Mix It Up: Trail Runs

I haven't done a Mix It Up post in a while, and I thought it was about time for me to talk about how I've been mixing it up lately.

You guys, I have really started to love trail running! It feels great on my joints (especially my knees and ankles), and I love the feeling of being outdoors, running through the woods, clearing my head. I don't need to listen to music to entertain me, and it just feels so natural to me (I guess it is, technically?).

Trail running isn't for everyone, but if you like being outdoors and you haven't tried it, it's probably something you should take a crack at (after you clear it with your doctor, blah blah blah).

Fortunately for me, I live in a beautiful state, in a beautiful area, with loads of trails within a 30-minute drive. Sunday afternoon, for example, I ran a short, 2-mile trail that was part of the Underground Railroad, and I only had to drive 20 minutes to get there! It was a humbling run, and I took it at a slow pace so that I could soak in the information at the different stops, and reflect on the dichotomy of feeling wild and free while on a trail used by slaves to escape to freedom. Without getting all heady about the whole thing on the blog, it really was a moving experience.

Since I've really gotten into trail running, I think I'll cover various aspects of it on the blog (until it gets too cold for me to run them), so today, I will just focus on my top 5 things to know when you go trail running for the first time. I haven't done more than a 5K trail run, so these tips are really geared toward true beginners. 

  1. Use bug spray and sunblock to cover your exposed areas. Since you'll be outside, and probably spending a significant portion of this time outdoors, you're going to need bug spray for sure. We have a tick problem in our area, so I make sure to take extra precautions. Mosquitoes also love my skin, so I make sure to cover any area where a mosquito might be able to get its suck on. You should always wear sunblock when you're outdoors, so this is a given. Some of the trails I've run had me weaving in and out of the woods. For your first time on a trail, you really never know what to expect! You could spend just a few minutes in the sun, or you could spend the majority of your run on a trail that winds around an open field. It's best to be prepared! Even though it's sort of cheating, another tip is to wear layers. Make sure that you protect yourself with bug spray and sunblock in the primary layer, that way, if you end up rolling up your sleeves or taking your jacket off, you're still protected!
  2. Know your route before you start your run. I haven't gotten lost on every trail run I've done. I am not proud of this fact. I have a horrible sense of direction, and once I start running and daydreaming, it becomes harder to remember my route. I finally downloaded an app on my phone that maps our state parks, but that does me no good when I'm in the middle of the woods, sometimes with no reception. It helps if your park has hard copies of the trails at the information stands; however, I haven't found too many parks on the weekend where maps are readily available. Instead, if you're able to, I recommend printing out a copy of the map, studying it a little bit, and folding it up into your pocket. That way, if anything happens to the reception on your phone, you are still able to navigate.
  3. Take short, quick steps, and watch where you're going! This is such an important difference between trail running and road running. The hardest thing for me to understand when I ran my first trail was that you will run trails much slower than you run on pavement, and that's okay! The short steps don't help with the distance, but they definitely help you avoid injury. If you're paying attention to your every step, and you're on the lookout for wildlife, you are much better off than if you just ran all willy nilly. I've slipped on rocks and tree roots (I'm super clumsy), and I even almost took a nasty spill on Sunday, but I was actually paying attention, and was able to prevent myself from getting seriously jacked up.
  4. Be aware of your surroundings. This should go without saying, but so many people get so wrapped up in their smartphones that they don't pay attention to what's going on around them. Less so when you're with a group, but when you're alone, you really need to keep your eyes and ears open. I don't suggest using headphones for trail running. It really does you a disservice, in my honest opinion. You should want to hear the birds singing, but also be on the lookout for, I dunno, growling or hissing. You also don't want some creeper coming out of the woods, catching you off guard.
  5. Travel light. This is super important! Think of it this way: The more things you carry with you, the higher your chances of losing something in the woods! You'll also be jingling around, scaring away all the birds and butterflies, and that ain't cute. 

Have you ever gone on a trail run? What did you think? Which do you like better: running indoors or running outdoors? What are some pointers you would give a beginner? If you're a beginner, what questions do you have about trail running?

See you on the trails! 

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