Have you been interested in trying out trail running? Ringing in the New Year is a great time to commit to getting some time on the trail. Here are some tips to help you make it happen!
Why trail running?
Trail running offers a respite from the busy pace of the day to day. Cocooned momentarily from the rest of responsibilities the trail can offer runners a sense of peace and clarity. The very act of trail running often requires you to be totally present in the moment between focusing on your path and ensuring you are staying on the trail. If you are a runner that feels pressured to hit certain paces the trail is a good place for you to momentarily let go of that since the terrain is typically more diverse than roads and the trail naturally slows you down.
Aside from the mental benefits of trail running there are physical considerations as well. Running on trails recruits more stabilizer muscles than road or treadmill running. This makes it effective strength training for the roadrunner that is looking to mix up their workout and incorporate hills. An additional benefit is the reduced pounding effect compared to running on concrete or asphalt. I recently completed a tough, hilly 50- mile trail race and walked better after that than after some of my road marathons.
Trying anything new as an adult always seems to be accompanied by some type of fear and trail running is no different. Typical concerns are falling, animals on the trail and unknown people on the trail. These concerns are both understandable and valid. My biggest tip for a new trail runner is to run with someone. This is helpful for a variety of reasons particularly for the fear of animals and other people on the trail. It’s important to note that animal attacks are very, very uncommon but you should be knowledgeable about the animals in your area and how to respond if you see them. Some runners choose to carry mace in case of a close encounter.
As a trail runner you will fall. Luckily, the dirt path you are likely running on is pretty forgiving. Personally, I have fallen at least 40 times while trail running yet I never sustained an injury from it. Eventually, my mind and body learned in sync to pick up my feet more and to attend to where I was placing my feet. Every single trail runner I’ve meet has fallen multiple times. It’s going to happen and you’ll be okay. If you are running with others ensure you are at least a body length behind them so that you don’t take them down if you fall.
Like any sport you can get lost in all of the gear options available. For your first few trail runs keep it simple. Bring a hydration pack or a handheld water bottle with you even for short distances on the trail since the energy output may be greater than expected. If you are planning on running over an hour (remember to account for a slower pace!) consider bringing some kind of fueling source with you. For our local trails you can hold off on purchasing $100+ trail shoes until you know you want to continue trail running. The other big item to bring to a Louisiana trail: bug spray.
There are three areas regularly frequented by local trail runners:
- Acadiana Park off of Louisiana Avenue boasts over 6 miles of trails. The trails are open during daylight hours only.
- Chicot State Park in Ville Platte, Louisiana features a 20- mile trail loop. This is a great spot to get in long runs or shorter runs with an out and back. The drive from Acadiana to the park takes about an hour.
- Kisatchie National Forest, which has 5 ranger districts, is spread out from central to north Louisiana. 3 trails in particular are popular for trail running: Sandstone Trail (31 mile loop), Wild Azalea Trail (27 mile point to point), and the Kincaid Loop Trail (9 mile loop). Driving distance varies from 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours depending on the trail. There are even more trails than the ones listed above in the Kisatchie National Forest. I recommend exploring them all.
If you’ve read my column for a while you know that trail running has brought much joy and peace to my life as well as taken me to amazingly beautiful places to run trails throughout the country. These rewards were only available to me after taking my first timid steps onto the trail in the first place. Trying new things can be scary but that’s were the living part of life happens.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me via risingfawnblog.com. Happy Trails!