Off-road: The Ins and Outs of Trail Running
By Chris Saunders -
Atlanta Sports MagThe trail-running boom
took off in the '90s as more and more athletes began trading in their road
running shoes for trail running versions.
According to the Outdoor Recreation
Coalition of America, over 8.1 million people hit the trails in 1998 alone, and
that number has continued to rise in the years since.
There is good reason so many runners are
venturing off road in training, seeking out trail races and even planning
vacations and business trips around the most alluring trails.
Although related for obvious reasons, trail
running and road running are actually quite different sports, and many runners
itching for a change of scenery are making the switch from hard surfaces to
softer and often more scenic trails.
Countless runners find trail running to be
an escape from the rock-hard reality of the roads. Its no secret that
asphalt and concrete are much harder on your body than dirt, woodchips and
gravel, and the sights available on traffic ridden roads are often less
pleasing to the eye than those found in the seclusion of wooded trails.
Injuries and boredom are inspiring runners
to abandon sidewalks and city streets in favor of remote locations that other
road runners havent yet discovered.
Shoe manufacturers have also capitalized on
the growing interest in this off-road adventure sport, taking big steps to meet
the needs of the athletes pursuing it. You wont find a shoe company today
that doesnt offer at least one trail shoe in its arsenal, and many have
more than one model to choose from.
Theres no doubt that trail running is
a great alternative to road running, but it is a completely different animal.
Trail running is often much less predictable than its cousin, and preparing for
its uncertainty is paramount.
So before you head out to the trails, keep a
few things in mind:
1. Invest in the proper shoes. If you
plan on spending any significant time on trails, a pair of trail running shoes
will make all the difference. These shoes will provide the necessary support
for off-road running. Visit your nearest running specialty shop to see which
shoe is best for you.
2. Research the trail before running
it. Its probably not the best idea to head out on an unfamiliar trail
without scoping it out first. Many trails can be confusing, so take the time to
locate a map, or bring a compass with you when you start. You can find maps of
local trails in running specialty stores, on the Internet or from area running
3. Run with a partner or a group.
Youll be less likely to get lost if you have two or more people running the
same trail, and you may find the run more enjoyable, to boot. If you thrive in
the company of solitude and the rhythm of your own breathing, be sure to let
someone know where youll be running and when you expect to be back.
4. Always look two steps ahead. It is
crucial to keep a constant eye out for obstacles that may be on the trail.
Trail running takes a special focus. Taking your eye of the terrain for just a
moment could result in a twisted ankle, or worse.
5. Wear the proper clothing.
Regardless of the season, trail running requires a different wardrobe than road
running. Long-sleeved shirts and pants will keep your arms and legs protected
from the brush and branches that may be along the trail. A bright hat, which
will keep bugs out of your hair and make you more visible on the trail, is also
6. Dont forget the water. You
wont likely find water on the trail, so bring some with you. You should aim for
6 to 8 ounces of fluid for every 20 minutes of activity. Consider wearing a
waist pack or a camel pack to keep your hands free.
7. Think in terms of time rather than
mileage when planning (or evaluating) your run. Dont worry about the
distance of the trail, which is often difficult to determine unless it has
already been mapped out for you. Also, because of unsure footing, sharp turns
and unfamiliarity with the terrain, your pace may be a bit slower on the trail
than on your regular running routes. Measure your run by time and effort spent
on the trail.
8. Keep an eye out for other
athletes. Mountain bikers love to hit the trails, and often pick up quite a
bit of speed. Be cautious approaching hills and turns, and realize that bikers
may not be looking for you. This is where the bright hat comes in handy.
9. Leave the trail in the same condition
you found it. One of the most enjoyable aspects of trail running is the
natural beauty surrounding you while you run. Please leave the area just as you
found it for the others who may follow in your steps. Most of all, enjoy your
time spent on the trails.
Chris Saunders is a freelance writer
living in Illinois. He was a NCAA All American in Track and Field for the
University of Illinois, and currently serves as an Assistant Track and
Field/Cross Country Coach for the Fighting Illini.