The summer/fall transition always gets me thinking of trail running. It’s the time of year where conditions are virtually perfect. It’s neither too cold nor too hot, trails are usually dry and puddle free, the mosquito population is starting to die down, and if your lucky enough to live in the right area, the color-change of the leaves makes the scenery feel like you’re running through a painting.
TRAIL VS. ROAD
There are many advantages to trail running vs. running on pavement or a track. Firstly, you don’t have to worry about cars or other vehicles, and the surface of trails are often a lot softer than the road, placing less strain on bones and joints. The uneven terrain causes the body to have the additional challenge of staying balanced. This tends to increase muscle strength and endurance by forcing the body to use a variety of muscles that otherwise wouldn’t be used if one were to run on a flat surface. Not only does this instability help strengthen muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the entire ankle joint, it can also help to build speed and even increase core strength.
A Few Things You Should Know:
Whether you’re running through the rainforests of British Columbia, or the dusty trails of Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles, trail running has its dangers. Being well informed can prevent mishaps, or at least prepare you to deal with them accordingly.
Always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. You need not to worry as much if you are running for just an hour at mild elevations, but if you are running at higher elevations where the weather can suddenly change, or if you decide to run in the colder months, layered-clothing is the way to go (zippered tops are great for venting). Runners tend to dress light, which helps to prevent overheating, but may leave one vulnerable if the wind should pick up or should you have to stop unexpectedly in case of injury. Gloves and hats are a must when it is especially windy. In the summer months, wear light clothing and avoid running during high heat hours.
For more tips, see my article on “Hot Weather Workouts.” Hydration and nutrition are other crucial elements that you must be aware of. Take a snack with you if you are running for longer than an hour to prevent you from feeling weak or light-headed.
Depending on where you are, each area has it’s own wildlife to watch out for: wolves, rattlesnakes, scorpions, deer, cougars, moose, elk, bears, etc. If planning to run in a national park check out their website beforehand or talk to the park staff about how best to avoid or handle the area’s wildlife. Some sites advise carrying bear spray as a precaution in bear areas. Keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t forget that your own race may sometimes be your worst predator, as trails are very common to muggings. If you’re wearing earphones make sure to keep the volume low. Don’t forget to watch out for poison ivy!
Bugs are not only annoying, but could also be very dangerous. Bee stings can be a great danger to those with allergies. If you are allergic to bee stings make sure to carry an Epi-pen. Wear insect repellent (that includes DEET if your are in deer-country), and clothing that that covers as much exposed skin as possible. Mosquito bites can not only be very irritating, but can carry diseases like West Nile Virus. Deer-ticks are a major danger because they carry Lyme Disease. If you happen to find a tick on your skin, carefully remove it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and by pulling it straight out. You should take it to a doctor for testing. You can be treated with antibiotics if you test positive. If not treated, Lyme Disease can become chronic and can lead to serious health problems.
INJURY & NAVIGATION
Stay on designated trails, carry a compass, or wear a GPS running-watch. You’ll only realize how important it is when you actually get lost. If you have phone service even better. An iPhone has a built in compass and, of course, the option to call for help. It is always better to run in pairs when running on trails. Covered roots, rocks, or slippery terrain can lead to sprains, breaks, and Achilles Tendonitis. If you must run alone, make sure to let someone know your route.
Use common sense and follow your instincts when you are working out outdoors.
Ankle strengthening is something that should be done on a regular basis if you trail run regularly.
Don’t forget to invest in some good trail running shoes.