Top Ten Ways to Enjoy a Safe Trail Run
By Rick Morris
The frequent changes in incline, uneven footing, natural obstacles, always changing terrain, quickly changing weather conditions and seclusion of trail running makes it a fun, exhilarating and challenging activity. Those same characteristics that make trail running fun also add in some hazardous elements that can make trail running a bit risky. No worries. With proper preparation and focus, your trail running can be both safe and fun. Here are our top ten ways to have a safe trail run.
Be a Weather Watcher
The weather can change quickly on the trail, especially when you’re running in the high country. Before you head out on your run, check the weather forecast and plan appropriately. To have a safe trail run, watch the weather during your run. If it looks like something is blowing in that you aren’t properly prepared for it’s time to bag it and head back to home base.
Having a safe trail run starts from the ground up. Trail running usually involves running over loose rock, gravel, sharp stones, roots and uneven surfaces. To protect yourself from injury you should be wearing trail running shoes that give your feet the traction and additional protection they need in those conditions. Run with a trail running pack and throw in a water resistant jacket just in case a storm blows through.
Stuff happens during trail running. Be prepared. Throw a small first aid kit in your trail running pack as well as some emergency gear, such as a compass, map, signal whistle, duct tape for gear repairs and an emergency blanket.
Don’t ever hit a secluded trail without letting someone know where you’re going. Toss your cell phone in your trail running pack so you can call for help if something unforeseen should happen
One of the most common hazards of trail running is the uneven footing and trail obstacles. Look about 8 to 10 feet ahead of yourself when running on the trail. You will be able to plan your route and foot strikes ahead of time and avoid potential trips and falls.
When you run on the road you can get away with zoning out a bit. You can listen to music or lose yourself with some introspective thinking. That isn’t a good idea when trail running. The trails have drop offs, blind corners, loose footing and trail hazards that can come up on you very quickly. If you aren’t paying attention you may run off the trail rather than over it. Stay focused on the trail and your stride at all times. You’ll avoid a potential trip to the emergency room.
Part of proper running form on any type of terrain includes taking quick, compact and light strides. This component of running mechanics is especially crucial when train running. Stay light on your feet and try for a stride rate of 90 full strides or 180 steps per minute or more.
Know Thy Course
Before you head out on a running trail you aren’t familiar with it’s a good idea to study a trail map or get the advice of a fellow trail runner that has navigated the trail. Try to learn the elevation and incline changes. Learn the distances between landmarks. Familiarize yourself with the terrain of the trail so you know what to expect and can plan accordingly.
Always carry a bit of spare fuel with you, even if you’re planning a short trail outing. Energy bars and gels are not only easy to carry but will supply you with some quick energy if needed. That spare fuel will come in especially handy if you end up running longer than you intended. Always carry a bit more hydration than you think you may need. The backwoods is not place to run into the dehydration monster.
Train for the Trail
Many backcountry trails are real ankle biters. The abrupt changes in terrain and incline as well as the frequently encountered roots, rocks and loose gravel can cause ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, shin splints and a whole slew of other lower extremity injuries. You can’t change the trail, but you can change how your feet and legs react to those hazards. Include lower leg strengthening exercises in your weekly program and you will be able to tame that trail running beast.