Hitting the Dirt

Here I am post-race, where the terrain was a bit more picturesque compared to the scary wooded trail.

Here I am post-race, where the terrain was a bit more picturesque compared to the scary wooded trail.

Let’s be honest: Running isn’t the most gentle form of exercise you can give your body. The impact on your joints can be brutal (tell that to my right knee!). But alas there is a bit of solace you can give your joints. If you haven’t tried it yet, give trail running and off-road runs a go.

I competed in my first trail run this past weekend. It was wild. While my pace suffered a bit, my knees thank me for the change-up. Here’s a few things I learned in my first-ever trail run:

PAY ATTENTION
Depending on the course you run, there are going to be loads of obstacles that you won’t encounter on a road run. In my 5K at Amelia Earhart Park in Miami this past weekend, I nearly tripped over fallen tree branches, large roots and loose rock. Combined that with the inevitable fatigue you’re going to feel as you try to complete the race, and it could be a recipe for a fall if you’re not alert.

The Amelia Earhart Park course was actually on a mountain bike path, so there were lots of steep inclines and declines, making for a pretty interesting run. A good part of trail runs are that they are generally well shaded with tree-lined trails, saving you from facing the tormenting sun.

Here's a snapshot of a section of the trail run at Amelia Earhart Park.

Here’s a snapshot of a section of the trail run at Amelia Earhart Park.

BRING THE RIGHT SHOES
The same shoes you wear for the road probably won’t do the job on a trail run. For the same reasons mentioned in the above subsection, shoes could be your saving grace. With all the sliding you’re going to do on the unstable dirt paths, it’s important to wear shoes that have good grip support as well as give you needed balance and stability.

Trail shoes are great because they are making them lighter and lighter these days while still durable and capable of handling those rocky dirt paths. The treads on trail shoes provide great grip and traction, and there’s usually a tough bumper at the top of the toe, to protect your feet from bruising.

CHANCES ARE YOU WON’T RUN A PR IN A TRAIL RACE
I added about 3:30 to my mile pace when running on the trail versus road. That number could be due to several reasons (including poor training on my part!), but generally speaking, you won’t be achieving any personal record on a trail run. A lot of time gets added when taking into account those hills you’ll climb, the recovery you need after the climb and decline, rounding those corners and such.

Running a trail course is like going off-road biking or driving: You’re going to have to change your gears. A lot. It can get to be a very technical sport. So that means you can’t expect the speediest of finishes, no matter how much horsepower you’re carrying.

PICK YOUR MOMENTS TO PASS
Trail races tend to have narrow paths, so when you’re racing out from the start line, there’s a huge bottleneck at the front gates, with loads of runners trying to get through the skinny lane. Just like a race car driver, pick your points where you can safely pass another runner without injuring him or her (or yourself) along the way.

BRING BUG SPRAY
And don’t be shy about using it! Trail runs tend to be in wooded areas where mosquitoes and other bugs love to reside. There was one point right after the race, when I was waiting for my friends, that I literally saw a swarm of bugs hovering over my legs. Thank goodness the spray warded my legs from bites.

With my limited experience running on trails, I have to admit that I loved it. It’s a great change-up from my usual routine of road running, and no doubt a nice respite from the pounding I put on my knees. With the course being more technical than any road race I’ve done, I loved challenging myself to these new obstacles.

What about you? What do you think about road running versus trail? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Somehow I managed to stand atop the podium in my first-ever trail run. I'll take a win any way I can get it!

Somehow I managed to stand atop the podium in my first-ever trail run. I’ll take a win any way I can get it!

I officially clocked in a 39:14 (but I didn't stop my watch in time), far from a great 5K pace. Oh, those trails add so much time!

I officially clocked in a 39:14 (but I didn’t stop my watch in time), far from a great 5K pace. Oh, those trails add so much time!

Here I am in the middle of two champion runners who finished the half-marathon trail race. Congrats to them on their monstrous feat!

Here I am in the middle of two champion runners who finished the half-marathon trail race. Congrats to them on their monstrous feat!

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