What I've Learned About Trail Running

In the last few months, I've learned a lot about trail running. It's not like I hadn't run trail before then, but I hadn't run them with the intent of training for a specific race. Things change when you have a goal.

As a road racer first, I learned specific rules and techniques that work for me. From those rules and the various distances I have trained for, I also developed a "road mentality."

My road mentality is one that doesn't want to stop and walk ever during a marathon or training run (although sometimes it happens). My road mentality needs minimal fuel in the form of Shot Bloks or Luna Moons every 30 min after the 60 min mark. My road mentality gets cranky when my pace is slower than 9 min/mile.

Thanks to running with other experienced trail runners and simply spending more time on the sometimes mushy, outdoorsy pedestrian freeways, here are a few things I've learned about TRAIL and the attitude that comes with it:
  • Eat early and often - you'll need more than some Shot Bloks and Gatorade to get you through a substantial run. Try pb&j sandwiches, Larabars or homemade protein ballz, baked potato/sweet potato, chips, etc. Accelerade is rocking my world in the realm of hydration.

  • Appreciate your surroundings - When I take a moment to notice the beautiful trees and water I'm running near, my worries seem just a little less important.

  • Groups will take breaks AKA stop running - to refuel, regroup and chat. As hard as it is on my Type A "road mentality", I'm slowly gaining a more relaxed trail attitude.

  • Fuel the beast - While you could survive a 10 or so mile road run without water or food, it's not a good idea on trail. You're working harder and your body is burning a whole heck of a lot o calories running up and down those hills.

  • Walking is okay - Seriously, I didn't think my road mentality in this realm could back down. But I've learned that walking when the hills are really steep or long (or simply when my body demands it), allows me to run further and not lose much time because I saved the energy I would have wasted if I had run up those hills.

  • Invest in trail shoes - I've been meaning to get some for months, but really I need to just bite the bullet. There have been a few close calls where I almost rolled an ankle or I stepped on a sharp rock and could feel it right through the soles of my everyday running shoes.

  • Watch your step and pick up your feet - If you don't, you'll end smack down on the ground as I have a few times before. Rocks, roots and branches are frequent on trails.

  • Run for time rather than mileage - This one has still been tough for me because I can't not go out and do a run thinking "Today I need to run __ miles." And obviously, whether I like it or not, this race is going to be ~31 miles.
Any other tips on trail running or mentality that I've missed? It's so fascinating how different the herd of trail runners are. Seriously, I run with some of the same people I run road and I feel like we operate in a whole new manner. It's a breath of fresh air, literally. What does your road mentality say/think?


Morgan said…
Great write-up and I LOVE that you shared your road mentality first and what you've learned doesn't work from that. I love the honey stinger chews! Yum!

Also, thanks again for the coupon to REI, picked up a shirt yesterday! Woot!
Yes yes yes. I am in love with trail running after training for that (BRUTAL) trail race of mine. It really is a breath of fresh air. We do 9 and 1's on the trails (and I like to do them on the road too) but depending on the trail sometimes we just do walk the hills, run the downhills and flats. Running for time and not mileage was the biggest adjustment for me but I've gotten used to it now and to be honest I find 2+ hour runs on the road boring! Give me the trail anytime :)
Trail runners really are an entirely different bunch - most of them could probably Smoke a road runner in a race, but they don't care :) It's such a full body workout, and they have such a relaxed approach to it all. I love that you're getting the best of both worlds while you train for this ULTRA (<-- whoa).

Splurge on those shoes - you deserve it!
oh, P.S. D's favorite sports drink is Accelerade. I started using it during marathon training last summer and was quickly obsessed. We call it "Go-Fast Juice" :)
I have never done anny trail running because there really are not many trails in this area, unless you want to drive quite a ways... But i thikn it would be enjoyable but would require an entirely different ffame of mind. Like I think I would have to shut off the function that tells me what my pace is (if you can even do that) because I would beat myself up as I looked down and saw the pace...
Linz said…
I made the transition in reverse - I only ran on trails in high school, and felt so strange running on roads while training for my first 1/2! Half my training runs are on trails or dirt roads. For my first full, I've gone out of my way to pick a marathon that is run mostly on bike paths and trails. I'm so excited!

I love your post and the distinctions you make. It reminds me of the chapter in 'Ultramarathon Man' where Karnazes introduces the difference between the Track&Field team and the Cross Country team.

Also -- my garmin doesn't work on most of the trails through the forest I run on, so tracking splits and lap times for me is impossible anyway!
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jeff said…
leave the watch at the trailhead...and if you know the trails well enough, leave the gps there, too. trail is more about the experience, not the splits, the distance, the minutia.

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