We live in a trail runners’ paradise. Within a 20 minute drive from I can be at a trail head and be a billy goat for an hour or so. Running on trails offers a break from the day to day running on concrete or asphalt and a chance to take in the beauty of the county in which we live.
This morning my friend Tony and I tackled a 5.8 mile run in China Camp State Park. One of the best things about running in China Camp is that it is unbeleivably well marked. Signs at the beginning of the multitude of trail heads indicate which direction the trails lead and the distance to campsites, meadows and picnic areas. For a runner like myself who has a compulsion with distance and time, it’s a wonderful benefit.
I think that running trails is much more challenging than running on flat surfaces. There’s the natural dips and hills that you encounter on a mountain or hillside, the ground is rutted with trees, rocks and bike tire tread marks. If it’s raining there’s mud and that’s not only heavy on your shoes, but slipperty as well.
And of course there’s the one factor I don’t want to mention, but must. Nature. Contrary to what you might think, I’m not a big fan of nature. I don’t mind birds, squirrels and deer, say in the zoo- but while I’m running on a trail, even a cute little red squirrel bounding through the leaves sounds like a mountain lion ready to pounce. Deer standing on the hillside startle me and those wild turkeys are ready to attack, I’m sure of it. So I always run sans music (the better to hear with, my dear) and wrangle a friend to join me.
In spite of my neurosis mentioned above. I would rather run trails than hit the pavement. I enjoy the freedom of the trail, the sense of accomplishment when done. It’s a great feeling to mark of on your calendar that you ran China Camp. It just sounds cool.
If you would like to run trails but don’t have any experience, here are a few tips.
1. Go to any running store or REI and find a local trail map. There is one for Mt. Tam that is very good and it’s made of this waterproof paper. You can also go to the Marin Open Space website to locate maps for all of Marin County open space trails.http://www.co.marin.ca.us/depts/PK/Main/MCOSD/os_maps.asp
2. Pick a trail, any trail (that fits in with your current fitness level). Please do not try to tackle the Dipsea trial your first time out. Save that for later. Phoenix Lake, Crown Road, Terra Linda/Sleepy Hollow are all good options.
3. Find a buddy to run with you. I do not run trails alone nor do I encourage anyone to do so. Even if my running buddy and I do not run the same pace, at least we start out together and wait for the other to finish.
4. Be prepared to run slower than normal. You will run slower so don’t let it crush you. Run trails more and you’ll speed up. Also, running on trails will make you a much stronger runner on the flats.
5. Enjoy your surroundings. The beauty of being on the trail is that you are stuck in the middle of nature. Even if you are afraid of the squirrels, it’s still fun to be out there. Look around and marvel at the sights.
6. But do watch where you are going. Ruts, stumps, tree branches can take you down so be careful. A runner once told me to look where you want to step, not where you don’t want to step. So I try that and it works. Might be a little zen, but what the heck.
7. Tick check. Worth mentioning since we live where we do. Some deer ticks can carry lyme disease so when you are done running on the trail, do a quick tick check. Under shorts, collars of jackets, neck, head, etc. If you find one or have been bitten, keep the bugger in a baggie and call your dr. asap. Better to be safe.
So there you go. Get out there. Get dirty. Have fun.
Now go run.