I don’t lack for running partners. As one of the lead members of the TAUR organization I’m pretty recognizable on the trails. My circle of running friends and acquaintances has grown to a number greater than I can count. And yet, often times I still find myself running alone. Whether due to conflicting schedules or a desire to have some time to myself, recently I’ve found that I have done most of my runs solo.
I don’t mind, I never have. I value the solitude that running alone offers. With just the sound of my feet as they move across the dirt and over rocks, I find the time I spend in my own head relaxing and meditative. I can run for hours alone in the mountains without music or any other type of distraction. Connecting with nature and my surroundings is what draws me there in the first place, so I value the time I have in building that relationship stronger.
Running alone can be a bit of an art form, however. Not everyone can or is comfortable doing it. For many who do it is a result of having no other option because they don’t have running partners. Others choose not to, simply because they fear the trails or what’s around them. That lack of understanding creates apprehension and a fear that results in avoiding running trails. Hopefully, the following tips will help you overcome your own fears and allow you to enjoy being where your heart truly lies, on the trails.
1. Turn down the noise – there is nothing wrong with running to music or an electronic book. It’s a good way to distract from the punishment you are putting on your body. However, that noise can also mask other sounds, such as wildlife, mountain bikers, or even other runners coming from behind. Getting startled by someone or something (or even the thought of having someone back there) creates a fear that lingers on future runs. If you want to listen to music, fine, but turn it down or take out one of your ear buds. It doesn’t need to be blaring when you are on the trails, the noise in your ears isn’t competing with anything else, except your own focus.
2. Be happy in your own head – when on trails you are truly alone. There are no cars, pedestrians, or other traffic to keep you company. And music, even when running alone on trails, will only keep you distracted so long. Learn to enjoy the time you have in your own head. Allow your mind to wonder or turn it off all together. Today’s society has created an environment where most people don’t know how to be alone (being alone in your house watching TV doesn’t count). Most people don’t know themselves and aren’t comfortable in their own mind. Learn to love that solitude and the opportunity it provides for you to get to know yourself better. My wife often asks me what I think about when I run for hours alone in the mountains without music. I never have an answer for her because I never really remember. Usually, a thousand different things go through my mind during that time, most of which isn’t significant enough to remember. But I value all of it and am grateful for the relationship I have with myself. Find that for yourself and you’ll discover a peacefulness you never knew you could have.
3. Understand nature – as previously mentioned, fear of the unknown is probably the most common reason for people to avoid trail running. Take the time to get to know where you’re running. If there are predatory animals, learn about them. Know their behavior patterns and how to react to them if you encounter one on the trail. What most people don’t know is that wildlife behavior is more often than not, predictable and somewhat controllable. Even the minimalist amount of research will better prepare you for the unknown and help you build confidence in your new found passion. If other factors present the greater risk know how to deal with those. Whether those are associated to weather, trail conditions, or just a bunch of weirdos squatting in the woods, know where you’re going and be prepared to deal with those situations.
4. Be prepared – the Boy Scouts have had this motto since they started more than 100 years ago. No other saying applies more aptly than to trail and ultra running. First, tell people where you are going and how long to expect you to be gone. Second, use technology. If you have cell coverage, take your phone. If not, try purchasing a SPOT tracker or other GPS trackable device. While pricey, they are a guaranteed way for your family and friends to know where you are at all times. Third, take bear spray or mace. Both come in easy-to-carry containers and will deter pretty much anything that crosses your path. NOTE: bear spray is 98% effective against bears and other wildlife. Guns are only 60%. Food for thought.
5. Keep your head up – the biggest risk you run when running on trails isn’t being eaten by a mountain lion or snatched up by some psycho, it’s falling down and getting hurt with no one there to help you get to safety. Chances of dying due to exposure outweigh those of dying by wildlife by more than 10 times (chances of dying by exposure are still only 1 in 3.8 million). Keep your head up when you run, not down at your feet. Keeping your eyes focused 10-12 feet ahead of you on the trail decreases the risk of tripping. Even if you aren’t looking at your feet, they will know where to land. Knowing what’s coming gives your body more time to react and thus reducing the risk.
The more time spent running trails alone the more you’ll realize that the biggest risk you have to fear is that created within your own mind. With experience comes confidence. Start out slow, be safe, take precautions, and you’ll find you have a long-term love affair with running solo in nature.
Share your thoughts and experiences in our Comments section. Maybe you have ideas that haven’t been shared in this article.