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Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring Break Outdoor Shenanigans

My girls had Spring Break last week, so I spent the last several days trying to keep them off the screens and out of the house as much as possible. It never ceases to amaze me how much their moods improve once I get them outside.

Trials = Happy Faces!
We live less than a ten-minute drive to some of the most beautiful mountain trails, so last week we braved the rain and mud and went for a few-mile hike paired with my daughters' first trail running experience. While they are no strangers to hiking, we have never actually taken them trail running before because for some reason I thought it'd be too much for them. I was wrong.

Yes... their shoes are almost as big as mine. 
The trail is steep, so we hiked to the topmost part then carefully ran through the slippery mud on the way back. My girls loved it and seemed to find it as fun and enjoyable as I do.

While I was raised hiking most weekends by my outdoorsy parents, I never tried trail running until I joined my high school cross country team. Of course, with an undiagnosed heart issue I was a terrible runner, and I found the trails particularly challenging but intriguing. A couple years ago when I joined a running group, though, one of the coaches took me out onto the very trail pictured above and talked me through how to survive running through the mountains. I've been hooked since.

Recently, someone asked for advice because she is considering trail running. I gave her my two cents, but after thinking about it, I have a lot more to add. Here's a short list of some valuable lessons I have learned:

  1. Start slowly. Don't worry about how long it takes to complete each mile. You might run an 8-minute road mile and a 14-minute trail mile, and that's okay. Give yourself permission to run slowly. If you feel great halfway through, then you can pick up the pace. 
  2. Be a little over-prepared. Sometimes that 7-mile run turns into an 11-mile run. Always bring extra water, some bandaids, and an energy gel or bar.
  3. Hike the uphills. There's no reason to torture yourself. Hiking up those hills can be faster than trying to run up them while preserving your energy and keeping your heart rate reasonable.
  4. Get a backpack-style or an around-the-hip hydration pack. I love my handheld water bottle, but having the water attached to my body is so much more comfortable when I'm on the trails. It also leaves my hands free for when I stumble or need to hold onto a branch for stability. 
  5. There's no shame in needing a buddy. Some people love solo mountain running. That's awesome. I am not that person. I'm a total scaredy-cat and feel much safer with other humans nearby, even if it's just my two daughters. I'm more afraid of people than anything the mountains have to offer, but I really believe there is no shame in recruiting a running buddy.
  6. Take smaller steps. This is a good running tip in general, but I find it to be critical when trail running. Keeping your feet under your body is especially helpful in maintaining balance on rocky, uneven ground.
  7. Know the trail before you go. Map out that trail before you venture into the woods. Save a photo of the map on your phone in case you get lost mid-run. It happens to the best of us.
  8. Tell a friend where you plan to run. Safety 101. Obviously. 
  9. Trail shoes aren't a necessity. Don't get me wrong, I love my trail running shoes; they're more rugged, have better grip, and handle mud well. However, it's okay to run trails in your normal running shoes, too. If I'm running a trail race or longer route, I wear my trail shoes. If I'm only running a few miles, I often opt for a pair of running shoes I'm about to retire. They're usually a little more supportive and cushy. 
  10. Wear wool socks. I've made the mistake of wearing regular running socks on trails multiple times, and I always want to kick myself when I do. When it's 30-something degrees and you step in a puddle of near-freezing mud and water, your numb feet will spend the remainder of the run screaming at you. When you plow through a small creek because there is no other alternative, those Smartwool socks will maintain their shape and keep your feet from blistering. Been there, done that, learned my lesson. Just trust me on this.
  11. Respect your comfort zone, but don't be afraid to challenge it. I find trails to be a unique opportunity to trust myself to go further and harder than I've ever considered going. There's a good chance that I'll sign up for a mountain marathon before doing a road one simply because I feel less afraid to challenge myself on trails than I do on the road. 
  12. Pause and enjoy the ride. Trail running is beautiful. I've ran through rainforests and deserts, and both are equally rewarding. When fatigue begins to settle in, I love to give myself a boost by slowing down, drinking some water, and taking in the beautiful surroundings. 
Me in my happy place.
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