This is material for a class I am teaching on Tuesday. It’s only the third time I’m teaching the class. The first time went okay, considering it was the first class. The second was lame. I’m determined to make the third better by being more prepared and providing as much information as I can.
WHY TRAIL RUNNING?
Most people start out running on roads, if for no other reason than convenience.
Pros of Road:
- Convenience of walking out your front door and start running.
- Level surface means you can run with your eyes closed. (But don’t!)
- Better lighting means you can possibly get away running later without a headlamp. (But not recommended.)
Cons of Road:
- Unforgiving surface will make your knees and your body pay for it.
- Traffic. Drivers do dumb things, why put yourself in danger?
- Boring. You might as well run on a treadmill.
So what makes trail running better than roads?
Pros of Trail running:
- Slower paced because the terrain often limits how fast you can go.
- Softer surface and/or varied terrain means less repetitive stress on your joints. Also recruits wider variety of muscles.
- No traffic, peace and quiet which allows you to think and enjoy nature.
- Natural scenery and wildlife are integral part of the outdoor experience.
- Requires being in the moment which pushes out all the pressures and anxieties of modern life, if only temporarily.Cons of Trail:
- Usually have to drive to trail unless you are fortunate enough to live near one.
- Snakes? Sometimes there are snakes.
- Terrain is more challenging, which can be hard to navigate. And hills are often present.You might not be able to get to the trail for every run, and that’s okay.
- Fit: It doesn’t matter how “great” a shoe is, if it doesn’t fit properly, it won’t perform as well as it should. What is a “proper” fit? Usually, we recommend a thumbs width between the end of your longest toe to the end of the shoe. People often think that the shoe should be snug so that the foot doesn’t “slide around.” This belief leads them to wear shoes that are too small, which leads to blisters and bruised toes. Undersizing may be acceptable for casual wear, but for trail running, you want that space for your toes. And just because you’ve been one size for a long time, always try a half size larger. Your feet change as you age.
- Trail vs road shoes: Trail shoes have better traction. They have deeper lugs whereas road shoes are flat and smooth. The majority of trail shoes are neutral shoes. There are very few stability shoes since trail terrain is irregular. Trail shoes may be waterproof, whereas road shoes typically are not.
- Minimal cushioning (Toe shoes) vs maximal cushioning (Hoka): Minimal shoes allow you to feel the ground under your feet, which can be good or bad depending on how careful you are. Maximal shoes protect your feet and allow you to run over everything at the cost of sensitivity to the ground.
- Life Span of shoes: There is no definitive mileage, but both trail and road shoes have a limited life span of roughly 300 – 500 miles. Several factors to consider: Is it your only running shoe or do you have several pairs that you rotate through? Do you use the shoe ONLY for running or do you also use it as an everyday shoe? Your weight – heavier runners will wear out shoes faster than a lighter runner. Keeping track of how many miles you put on your shoes will help you from getting injured. Often, shoes past their mileage will cease to provide the support and will begin to cause pain in your feet and/or legs. If you have any pains that have gradually appeared, a new pair of shoes may fix that. A good thing to do is to bring in your old shoes and compare them to a new pair, and then you can feel what a “dead” shoe feels like. Just because the upper still looks nice doesn’t mean the shoe is still doing its job.
- Drop: Whats the big deal about “drop?” The drop is the difference in the height of the heel relative to the height of the forefoot. A 12 mm heel with a 4mm forefoot equals a 8mm drop. Altra shoes are zero drop – the heel and the forefoot are the same height. The drop can affect your Achilles tendon, so be cautious when making big changes in drop.
- Lacing. Learn alternate methods of tying laces in order to cope with certain issues. For example, a Runner’s knot can help secure heel from slipping, what else…
- Variety: It’s good to switch up your footwear so that the muscles in your feet get some variation. Also, some shoes may be better for different things: a less cushioned shoe for speed work vs a heavily cushioned shoe for long distance, deep lugs for technical terrain vs average lugs or even road shoes for manicured terrain. Also don’t be afraid to try different brands. You may find that you like this other brand more than you thought. However, if you have special or particular needs, or if you’ve tried “everything” and nothing seems to work, when you find something that works, stick with it.
- Inserts: You might be one of those people that need inserts to survive. If you feel like you need more arch support, start wearing the inserts a few hours per day, gradually increasing the time over a period of a week or so. You are not likely to get instant relief, you may have to “train” your feet to this new posture. As a person with very flat feet, I don’t know what to say about the need for arch support. I remember years ago I bought a pair of Tsubos. Never heard of the brand before, just bought them because they looked cool. I wore them at work where I was on my feet all day and they felt great. I tried researching them to see why they were so great but there was nothing on the website that explained it. I realize now it was basically a barefoot shoe. I got used to wearing that, my feet got stronger, and now I never have any arch issues. But then some people get relief from inserts, so your mileage may vary
- Socks: Ditch your cotton socks! Cotton holds moisture against your skin, which is a prime ingredient for blisters. Use a natural fiber like merino wool or mohair that will wick away moisture from your skin and keep your feet dry. Or choose a synthetic like Drymax or similar. If you’re doing a long run, or are particularly prone to blisters, consider using a toe sock as a liner. This helps prevent toe on toe friction. Consider different sock weights for different temperatures. Lightweight or ultralight for hot temps and heavier weights for cold temps. Choose a sock that covers at least the ankle bone to keep out small rocks and dirt.
- Gaiters: Gaiters help keep rocks, sand and dirt from entering your shoes and socks. They are especially helpful in long distance races. If the gaiter has a stirrup, be sure you have a heel or clear space on the outsole for the stirrup to sit in, otherwise you’ll wear the strap out. Some shoes come with a tab in the heel to velcro your gaiter in place. A good online source for simple and relatively inexpensive gaiters is Dirtygirlgaiters.com
- Calf sleeves: It’s not a proven fact, but calf sleeves are supposed to help reduce muscle fatigue and improve circulation for speedier recovery. The effectiveness may be just placebo effect, but they definitely protect your legs from sotol at Bandera.
- Arm sleeves: Great for when it’s chilly at the start of a run until you warm up. They can also be worn to protect your skin from UV rays.
- Shorts: Shorts typically have built in briefs, some have compression. Compression helps prevent chafing during long runs. Most shorts have pockets for keys and/or multiple gels.
- Shirts: Technical fabrics wick moisture. Lighter colors reflect heat and darker colors absorb heat. Avoid wearing new shirts on long runs until you know they won’t chafe.
- Hats: Baseball caps are the most common. During peak sunlight hours in the summer, consider a hat with a wide brim. It creates more shade and protects the back of your neck.
- Sunglasses: Obviously they keep the sun out of your eyes, but they also protect your eyes from dust, sand, and branches- this is especially important if you wear contact lenses.