I started road running when I was 10 years old and continued to run exclusively on the road/track for the next 30 years. Since moving off-road a few years ago I’ve stuck pretty much to the trails; now 90% of my running is on dirt.
Having been a road runner for so many years there are a number of observations I’ll offer for those moving to the trail. Many, if not all, are going to seem really obvious but experiencing them first hand will bring the inevitable ah ha moments, possibly while lying face down in the dirt.
So, here’s what to expect when you get on the trail:
1. Rocks All shapes and sizes. You’ll find golf ball size stones all the way to boulders that you climb. You’ll find them loose or buried in the ground. They are the meat and potatoes when it comes to the challenge of trail running. The longest I’ve slid down a pile of loose rock was about 20 feet in which I turned sideways and pretended I was surfing.
2. Roots Depending on the trail these can be a lot of “fun”. They’re shoe grabbers. I think their whole goal in life is to watch people fly like superman.
3. Hills Duh, right!? There are rollers that may only climb 100 feet over a half mile or there’s bear crawling mountain sides like Karl Meltzer throws at you during his infamous SpeedGoat 50k. Learn to love ’em, both the ups and the downs.
4. Water and Mud Yep, there’s water in them thar hills. You might encounter mud from rain or simply have to run through a creek. Whatever the case, shoes and socks get wet. Some shoes drain water (clear) better than others and some socks dry faster than others.
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5. Animals Bear, moose, squirrels, badgers, mountain lions, elk, deer, pronghorn, porcupines, skunk, snakes and countless other critters inhabit our great woodlands. At once they can be the koolest and scariest things you will see. Rarely does anyone get hurt or injured by animals but encounters ALWAYS make great stories.
6. Injuries There’s rarely a trail run where I do not draw a little blood and tweak a little something. I might cut myself on a branch, roll an ankle or fly head first. Although it sounds a bit disastrous, it’s not. Some races even have awards for most bloody.
7. Less Speed There are times where I’m working as hard as I can to cover 2.5 miles an hour. Time expectations have to change once you hit dirt and so does your preperation for carrying enough food and fuel over longer periods of time.
8. Beauty and community AH HA!! We’ve finally reached the payoff… and it’s a huge! It’s why people leave the road never to return. Trail running brings people together. You’ll find yourself helping one another instead of racing each other. World famous ultra runner Mike Morton stopped to give someone his headlamp which cost him time toward a possible world record in the 100 mile. It’s hard to explain but the history of trail running is one of community.
And, the beauty of the trail will win you over. I once power hiked up a mountain ridge thinking there was a outcropping of rocks, or a branch sticking up from the peak, only to find a huge golden eagle. It let me, and my partners, hang out for 5 minutes within 20 feet of him before majestically lifting off revealing his 6 foot wingspan.
Basically, get ready for a whole new universe; one that doesn’t disappoint.
Next time we’ll cover the tips and tricks for dealing with the above.
For a transition from the road to the trail try a Ragnar Trail race, the famous relay races have a new trail series.