I’m sure all of you have seen the minimal pack wearing, bright shiny shoes wearing, sport glasses and bandana having shirtless (a good portion of the time) trail runners galloping past most hikers on any given trail. By that opener, you could probably guess that I am no trail runner. I’m just not built for it, and I don’t have the love for it like some, but if challenged I will rise to the occasion.
Back in the spring, my buddy Rene invited me to a race called “Gaspin’ in the Aspen” up in Flagstaff, AZ, which will take place this weekend. Having plenty of time to prep, I accepted the invitation and signed up. As previously stated, I’m not a trail runner, but I’ll fill you in on a few secrets I’ve learned during the course of my short training period.
Secret 1: It takes only 3 skills to trail run: throttle control, obstacle tracking, and pushing through the pain!
Throttle Control – When I trail run, I try and keep a running pace going the entire time. When I hit a tough grade, I try to pull the throttle back as far as I can without actually slowing to a walk or hiking pace. It’s like climbing a hill in a “granny gear” (lowest gear) in your car… you may not be going fast, but you’re still making progress. With most people, even running in your “granny gear” is faster than a hiking pace in the long run. When you get to an easier grade or a downhill, you can open back up a little more or even crank her wide open.
Obstacle tracking – Keep a look out far ahead of you to know what the grade will be like and anticipate it. Use your energy efficiently and wisely, you don’t want to run wide open on a downhill if you have a steep ascent right after. At the same time, be sure to use your immediate scanning skills to make sure you don’t trip on a rock or root, or run yourself right off the trail to avoid an obstacle. Alternately scanning near and far constantly will keep you on your feet and knowing what is to come so you can keep your run going.
Push through the pain – You will get to a point where the grade seems to be too much to run it. Don’t give up! Keep pushing little by little, using your throttle control to ease the pace, and before you know it you’ll find yourself at the break. People are always underestimating their limits, and you’ll surprise yourself by digging deep and not backing down to the challenge!
Secret 2: There is no special gear.
You don’t need magical $200 shoes, or a backpack made from space-age materials, or shorts bright enough to need sunglasses just to look at. Just throw on a hiking boot or regular ol’ running shoe, grab your raggedy backpack from high school, put on the shorts you just mowed the lawn in yesterday, and get out there and get after it. Sure there are the $200 shoes designed specifically for trail running, and they do help a little, but at the end of the day it’s not the shoe that makes a trail runner. It’s taking the first step off the couch and onto the trail that gets you there (granted you’ll probably new lighter gear down the line if you really love trail running).
Just recently, I trekked up Camelback Mountain (Phoenix AZ), a pretty steep grade at 1000 feet altitude per mile, and put these a few of these secrets to the test. About ¾ of the way up in 105 degree heat I just plain ran out of steam and had to switch back to hiking. Nonetheless, throttling back and pushing through a few of the steeper parts really made all the difference in how I felt about the run overall. I never thought I’d make it even that far up the mountain running the entire way. Get out there and keep pushing the limits, you may surprise yourself!