Take a Walk/Run on the Wild Side

The dog days of summer are upon us and I, for one, am in need of some relief from the searing heat of the concrete/asphalt urban paths. But where to go? And how should I adjust my training?

Why hit the trails? Well for starters, it’s usually a bit cooler as there a greater amount of shade, maybe some water and breezes blowing down the hollows. Even in the most oppressive muggy heat the trails are a few degrees cooler. And with all that shade from the sun, they seem even cooler. Trails are a great break from the monotony of urban running, they are constantly changing (I love to run trails all year to see the seasonal changes) and you don’t miss not having music. Plus you get the added core work from navigating the uneven surfaces.

So how do I incorporate trail running into my training? For easy runs, I add 2-3 minutes per mile pace depending on which trail I decide to run and go by HR/RPE and time, not so much pace (for example I recently did a 1:45 easy long run on the trails. Ended up with ~5.5 miles 800′ elevation gain and my hr average was upper Z2). Hill work – find a short hill and do repeats.  Trails are great for this as you have to really zone in on your footwork and you can feel it in your core. Intervals? I either go to the rail trail which is flatter/more even or I know a few trails that are single track but relatively flat. This takes care of most of my run and I usually get in a 5K on the road at Park Run Saturday mornings before switching to the trail to finish up my long run.

How do I get started on the trails, you ask? First step is finding a map or a local group that is familiar with the trails.  Read the descriptions and pay attention to the topography. If you see the trail cutting across a lot of topo lines close together it’s going to be steep. Until you learn the area out and backs are great to learn the area. Do I need any special gear? Short answer is no but appropriate footwear is advisable especially for the more technical a trail. As with road shoes, I have a few different trail shoes for different purposes. Mainly I run in Altra Duo for the road and Saucony Peregrine for the trails. Some trail shoes are more aggressive than others and some will have additional protection called a rock plate on the bottom. They tend to be stiffer. Your local running shop should have a few models and you can always ask the locals what they wear. Just like road shoes, it’s highly personal and you want to be confident in the shoe. I also carry a hydration pack for anything over an hour with extra fluid, gels, band-aids, a knife and my phone. Always check the weather because it’s not as easy as ducking into a doorway to get out of a storm.

Let’s now discuss probably one of the funnest parts of trail running: water. You see creek crossing and it’s steamy hot.  What do you do? Why you jump in feet first and run thru the water. Trail shoes drain pretty well and it will cool you off.  Or you’ve been slogging thru the mud, the water will help break the mud off the shoes. Plus it’s just fun to play in the mud and the water.

Trail Cautions/Dangers (there are others not  listed here, it is the woods): you will eventually come upon wildlife. I’m talking about mainly snakes but it is the wilderness and there are spiders, deer, bears, turkeys, turtles, squirrels, etc.  Most are harmless and will retreat. Snakes are different. Give them a wide berth and let them be. This is why you have to be a bit more in the moment on the trails. I’ve come across a few poisonous ones and you just need to detour or wait them out. Plants can also be an issue, especially poison ivy/oak, sumac, stinging nettles, etc. Most well maintained trails are clear of these hazards but it’s still a good idea to know what they are and how to treat any contact with them. Stinging nettles are really bad here in the areas near water in the spring so I tend to wear long socks. I don’t get PI but I still try to avoid it to not bring it home. The terrain: there will be rocks, roots, moss, creeks, mud, cliff, etc. Be aware of your surroundings and navigate the terrain to your ability. It’s all about confidence.

So if your looking for a break from the heat and the ordinary, check out your local trail running scene!

Vivian (in the wilds of West Virginia)