The trails welcome you, whatever your mood, it is the great leveler. Your highs are crystalline as rays of sunshine through the trees, and your lows felt as fatigue from climbing and root hopping.
Trail running is a pocket inside your imagination you can access to find freedom in fresh air and connection with the dirt.
Maybe you forgot who you are in your everyday existence – trail running is a direct way to return to your home base.
The trails don’t lie (except when everything’s working and you run too fast for the duration, depleting your energy to extinction), there you can fully know yourself stripped of the regularity.
On a medium-difficulty trail (measured by incline frequency and intensity as well as rocks and roots) an 8:30/mile pace road run easily translates to a 10:30/mile. This feels just as difficult as you test your abilities. A road hill may seem impossible as you approach, see it ahead in its entirety, however, for a trail runner, you’re too busy watching what’s on the ground in front of you, scrambling, with short steps and high knees to avoid catching a rock or root.
You’re never bored as the scene is always changing, this switchback to navigate with sand, that creek to cross with blinding sparkles reflecting off the water. Trails are good for friends and for time alone, with breezes breathing in meditation.
Tripping is part of the learning process and one of the ways trail running invites so much humility. On group runs, we celebrate falls because they represent commitment and presence.
We call your bloody shin trail flair, stop the watch, “rub some dirt on it”, recenter and proceed. Just make sure to clean your wounds as soon as you can to prevent infection!
Trail shoes will provide the advantage of tread, assisting you in grabbing some traction instead of slipping (which might pull a muscle). If you’re heading into trails including serious climbs, trekking poles will help, although any stick or branch works fine when needed.
Pacing is more important for longer runs, defined uniquely to a person. You may see a wide, flat section where you can go for it, and run hard. Those are gratifying and fun, kidlike playtime. What better way to find peace than to give yourself the gift of running in the woods.
Pacing does not define a trail runner, however, so here is what many know already and I want to share with you….
If you run/walk, or mostly walk and run a little – ALL are trail runners. Let go of those notions and unfurl your freak self.
Laugh a little when you see for yourself that the woods are there only to be enjoyed. They don’t ask you to be anything, other than to show up. Throw out your arms and know you have the gift of being alive.
Take notice and ask questions from those you know and trust to poll what works/doesn’t for them. Some bodies can handle engineered electrolyte/nutrient replacement options. Others are strictly whole food eaters, potato, dates and/or bananas being great options. Electrolytes added to your water help so much on hot days to keep you going. You will only know by trying/failing and repeating this cycle.
There are general rules of trail etiquette. Call out to those ahead if you’d like to pass, with the side you’d like to pass on. Pass when there is space to do so, whenever possible. Be kind, and know that others are in their heads too, so they may not hear you at first, even startle, and always thank other trail users for acknowledging your call.
Pack out – be super cognizant of your trail footprint. It’s super easy to have a gel packet fall out of a pocket, so make sure you contribute to keeping the trails a lovely escape. You see or hear a bike, move. They have the right of way.
We need more trail runners in this world. Try it, or get yourself back into the woods, to find renewal through the changing seasons, the passing of time measured by memories of solitude, or connection with other trail runners. The woods are always there, to clear any mental clutter, open arms for the weary spirit to be made free again.