Addicted to Trail Running

Yes, I’m becoming addicted to trail running. The interesting thing about the journey my life has taken since I did my first triathlon back in ’07 is that I keep looking at certain things and thinking “I’m never going to do that, that’s crazy” and then the next thing you know I’m doing it and can’t imagine going back. Of course triathlon was the major one seeing as how prior to getting into it I had never run over a mile in my life, had never road biked, and hadn’t done any serious swimming since leaving the neighborhood swim team when I was 10.

About two years ago a guy moved into our neighborhood who does 100-mile runs–in the mountains. To me, that seemed crazy. I mean sure, that’d be awesome if I could do that, but there’s no way, right? Doing a marathon was a major ordeal for me. Then I read Born to Run and doing longer runs didn’t seem quite so crazy. But it wasn’t until last Friday that the mental switch got flipped.

A few months ago I tried running on some trails here in Draper, Utah. Just short stuff. I liked it, but…well, I didn’t keep it up. Then Altra Shoes sent me a pair of their Lone Peak model to try out, and since it really is marketed as a trail running shoe I felt like I should try some more trail runs. And I got into the lottery for the St. George Marathon, or won the lottery, I guess I should say, so I started doing longer and longer runs. I’ve heard the St. George course has a bit of downhill, so I thought some trail running would give my quads a good workout in preparation for that.

At first running on the trails was really hard. I mean, it’s bad enough running on flat ground, but uphill, with tree roots and rocks? My “runs” were more like hikes, and then what seemed like a too-fast descent. But a few weeks ago I did a 5-up, 5-down trail run. The uphill part didn’t seem so bad anymore. When I got 5 miles into the run, I was at the top of a mountain. Well, sort of. A very large hill, let’s say. But I was amazed, nonetheless. There’s a road you can drive to the same spot, and I never would have dreamed of running up that road. But doing it on a trail that ended up in the same place didn’t seem like too big a deal. And I had to admit it was much more interesting running on a trail than on a road or even an asphalt running trail. The weaving, jumping, and the shade…oh, the nice, cool shade, crossing streams, the mountain breezes…and the views. It was pretty nice.

Then I ran 5 miles downhill, my quads almost gave out by the time I got to the bottom, and I was pretty sore for a few days afterward. But I was still hooked.

But the next time I went out for a long run I thought “I better stick to the flat asphalt trails, don’t want to overdo it in the mountains.” So I did a long run on the trail, almost dying by the end of the 20 miles. Luckily a lot of people have fruit trees overhanging walls and fences and I helped myself to a meal of apples, grapes, and peaches as I ran. But it wasn’t fun. This last Friday I decided to do my 20-mile long run on the trails in the mountains, so I went out and yes, I did a lot of hiking rather than running, but I got in a lot of running as well, and it was easier than the last 10 mile run. And my quads weren’t all that sore the day of nor in the days afterward. For the first time I felt like doing a 50K on trails and perhaps working up to a 50-miler might not be all that bad. I’m pretty sure the St. George Marathon is going to be cake after how well the 20-mile mountain trail went.

In a counter-intuitive sort of way, trail running has turned out to be easier than running on roads or asphalt trails down in the city. Part of it is surely mental. You have to pay attention to where you’re stepping so your mind doesn’t have as much time to focus on the pain in your legs. A part of it is surely physical. Because no two steps are alike when running on mountain trails your muscles aren’t getting the same, constant, repetitive motions, which I think helps your muscles last a bit longer, at least once they get used to it. I also feel like while the downhill impact seems greater, it isn’t. I feel like running on a dirt trail is almost softly padded compared to running on asphalt. You could tell me studies show that running on asphalt is better than running on dirt trails, but I’d have a hard time believing it based on my anecdotal experience. I don’t know if it’s necessarily that the trail is any softer, but perhaps the way I run on trails causes me to use my joints to cushion the impact more so than when I run on asphalt, giving the illusion of the trail being more padded, although also providing the same benefits as though the trail really were more padded (i.e. less impact force on joints).

After the upcoming marathon in a few weeks I’m planning on doing more trail running, yes, through the winter. And perhaps my next event will be a 50K.

And by the way, yes, I am loving the Altras. I do have to run with socks because there’s a slight rubbing on my insole that caused a blister when I tried running barefoot, so I wouldn’t use the Lone Peak Altra as a triathlon shoe, but I’m loving it as a trail running/long distance running shoe.