Saturday, June 4, 2011

Trail Running Wisdom

Even though I am not currently running trails <sobs> I do still have loads of accumulated trail running wisdom. Oh, yes I do. Wisdom earned the old fashioned way, which is by traumatic experience, rather than the new fashioned way of surfing the internet and watching videos on you tube. Actually, I surfed the internet for trail running help; I just managed to still make plenty of mistakes, because I'm a life long learner.

Rancho San Antonio
And with that, I present to you the fruits of my learning curve, in the order I plucked them, because I’m fun that way. 

I learned my first lesson early on, while I was running the gateway trails of Rancho San Antonio. At the top of your first hill of the day, pause a moment to bend over and kiss your quads goodbye, move your foot all the way back in your shoe and retie your laces extra tightly. I don’t care if you like them somewhat loose or if they are perfect the way they are (at least, that’s what he said, laughing hysterically). Retie. Make them tight.  As you run downhill you will find those laces loosened up somewhat. You will also find your toes do not go slamming into the front of your shoes, thus saving you painful toenails all day and into the night.  My first few times running trails I did not do this. I was bent over breathing like a buffalo, trying to stuff my lungs back into my chest and yet I could not take a moment to retire my shoes?  Apparently, my shoes were fiiine. Loser. <shakes head>  I remember one night when the pressure of the bed sheet on my toenails was agonizing. Learn from my painful, missing toenails my little wanna be trail runner. Retie those shoes and you'll sleep better that night.  It really does make a huge difference.

Lake Chabot, visor-less
Next up. Wear a visor (if you run hot, like me) or a cap (if you run cold or don’t have a lot of hair to protect your delicate scalp), regardless of the weather. For my first long trail run (Lake Chabot, 17 miles) I made a conscious decision to leave my cap in the car because it was a solidly overcast day and I didn’t want that sweaty thing on my forehead for hours on end . Well. Two hours later, I was on a ridge (ridges are often where your trail running will lead), running without tree cover beneath a mostly sunny sky without a cap or sunscreen. I would have been better just wearing the cap. If it rains, the wet is kept somewhat from your face and if it suns, you have a little portable shade. I never ran without a cap again, except once, in the rain, when I lost it (the visor that is).

Bring a bag for your shoes after the run. Do this every time, even if it has been dry because you never know how wrecked your shoes will be, sometimes from dust, sometimes from water. The first time I ran through a surprise muddy spot I had not thought of bringing a bag, my shoes were a mess and I LOVE MY CLEAN CAR. I survived to bring a bag the next time, but i was not happy. Sadly, the next week I didn’t bring a pair of shoes to slip into, which resulted in me walking into Peet’s barefoot. Not ideal.  No need to learn a new lesson two weeks in a row, just bring a bag and pair of flip flops, every time you run trails. Don’t question me on this. Seriously.
Sometimes your shoes will look like this.

And sometimes they will look like this.
And last for today (more trail running wisdom to come, don’t you worry), bring a long sleeve shirt unless it's summer, and then bring some arm warmers. On the street I am famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for my love of running naked. I get wicked hot running asphalt. And, NO, I’m not really naked, naked, but I whip off my shirt and run in the cool of my sports bra all the time. Have you seen swimsuits lately? My sports bra is downright matronly compared to what you see at our local beach. So, avert your delicate eyes and get the heck over it.
I haven't been to this camp. Yet.

On the trail, I inexplicably find myself shivering. There’s the elevation, the tree cover, the wind when I am above the tree level and the fact that I’m out there for a lot longer. Suddenly, Little Ms. Sports Bra is shivering in her short sleeve shirt, especially on the downhill...running downhill, my heart rate drops, all the sweat I generated running up that hill starts cooling me off and BAM my teeth are chattering.

I hate getting cold, so it didn’t take me long to start bringing a long sleeve shirt. I’d take it off while I climbed and put it on when I had a long descent and rolling terrain. If I wore that long sleeve over a layer I made my base layer a tank with wide scooped neckline so that my chest could let off steam, because I was still nervous of overheating.  I was surprised to find that I rarely took that long sleeve shirt off for long, but then none of my shirts are especially heavy. In the summer, I pack arm warmers, because I never know when I'm gonna zip right when I'm supposed to zag left, and, well, end up running a tad bit longer than I thought because I'm lost on an adventure in the woods.
At the top the views are gorgeous.

These are all pretty basic trail running thoughts and yet, in the beginning I didn't retie my shoes, didn't wear a visor, didn't bring a bag, and didn't wear a long sleeve shirt. I was a lot happier when I started doing all these things without fail. Don't over think it, just do it.


  1. Good ideas....

    shoe tying...never had a problem with this even on SttS.

    I often tie a very thin wrapped up jacket around my waist if it's going to be cold. Weighs nothing and can be a wonderful thing.

    And as a (formerly) red haired, fair skinned, blue eye person, I have ALWAYS worn hats.

    I collect them instead of t-shirts because they are smaller ;) I probably have about 60 from various places....2 of them are from antartica 8)

  2. Good wisdom J.

    That reminds me that I just bought Bryon Powell's new book Relentless Forward Progress that has many good tips in it. I need to crack that thing open and start the learning.

    Good for you on the Solomons, The Cascadias don't seem like they'd be grippy / tough enough for some of the trails that you find yourself slogging through. :)

  3. oh my! i don't think i could ever run naked, brave souls!