As it appeared in Jeff’s column, The Dirt, in the June-July 2012 Issue of RaceCenter NW Magazine
Training for Trails
So, you’ve been running trails pretty consistently and you’re ready for something a little more epic. Well, you’re in luck. Because the longer running adventure is where trail running really starts to shine.
When you start to take your trail adventures longer, especially in the mountains, you have to throw your road-running mind in the trash. There’s no pace monitoring and no hard expectations. You have to learn to go with the flow and be ready to soak in what nature throws at you. That also means being slightly more prepared.
If you’re heading to the mountains, you have to be ready for everything: weather, wildlife encounters, eating and drinking, and even the possibility of getting off track a bit. Think of long trail adventures more like one-day minimalist fast-packing. Take just enough to be prepared for the unexpected, but have the wonderful capacity to cover a large amount of real estate in a single bound with breath-taking breaks.
Get a plan
Do a little planning. Find a cool destination to reach — a peak, an overlook, a wilderness loop that takes you through varied ecosystems. Look at maps or inquire at your local specialty running store. For my long runs, I like to browse a topographic trail map of where I’m going, thinking up cool new routes in my locale. I typically pick a general route and then go with the flow. When I come upon a spot that looks like something out of a movie, I stop, dig into my pack, and sit down for a quick hydration and snack break. Soak in the views. They can be grand, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Trail running has taken me to some of the most beautiful, secluded spots on Earth. And most of them are right in my backyard.
Mixing it up
When the going gets steep, embrace the power hike. Not to be confused with walking, power hiking is an acquired mountain skill. If the going gets steep, the quick power hike can be much more efficient on the ups than actual running — while giving those running-specific muscles a little breather. You’ll find that if you practice, you can move just as fast uphill as the runner who insists on running everything. It’s also a good way to go farther with less fatigue, especially if you’re new to the longer stuff.
What to bring
Ample hydration and easy-to-pack calories (like gels or bars) are a must if you’re going to be out past two hours. I love a couple of handheld water bottles and a lightweight fanny pack for nutrition needs on the move — a gear choice that mirrors what I do in a race. For runs over three hours, this usually requires a water refill somewhere along the way. If water is not available, I like to reach for a hydration pack with a 70-ounce bladder. No matter what your hydration system, you have to pick what works for you — and what gives you enough cargo capacity to pack what you need, plus a little extra just in case. Also, mountain weather can change pretty quickly, so don’t forget a lightweight and packable shell in case something blows in while you’re out.
When you’re willing to go that extra mile, trail running adventures can be a truly breathtaking experience. Whether you’re a veteran or just getting into it, trail running can really take you to wild places. Giddyup.<
About the Author
Jeff Browning (aka Bronco Billy) only runs on pavement if he absolutely has to. Otherwise, you can find him exploring his local singletrack in Bend, OR, or toeing the start line of a handful of trail ultramarathons each year.