Guest Post: Tips to Begin Trail Running for the First Time in Your Life

The weather is getting to be AMAZING here in the Philadelphia area, and I’m itching to get back outside to run.

Can you tell I’m happy the weather is nice?! Ha!

I’ve briefly dabbled in running trails before, but Guest Author Dan Chabert might have convinced me to get off the roads and back on the trails! Maybe he can convince you to do the same!

Tips to Begin Trail Running for the First Time in Your Life

When you’re a runner, you are inherently gifted with a ton of latitude as to how you can perform your sport of choice. Runners can run indoors or outdoors, at all times of the year, and even at all hours of the day or night. Some runners love the treadmill, while others eschew it; similarly, some runners will literally run for hours, if not days, on end through mountainous terrain, while others will happily stick with running their 2-mile loop around their neighborhood. The beauty of this is that it doesn’t matter how far or how fast you run because if you run at all, you can call yourself a runner. Not many sports can say that they offer their participants the same level of flexibility.

I’ve been running for most of my life, and nearly all of my adult life, and it wasn’t until a recent move to northern California that I ventured into new-for-me running territory: trail running. Coming from the relative flatlands of the midwest and the urban jungle of Chicago, trail running wasn’t really on my radar, but now that I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s hard *not* to think about trail running.

Getting started with a new type of running, such as trail running, can feel daunting and intimidating, but it needn’t be. Below, I’ll share some tips and strategies I’ve cultivated since I’ve begun to incorporate more regular trail running into my running routine. While I still primarily run on roads, I can definitely attest to the value of trail running and its effects on my speed and endurance on the roads — something I’ll get into in a second. If you’re a runner, there is definitely a place for trail running in your fitness routine.

Start small. Just like with anything else surrounding running, it’ll behoove you to start small and to start deliberately. If you’ve never run on a single trail in your life, don’t expect for your first trail run to be running Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon. Find a trail or a park near your home — look for swaths of green on a map, or check out an area immediately adjacent to a body of water — and give it a go for 10 or 20 minutes. If you’re used to running on pavement or on flat roads, trail running may feel really weird at first. Don’t worry about your pace — it’s somewhat irrelevant on trails, since you’ll likely be navigating tricky terrain and near-constant ascents and descents — and instead, just listen to the feedback your body is giving you.

Don’t worry about the gear right away. I know that we runners love our gear, but stick with what you already have when you’re first getting started with trail running. Chances are, the gear you already possess will be more than enough for this new hobby of yours. You may eventually find that you’ll need to add some new items, like a bigger hydration pack, taller socks, or maybe a pair of running shoes, but give yourself some trial and error opportunity time first before investing in new stuff. Besides, the money you save on gear you can spend on trail races!

Make trail friends. It can be incredibly helpful to run with a buddy when you’re on trails, and especially when you’re getting started, it can be really important to run with someone who knows the ins and outs of the terrain. Pepper your new friend with questions about trail running and questions about the park/terrain you’re canvassing, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you master the lay of the land. Soon enough, you, too, will be an expert on that trail system, and you’ll be able to help novice trail runners not get lost on their first forays, just as your new friends helped you stay on course. The trail community is pretty closely-knit, and most everyone adopts a pretty low-key vibe and approach to the run. These folks are runners who run for the simple joy of being able to run through some of the most beautiful parts of the country and who will never say no to spending time in “nature’s playground.”

Register for a trail race; it’ll be fun! Once you start trail running on a more regular basis, even if it’s just for a recovery/easy run each week, seriously consider putting a trail race on your calendar sometime. It’s always exciting to pin a bib on your shirt and toe the line to see how fast you can run, but in trail running, while that’s important, it’s seemingly not as important as just being out there to enjoy the ride that nature provides us. Of course, you can challenge yourself to see how fast you can tackle the ascents or monkey down the descents, but it seems like a lot of amateur runners simply love the environment and vibes they get from the trail running scene.

Be prepared to surprise yourself on the roads. You’ll likely notice that your running speed and endurance improve on the roads once you begin running trails pretty regularly. Be surprised, but don’t be. Chances are high that you’re running far more slowly on trails than you do on roads, and at the same time, trails help to strengthen your body — without a high injury risk — in ways that road running can’t or doesn’t. For example, if it takes you 24 minutes to run 3 miles on roads, it might take you 40 minutes to cover the same distance on trails — therefore, increasing your endurance capacity. In the process, you’re also getting mini-strength sessions in as you work your “stabilizer” muscles that you recruit when you’re trying to climb a mountain or fly down a hillside. Anecdotally, I feel that spending most of my long runs on trails during a recent marathon training program led me to finally break a three-year-old marathon road PR. Come race day, I felt stronger and faster than ever before.

Enjoy the journey, and have a blast. Trail running is such a nice reprieve from the cacophony of everyday life, and it’s a great way to fall in love with running again. You might find that you have no interest in running roads once you’re regularly on trails; that’s ok. There are worse problems to have.

While running might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I have yet to meet a runner who doesn’t love trail running. There is so much joy to glean from the experience, and the take-aways from trail running are so great that you probably stand to benefit from trying this new-to-you type of running more than you realize. You may wonder what took you so long to get here, and that’s ok — I feel the same way! Give yourself permission to try this new thing, and be energized by the joy you feel in the journey.

Writer’s Bio:

Dan Chabert

An entrepreneur and a husband, Dan hails from Copenhagen, Denmark. He loves to join ultramarathon races and travel to popular running destinations together with his wife. During regular days, he manages his websites, Runnerclick, That Sweet Gift, Nicershoes and GearWeAre. Dan has also been featured in several popular running blogs across the world.

Out of the Darkness Walk

IMG_20151018_100023737Yesterday morning I layered on some running clothes, then threw on a old, ridiculously huge sweatshirt (that less than five years ago was TIGHT on my overweight body) and drove to a nearby town to meet my friend Laurie for an Out of the Darkness Walk. For those of you unfamiliar with an Out of the Darkness Walk, they’re run by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Their purpose is to raise awareness of mental illness, promote suicide prevention, and honor loved ones lost to suicide. There’s no donation required to walk, and there’s no run, just walking.

IMG_20151018_100016775We arrived at the location (a local Institute of Technology) and checked in, each receiving a wristband. From there we helped ourselves to snacks from the snack table, all provided free for walkers. The place wasn’t solemn or sad. People were smiling, telling stories about loved ones, wearing commemorative shirts, and writing notes of love and remembrance on balloons that would later be released into the crisp blue sky. I even noticed one young woman who had written “I am a survivor” on her balloon.

IMG_20151018_101501446Even better, there were DOGS everywhere! This adorable fella ran right up to me and leaned against my legs for a few minutes as if he were “claiming” me or telling his owner he wanted to take me home! Haha. Laurie and I both agreed that pets truly help people with depression.

IMG_20151018_101615802There was a presentation where some students from the school sang a few songs about hope, which was the underlying theme of the day. The walk itself was through a beautiful semi-rural location, filled with the colors of autumn.

IMG_20151018_110017825In the end, it was a wonderful experience. Hope was the word of the day. Each one of us can have an impact on someone else. It reminds me of a Post Secret I saw on Twitter one day:

tumblr_ni0fltE2q01s5jnozo1_500Imagine the impact the smallest act of kindness could have on a stranger. Just imagine it.

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, please, seek help.

In an Emergency, Contact (from afsp.org):

  • —Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • —Psychiatric hospital walk-in clinic
  • —Hospital emergency room
  • —Urgent care center/clinic
  • —Call 911

IMG_20151018_113652003

And remember: you are not alone.

🙂

A Running Shoe Noob Buys Her First Pair

As you probably all know, this was the year I tried running. Until this year, I’d always hated it. It was hard. It made me breathe funny. DID NOT WANT.

Well, I tried it again this year, after reaching my goal weight and doing a lot of weight training. And, I actually LIKED it. I had cheap shoes and running pants I bought used at the thrift store, I made myself a running belt and got into the fluorescent clothes. I started C25K and joined the Adventure Runs with my walking group buddy Sharon. I ALMOST ran a solo 5K. Then something happened. My foot hurt. It had this weird popping sensation. I thought it might be a stress fracture (it wasn’t). I though it might be a Morton’s Neuroma (it most likely is). I stopped running to heal up, and I realized: I missed it. It’s totally not easy and it took me a while to figure out what I could and could not eat beforehand, and at times, my running buddy Josh and I dripped sweat on a 90-degree Saturday afternoon (which I mostly hated), but I missed it.

On July 25th I completed my first 5K+ when I completed the 4H Mud Run, after almost 6 weeks of not running AT ALL. We walked most of it, but we finished, damn it! And I realized my running shoes were pretty much ruined. Which was fine, because I think I probably should have thrown them away about 4 months ago, and they probably contributed to my foot problem! So, an easy discussion with The Hubs decided the matter: I was going to get fitted for a good, proper pair of running shoes. Since I had a $30 gift certificate for R-Gear at my local Road Runner Sports (creators of the Adventure Run), and since I was familiar with the store to begin with, I decided we’d go there.

Now, I was nervous. Not only am I terrible when it comes to spending money on myself, I knew it would be an elaborate process to get fitted for shoes, then decide which pair to buy, and leave without spending what felt like a small fortune. I needn’t have worried!

We arrived at my local Road Runner Sports around 2:30 and were immediately approached by an incredibly friendly employee who asked us if we were looking for anything in particular. I immediately said I was interested in getting fitted for shoes, and that it was something I’d never done before and that I was a bit nervous about it. He very kindly reassured me that it was no big deal, and that their fitting computer, called ShoeDog, would take about ten minutes to figure out what sort of shoes would best work for me. He put my name on the waiting list, which was only about a 20-minute wait, and The Hubs and I browsed while we waited.

When my name was called, a friendly woman named Linda greeted me next to a workstation complete with a treadmill, a computer with a large touchscreen monitor, and some two-padded squishy looking thing on the side. Linda quickly described to me what we would be doing, and the first step was taking off my shoes and socks. I stepped on a small footpad on the floor, where I had to stand still for 30 seconds while the computer read my pressure points. The machine popped up a display that quickly showed me that I put a lot of pressure on the outside of my left foot, and moderate on my right heel, but that I had nice, high arches. Then Linda had me step on the treadmill, still barefoot, and jog at my pace for 30 seconds while two cameras captured video of my feet hitting the belt. That was really cool, because I could actually see that my ankles have very little flexibility from side to side (which is good when you run) and that my feet bend outward towards my pinky toes just slightly, but that wasn’t much to worry about, so it was recommended that I get a neutral shoe (as opposed to a stability shoe) with a level 4 cushion in a size 9.5 (the cheap Nikes I’d been wearing are 8.5, and I think their snug fit was what contributed to my foot problem) with a B width, which is normal width.

Next up was fitting me for custom insoles. Linda put two flat insoles into an oven, which warmed them to make them pliable. Then she had me step on that two-padded squishy looking thing, which turns out was to help form the insoles. One foot at a time, she had me stand up straight onto the comfortably warm insole, press with my heels, then press down onto her fingers with my toes as hard as I could. This molded the insoles to my foot, and showed us just how high my arches actually are!

I had to fill in my information on the touchscreen, and then Linda handed me a pair of comfy socks to test out while I was trying on shoes, and led me over to the benches where I would meet Marcus. Marcus, like everyone else, was incredibly friendly and had a penchant for singing Barry White. He adeptly grabbed a few pairs of shoes, inserted my custom insoles, and had me try them on. I started with a pair of Brooks, which did feel fairly comfy, but not “right” (says the girl who’s never owned real running shoes before). Next he had me try on a pair of Asics, which felt great when I was sitting on my butt on the bench, but were not to my liking when I actually stood up.

The first pair I tried on: Brooks.
The first pair I tried on: Brooks.

Not a problem at all for Marcus! He brought out a pair of Sauconys, and while I didn’t feel like these were “the ones”, it was a vast improvement from the previous pair. They had a lot of cushion in the ball of the foot, which I liked. The floor of the store is concrete, but you’d never be able to tell with these shoes on. Marcus, not satisfied with my response to those, brought out yet a third pair, promising more cushion than the pair I had on. I slid the new shoes on, laced them and stood up. It was like walking on a cloud! I said as much, and the woman next to me who was also being helped by Marcus, asked him to grab her a pair, too! (She bought them!)

“The ONES”   Saucony Triumph ISOs

Marcus was satisfied with my happiness with my Sauconys (Triumph ISO), so we wrapped things up and checked out, grabbing two packs of cushy running socks as well! I checked out, parted ways with Marcus, and left with a smile on my face. All in all, it wasn’t terribly costly, either! Running shoes generally last between 300-500 running miles. Since I don’t plan on running more than a 5K at a time, and at that, no more than 3X a week, that’s fewer than 10 miles a week, giving me between 30-50 weeks, or about a year. The insoles are supposed to last 1,000 miles, so I won’t need to replace them for quite a bit longer. And socks? Well, socks aren’t really that expensive. I definitely spent less today than it would cost me to join Planet Fitness with their Black Card membership for the same period of time. (Do the math yourself!) And, having good running shoes will definitely help prevent injuries in the future. And since I have two, maybe three 5Ks in my future, I need to take good care of my feet, right?!

All in all, my experience at Road Runner Sports today was extremely positive! Maybe next I’ll get lucky and win a free pair at the next Adventure Run in August.

So what did you do over YOUR weekend?