog lover, don't get me wrong. But I am also a runner, and as any other seasoned runner knows, dogs for some reason or another tend to not like runners. Maybe it's the fact that we are moving at high speeds towards them, maybe it's our bright neon running shoes, or maybe they're just jealous of how awesome we look running (yep, most likely this one) but they don't seem to like us that much. Just be ready to have to weave around hikers, runners, and their pets.
- You will want to stop, like immediately.........DON'T. I remember when I went on my first trail run, it was with my freshman year roommate, during my sophomore year of college. About 2 minutes into it I was thinking "Can't breathe........legs feel like lead.....must....stop...." but I just kept running with her, and at some point I broke through the mental and physical barrier I had encountered and embraced the difficulty and the beauty of the run. Once you get over the initial hump of getting started on your trail run, you will hit your stride (undoubtedly slower than the one that you would have hit if you were running the streets) and it will be awesome.
- You know where you are.....make sure someone else does too. It is always important to have a phone and/or identification on you when you are outdoors and running solo. It is also really important to make sure that at least one person knows where you are running, just in case something happens to you. It is just a precaution, but this is one situation where it costs next to nothing to be safe; it takes nothing more than a text message to let someone know where you plan on running.

These are my splits for our trail run.
Clearly miles 4 and 5 were the steep
uphill on the trails.
My Recent Trail Run: I used to run trails all the time when I lived in Berkeley, but ever since moving back to Los Angeles after graduating from college my trails runs have become much less frequent. It is mostly because there aren't as many beautiful trails near where I live, and partially because my running partner in crime (aka my dad) hasn't been open to the idea of trail running. That is until recently, when I harassed him about it so much that he gave in and agreed to go on a partial trail run with me. What I mean by partial trail run is that we would run on the sidewalk from our house to the start of the trail (which is about 3 miles away from where we live) run the trail (which is a 4 mile loop) and then run back home. Now despite being the initiator of said trail run, I was a little bit nervous because it had been so long since I had run trails and I was worried I wouldn't be in the shape I wanted to be when I hit the steep inclines. The splits at the right are our splits for the run; clearly miles 4 and 5 are the steep uphills of the trail, but even the downhill parts of the trail were relatively slow because as I said before: running steep downhills is NOT the time to be Mr. Speedy. Anyhow, I did run the trail a little slower than I have in the past, but it was still a great pace. Although my Dad and I tend to run at different speeds I waited for my Dad before starting the trail itself, and ran most of the trail with him; then took a longer route to meet him back at home. It was a beautiful run with amazing views and best of all my Dad actually really enjoyed it! So much so that he wants to go on longer trail runs with me! the words of Borat: Great Success!

In conclusion, don't be afraid to try something new when it comes to running; whether it be running in a new neighborhood, running on the streets instead of on a treadmill, or running some trails. Any run that doesn't end in tears (and even some that do) is a good run, and you will likely discover something new about running that you love!

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