Intro To Trail Running Class @ REI

This is a work in progress and I will continue to modify this as I learn more. I welcome any comments or questions, suggestions, corrections, etc.

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.

Hi, my name is Edward. I’ve been running about 10 years. My running was unstructured and sporadic. I did shorter races, relay races and a few marathons. For whatever reason, I signed up for Bandera 50K in 2013. I didn’t know any other trail runners. One day I ran into a guy on the trail and he told me about a group called the Rockhoppers. I started running with them and learned so much from the group. My running took off – 50K turned into 50 miles, which turned into 100K and then finally 100 miles. It took awhile to recover from that first 100. It took even longer to want to do another. But I did, and it was a little easier. 2016 was a big year for me with 10 races, 4 of which were 100 milers. My goal for 2017 is to do at least 4 again. It’s funny because at the start of every race, I am filled with a sense of dread about the suffering that lies ahead. But once I cross the finish line, the immense sense of satisfaction of having completed another race makes it worth it.
Jan          Bandera 100K                      12:23
Feb         Rocky 100M                          20:05
Mar        Pandora’s Box 52.4M         10:41
Apr         Zion 100M                             26:28
Jun         North Fork 50M                   11:27
Jun         Captn Karl’s 60K                   7:07
Aug        Habanero 100M                   26:09
Sep        Franklin Mountain 50K       8:48
Sep         J&J 50M                                   12:43
Nov       Wild Hare 50M                        9:23
Dec        Brazos Bend 100M               23:05


Most people start out running on roads, if for no other reason than convenience.

Pros of Road:

  1. Convenience of walking out your front door and start running.
  2. Level surface means you can run with your eyes closed. (But don’t!)
  3. Better lighting means you can possibly get away running later without a headlamp. (But not recommended.)

Cons of Road:

  1. Unforgiving surface will make your knees and your body pay for it.
  2. Traffic. Drivers do dumb things, why put yourself in danger?
  3. Boring. You might as well run on a treadmill.

So what makes trail running better than roads?

Pros of Trail running:

  1. Slower paced because the terrain often limits how fast you can go.
  2. Softer surface and/or varied terrain means less repetitive stress on your joints. Also recruits wider variety of muscles.
  3. No traffic, peace and quiet which allows you to think and enjoy nature.
  4. Natural scenery and wildlife are integral part of the outdoor experience.
  5. Requires being in the moment which pushes out all the pressures and anxieties of modern life, if only temporarily.Cons of Trail:
  1. Usually have to drive to trail unless you are fortunate enough to live near one.
  2. Snakes? Sometimes there are snakes.
  3. 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.
So now let’s hear about you guys!
Q: What’s your name and how long have you been running?
Q: Are you running currently? How often and where?
Q: Why do you want to trail run?
Q: What aspect(s) of trail running are you most interested in learning about?
Q: Do you have a running goal?
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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…
  7. 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.
  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4.  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.
  5. 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.
Handhelds vs packs: You’ll probably start out with just a handheld. There are several sizes to choose from, from 8 oz to 24 oz. Typically, handhelds are good for shorter runs. Usually there’s a pocket that can hold a gel or your keys. Not uncommon to have two handhelds for races. They can make your arms tired, but they can also break your fall if you go down. As your runs get longer, or you run in more remote locations, then consider a pack. Packs allow you to carry more water, calories, keys, phone, jacket, headlamp, Brazilian soccer team. However, packs will make your back sweaty. When you fill your bladder, any trapped air allows the water to slosh back and forth and this is SUPER ANNOYING. Not just for you, but for everyone you’re running with, so squeeze out all the air from the bladder! You shouldn’t hear your water. A magnetic clasp for your hose is a life saver. Get one!
Trekking poles: If you are doing something with a lot of elevation gain and/or descent, consider using trekking poles. These help take some strain off your legs by letting your arms do some of the work. They also provide more stability for treacherous terrain. They are very easy to get the hang of, but practice using them before your event. There are at least two ways to hold them to prevent hand fatigue. Get a pair, not just one! When our group did the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim, I used trekking poles for the first time and they were a tremendous help on the climbs and the descents.
Hydration: For runs up to an hour or less, you may be able to get by with little to no liquids, unless its very hot. Drink to thirst, but don’t overdo it. Over hydration can lead to hyponatremia, which is worse than dehydration. An easy way to judge hydration level is by the color of your urine: straw color or lighter = well hydrated, darker yellow = dehydrated. Using a sports drink can enhance performance. Many products provide electrolytes and salts to keep you going longer than plain water alone.
Gatorade vs Heed vs Nuun vs Tailwind.
Nutrition: For runs over two hours, you’ll want to have some form of calories to provide energy to keep you from bonking. “Bonking” may include slowing down, tiredness, dizziness, and feeling light headed. Gels, chews, and solids will keep your energy levels up. Aim for anywhere from 150 to 250 calories per hour, depending on your caloric needs. Consider splitting your calories versus taking them all at once. And typically follow with water or sports drink.
Gels are one of the most common ways to fuel: how to fold a gel with the sticky mess. Starting with the gooey torn end, fold the wrapper in on itself so that the gooey end is in the middle.
Recovery: After long runs or harder workouts, be sure to refuel with a quality protein. Chocolate milk is an easy to find option. (Promiseland Dairy is my favorite!) Hammer Recoverite, CLIF SHOT Recovery drink, PowerBar Recovery, and Ensure or Boost are some other options. Consume the drink within 30-45 minutes of your run for optimal protein synthesis.
Tracking your run: Whether you use your phone or a Garmin, it’s nice to know how far you’ve gone, and maybe some other stats.
iPhone, Android, Garmin, Suunto.
Faster music is great to get you moving fast for shorter periods of time.
Slower music is great to keep you going for longer periods, but at a slower pace.
The volume of the music can have a similar effect in that lower music is good for short intense periods, while a lower volume is good for slower extended periods. Regardless of what you are doing, when wearing earphones, be aware of your surroundings. You want to be able to hear cars, bikes, other runners, people, and animals.
Cell phone:
Cell phones are super handy to have with you for a variety of reasons, the first of which is safety. You can call for help if necessary. You can listen to your music, take photos along the way, and of course, track your run and post to social media.
Sometimes you may find yourself running the roads in the early morning or at night because of time constraints. If you know you’ll be out super early or past sunset, be prepared. A headlamp at minimum allows you to see, but red blinkies will help make you visible to motorists, cyclists and other runners. Running with a friend is always a good idea. Two people are easier for motorists to see, and you can watch out for each other. And in the event you get injured, your friend can get help.
Government Canyon / 12861 Galm Rd 78254 / (210) 688-9055. Open Friday through Monday, Closed Tuesday through Thursday. Gates open 7am – 10pm. $6 entry fee.
Leon Creek Greenway
Multiple access points / Open sunrise to sunset / Free
Salado Creek Greenway
Multiple access points / Open sunrise to sunset / Free
Hardberger Park
Multiple access points / Open sunrise to sunset / Free
Eisenhower Park / 19399 NW Military HWY San Antonio TX 78257 /
McAllister Park / 13102 Jones Maltsberger Rd / (210) 207-7275 / Open till 11 pm. Free.
Hill Country Natural Area / 10600 Bandera Creek Road, Bandera TX 78003 / (830)-796-4413. Office open daily 8am to 5 pm. $6.
The best training ground since there are two different Tejas Trails races held here. Lots of hills, and rocks, and sotol.
Babcock Powerlines / This is not a park, but is a good route to train on as there are several hills. You can park at the school on Babcock or on the side of the road by the green gates at the base of the first hill. Follows the access road for the power lines overhead, hence the name. From Babcock, it’s 3 miles out until you hit the fence and 3 miles back. Be sure to bring enough water.
      Different terrains, how to cope
      Gravel dirt rock sand scree
Chances are, you already know how to run. As a beginner, don’t worry too much about form. But you will probably hear people talk a lot about heel striking vs forefoot striking. What’s the big deal? Heel striking is when you land on your heel with each step. This isn’t ideal running form as it sends shock forces up your legs, not to mention that it slows you down. Heel striking is essentially running with the brakes on. Better form is found in mid foot or forefoot striking. I would be concerned only about heel striking. If you are a heel striker, I would focus on changing that, the sooner the better.
      What is it? Why is important? (Video of two different cadences)
      Hills: are speed workouts in disguise. Practicing on hills also builds mental strength, you don’t fear hills as much.
      Speed/intervals: these workouts are typically shorter in duration. You’ll want to warm up first, do your intervals and then cool down.
      Long: These will be the longest distance for the week done at a slow easy pace. Distance shouldn’t be more than 25% of your weekly mileage.
     Fartleks: “Speed play” Run fast to some arbitrary point and then slow down until the next point and repeat several times.
     Heat: Slow down! You shouldn’t try to run your “normal” pace when it’s really hot. You want to keep your heart rate in check. Hydrate, but don’t over hydrate. Over hydration can lead to hyponatremia. If you find shade along the trail, stop and walk in the shade. Run to the next spot of shade. Cover your neck, arms, legs,  Wear a wide brim hat. Use sunscreen liberally.
     Cold: Dont overdress. You want to be slightly chilly when you start. You’ll warm up and it’ll be like adding 20 degrees to outside temp. 50 degrees is the optimal running temperature. Also, just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you should  hydrate less.
     Rain: Its just water! A hat is essential to keep the rain out of your eyes. A light water resistant/ waterproof jacket is handy, especially if it’s cold and/or windy. Learn to run in the rain so when it’s unavoidable (like at a race) it’s not a big deal.
     Cars: Pay attention! Stay Alert! Be high visibility. Blinking lights help alert drivers.
     Bikes: Some trails are shared with mountain bikers. (OP Schnabel, Government Canyon, etc.)
     Peds/ Dogs/ Animals: : Be kind to pedestrians, don’t run them over. Give them a heads up to let them know you are approaching so that you don’t startle them.
     Potty break: Learn to go wherever whenever. Find a good spot.  River rocks are your friend. Grab 3 or 4 rocks. Wipe the rocks on a sweaty part of your shirt.
     Chafing: Use Body Glide / Trail Toes / Vaseline. Apply these products BEFORE chafing occurs. If you are prone to chafing, make this a habit. Nipples, between thighs, and under arms are most common chafe points. Hydration packs can chafe, so be sure to use the pack several times so you know how it’ll perform.  Same with shorts and shirts. If you sweat profusely, you want to learn to manage this early.
     Blisters:  Learn to take care of your feet! Blisters can derail your running, so do everything possible to avoid getting blisters in the first place.
Cut nails close and file sharp edges.
                    Moisturize skin daily so that it is supple.
                    Pre tape blister prone areas.
                    Use Trail Toes or similar product.
                    Wear a liner toe sock. INJINJI
                    Wear a thicker outer sock. SMARTWOOL
            Plantar Fasciitis
            Shin Splints
            Black toenails
            Knee pain
            Twisted ankle
     Motivation: Racing is a great way to get more out of trail running. Many local races offer multiple distances at each event. As you complete each distance, it becomes more exciting to try for the next distance. After you finish a race you’ve trained several months for,  you may feel sort of depressed since you don’t have a goal to strive for anymore. That’s when you’ll sign up for another race! That’s when you know you’re hooked!
It has to be mentioned that beer goes hand in hand with Trail running. There is nothing better than having a cold beer after running in the hot sun for hours.
Websites / Join the group REI 131 / American Trail Running Association / Trail runner Magazine / Runner’s World / Tejas Trails Racing / Trail Racing Over Texas aka TROT / Spectrum Racing
Born to Run / Christopher McDougall
Eat & Run / Scott Jurek
The Courage To Start / John Bingham
Pre: Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend / Tom Jordan
Running and Being: The Total Experience / Dr. George Sheehan
Duel in the Sun / John Brant
Racing Weight / Matt Fitzgerald
How Bad Do You Want It / Matt Fitzgerald
Anatomy For Runners / Jay Dicharry
Relentless Forward Progress / Bryon Powell
The Terrible and Wonderful Reason Why I Run Long Distances / The Oatmeal
Quick Strength For Runners / Jeff Horowitz

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