"Just so you know…. I can't stop myself from breaking out into a run every once in a while!" Paul, a lively and fidgety member of the Granite State Racing Team, said to us as we were trying to plan a hike-date. His feet never stop moving. He is always like a bottle of champagne that has been shaken with barely controllable quantities of happiness, anticipation, and energy that will explode if given the chance. A few of us NH State Park Bloggers have discovered how awesome these Granite State Racing Team people are. We all immediately bond with the obvious shared stories of accomplishments and pain found in running. New runners such as me hungrily pick at the veterans' brains for advice; however, we quickly realized that we share so many interests outside of running with the subjects of hiking and trail running finding its way into almost all of our conversations. Yes, trail running is different.
I've been running in Bear Brook State Park for a couple years now. I love it when I have an entire trail to myself. The air is cooler and carries the invigorating hint of pine needles. Each step lands completely different, each stride varies in length, and I feel like a ninja when I dodge a low hanging branch and leap up over a scramble. You can get dirty too! I land square in mud (most of the time by accident) and I somehow end up with debris caked in my hair - most likely from when my ninja skills fail and I get whacked in the face by a branch.
I've learned that there is definitely a transition period for people who aren't used to trail running. They quickly discover that they are using muscles that they never had to use before. They can be surprised when their lungs are going into overdrive and their legs turn to spaghetti after a short distance. Instead of having the same repetitive motion that you find on pavement you now need to balance and jump from side-to-side.
Here are 10 tips that I learned from picking veterans' brains, from my personal experience, and from reading my regular dose of running magazines:
1. Gear up!
Your shoes are the most important element and what you wear on pavement may not necessarily be the best for you on a trail. You need better tread, a sturdier heel for ankle support, a tougher midsole, and they should be waterproof and breathable. Your socks need to be fitted. Thin, wool material is a great idea.
Be ready for the weather to change and change fast so bring breathable layers with you and wear wicking base layers. Bright color clothes are a very smart idea in case you need to be found. Sunglasses are not just for the sun when you are on a narrow trail. They act more like protection goggles so bring sunglasses with light tinted lenses so you can see well in the shade. Leave extra layers and flip-flops in your car to change into after.
2. You've heard this one before….HYDRATE! If you are thirsty then you are too late!
I sip the entire time I run anywhere. Every runner has a preference for how they want to bring water or beverages with electrolytes whether they wear it on their backs, on a belt, or carry in their hands. Proper hydration prevents fatigue, cramping, headaches, over heating, etc, etc, etc. I suggest that you leave a full drink in your car that you can chug when you get back and not feel like you need to drink sparingly on the trail.
3. Sloooow it down.
There are more elements to watch for on a trail and thinking that you can keep the same pace in the woods that you do on pavement will only lead to sloppiness and injury. You are burning more calories and working harder on a trail so you don’t need to go as fast and you shouldn't.
4. Check your form.
Move your arms, stand up straight, lift your feet, breathe in through your nose, keep your head up, heel first when you can. Am I bringing back childhood memories of learning manners at the dinner table?
5. Aim for short hills.
They can kick your butt and whip you into shape. It's amazing how fast your lungs improve when you mix the short hills into the run. The most motivating routes that I run have about 5 to 10 minutes of uphill segments disbursed throughout the entire run that are followed by rolling flats. Downhill is really hard on knees and on your lower back so it is important to minimize steep downhills and walk when you need to.
6. Look ahead.
This is a similar rule that they tell you when you drive and when you ski. You need to know what's coming with enough advance time to react. When you run on the trail, you need to make sure that you are navigating the best route through the trail and you have to be ready to jump up or around obstacles.
7. Run for time... not distance.
I have a 30 minute loop, an hour loop, and an hour and a half route that I like. I couldn't tell you for the life of me what those distances are. I do have a GPS watch that I don’t know how to use and have been intending to figure out so I can satisfy my curiosity.
8. Don't get lost.
I suggest to first hike the trails that you think might make for fun runs. You may be tempted to try a new trail on a run but be very careful to remember landmarks and turn directions. I highly suggest that you pass that tempting trail and stay on route instead and plan to return for a hike with a trail map, food, and proper safety gear so you can really take the time you need to familiarize yourself. Always tell someone where you are going. You don't want to end up like that guy in 127 Hours.
9. Leave no trace.
Our parks and trails are enjoyed by many people besides yourself so help to make the experience a positive one for others by bringing your trash out with you and to protect plants and wildlife. The actions of a few could ruin the experience for everybody… don't be that jerk!
10. Tick check!
This should be part of your routine every time you go outside and not just on a trail or in a park. Make sure that you check yourself during, when you get back to your car, and thoroughly when you get changed. Wearing bug spray can not only help to keep you sane, but deet can work on ticks as well.
Have a rockin' time!
- Michele, NH State Park Blogger