Colorado trails harbor Flash-like athletes who have speed and agility like I had never seen until I actually lived here. I call them Trail Gazelles, and I aspire to be one.
I’m no stranger to jogging (read yogging). I grew up running at 5AM with my parents. Even though the sun wasn’t up, we’d slog through 80 degrees of heat and humidity, emerging with a feeling of accomplishment. And despite my living in Florida for 24 years, I’m also no stranger to hiking. I spent many of my summers tromping around the Appalachians or visiting Colorado to snag a 14er.
Little did I know that out here in the Wild West, runners and hikers had somehow morphed their sports into a brand new thing called Trail Running. My first encounter of a trail runner was likely on a 14er. I don’t remember which hill (I was obsessive last season and did way too many), but I will never forget the Gazelle. He came light-footing up the trail, barely out of breath, nearly-naked, 8oz of water in his palm strap, and had what appeared to be zero percent body fat. Damn. Please excuse my french, but if that isn’t the very definition of fitness, I don’t know what is (ok, there are a lot of other definitions – but this is mine).
As he sprinted passed me, I stepped to the side and watched him glide toward the summit. I sat Gasping for air, red faced, hunched over, and covered in sweat, but at that moment I decided that would be me one day. Last season didn’t get any better for me in terms of speed or ability – likely because I was only on trail during the weekends and didn’t workout or cross train during the week. I also ate like a college kid. But I digress. Last winter I started snowshoeing, learned to snowboard, began climbing indoors and started lifting. While this seemed to help with my overall fitness, I knew the true test would come when I actually put foot to trail.
I had no idea how to start. I didn’t really know anyone who trail ran and I didn’t even know what trails were suitable for beginners (again because my obsessiveness with 14ers the previous season prevented me from doing any other day hikes). Then I met someone who knew. He had started trail running to train for his extreme 14er schedule and was able to give me a plethora of helpful information to get me going.
These days I try to hit the trail once or twice a week for a yog. As a result, my speed both up and down 14ers or other weekend trails has increased substantially. Elevation doesn’t bother me like it did last season and my endurance is definitely stronger. I still half trudge, half “run” (I use quotations because what I do might still not be considered actual running) up most trails, but I’m pretty sure my trudge is getting lighter – or at least less trudgy.
I’ve put together a quick list of what I’ve learned so far, but I always welcome comments and feedback. I’m still just beginning.
So you want to try trail running?
1. Trail running shoes are super important, especially on the down hill. Many beginner trails are compact dirt and gravel, trail running shoes are designed to be extra sticky so you don’t lose your footing on the downhill like you might in regular athletic shoes. I used to fall all the time on the downhill (hiking and running) until I got trail runners. Now, whether hiking or running, I only wear my trail runners because of their grip. In my opinion, they also allow you to be more agile on the rocks.
- Gear Opinion: Thus far I’ve used Women’s Salomon Speedcross 3 and Merrell All Out Fuse. While I think the Solomon Speedcross are actually stickier over-all, the tread breaks down super fast so I’ve had to replace them earlier than anticipated. I’m currently hiking in the Merrell Fuse and love them. They have zero grip on ice or wet rock (at least for me, my balance isn’t the best), but really cling to the downhill gravel. Both are a bit more minimalist in nature, so beware of that too if you feel like you need more support.
2. The best place to start is a trail with gradual elevation. This way you limit the possibility of injury and can get a feel for how your gate, stance, and movement differs from the way you might hike. I run up and down a trail far differently than I hike. I’m not sure that’s true for everyone, but its best to find out the easy way, right? I started on a super steep trail and it almost scared me away from the sport for good. Almost ;-).
- Here are a few trails to try if you live near Denver, Boulder, or Golden:
Chautauqua Park: 1 and 2 Flatiron Trails Boulder (map location)
Chautauqua Park Trail Description
North Table Mountain Trail Head Golden (map location)
North Table Mountain Trail Description Note: this is challenging in the first bit of the trail. I use it for elevation gain practice.
3. The run, walk, run method seems to do the trick for me. Especially when I was first starting out (but even now to some extent), when I would run to complete fatigue and then not be able to complete the trail. So I started setting a timer and would run for three minutes, walk for one, and so on. I would modify based on how I was feeling in a certain day: some days I would run for five minutes and walk for thirty seconds, other days I would run for a minute and walk for two. For me, it is all about pushing so I get stronger, but listening to my body at the same time. After a while, I notice that I can run for a lot longer time periods and my recoup time is significantly shorter.
4. I carry a little water, but this is very much a “to each his own” situation. I only run trails that I know from experience I won’t need more than 16 oz of water. There are a lot of hydration systems out there – I hike and backpack with a water bladder and hose. I know other runners that prefer waistbands with bottles. But I can’t stand running with water on my back or my waist. I have yet to find anything worth suggesting, but am working on possibly developing a solution of my own. I’ll check back if I’m successful, ha! But for now, I just use a camelback bottle with a handle built in. It still isn’t ideal, and there are a lot of other products out there that I’m going to experiment with. I tend to super hydrate before a hike or run too – so I don’t start out dehydrated.