The Wasatch 100 is my ultimate goal race. I know that it is probably still a few years away for me because of the training time commitment due to the 26,000 feet of elevation gain and time cutoffs. The starting line for Wasatch is less than five miles from my house. I ran four miles on the trail (Bonneville Shoreline Trail) this morning. I have missed trail running throughout the winter, and I’m excited to be able to get up there and train on the BST again. Nothing compares to running the single track. It ignites an unbounded joy within me. My fingers brush the leaves as I pass. I skip through the river, splashing water with childlike enthusiasm. I laugh out loud because I feel so free and fortunate to be able to connect with the earth one foot at a time.
I was surprised to see so many other women runners on the trail this morning. Usually, all I see are dudes on mountain bikes and male runners. I love to see other women out there, becoming stronger and playing in the dirt.
Trail running takes practice. The more you jump rocks and descend crazy slopes the better you are going to get. That being said, there are some things you can start with. When you are running uphill don’t tip your hips forward or back too much. Try to keep things straight up and down, keeping your chest up and open. Shorten your stride and pump your arms. Stay up on your toes as much as you can. Sometimes the mountain is so steep it is faster to walk. If that is the case, don’t waste all the energy trying to run it, you look silly anyway as hikers pass you as you try to power up the hill.
Going down can be more difficult in some ways. You want to lean into the forward momentum. You will slip out less if you keep your weight on your toes on steep descents. Landing on your heel is like putting the brakes on. It causes jarring all the way up your body. Keep your stride short and fast. If there are a lot of rocks, keep them really short and fast. Put your arms or elbows out for balance. I try to keep my hands empty on crazy descents. That way if I fall I don’t have to search for whatever I chucked or replace what I break.
Whenever you are trail running you want to watch the ground in front of you about two feet and then farther down about 10-15 feet, so you know what is coming. Make sure and give yourself enough time to get your run in. Trail running takes longer because of the climbs and more technical terrain, especially when you are first starting out.
Road shoes work fine on non-technical trails, but if you are going to be doing a lot of trail running or there are steep climbs or descents you may want to invest in some trail shoes. Always tell others where you will be and what time you intend to be back.
If you run trails, you are going to run into animals and bugs. There will be other runners with dogs, horses, deer, foxes, moose, buffalo, snakes, and possibly more dangerous animals such as mountain lions and bears. Mountain bikers probably fit in here somewhere too.
Best advice I can give is to be aware of what could be out there and then to pay attention. Make some noise out there on the trail, talking, and bells if bears are a serious risk, or sing. Occasionally I will just say something aloud just to hear my voice. It’s kind of weird. I also carry pepper spray, extra flashlight and a whistle when I am on the trail. Most of the time you are going to scare off whatever is lurking and only see its tail end, if anything. If you do see something and don’t scare it away, immediately slow down. If it is a predator, make yourself look big, make loud noises, get the pepper spray out, and look around for a big stick. Do not run. Back away slowly from the animal, get off the trail, and warn any other person you see going up there.
It is good to have someone with you, but I know this is not always possible and you still want to be out there. Just do what you can to protect yourself and be prepared. Not having a running partner prevented me from running trails for a while, but I realized that the roads pose just as much risk if not more than the trails.
Be smart and run happy!