I like air conditioning. I like baths. I like reading books in a cozy chair.
And I’m not afraid to admit that in our house, my wife does most of the yardwork while I do most of the cooking.
For all of these reasons, I’m an indoorsman.
And that’s why I always thought trail running was moronic. When we have such nice, flat, uniform roads to run on—and better still, oval tracks of exactly 400 meters—what kind of hillbilly would you have to be to run on trails where you might get wet, dirty, lost, hurt, bitten, or eaten?
And putting aside the whole death thing for a minute, how the hell could you keep track of your splits when every mile is different?
And then I actually tried it.
It was primal. It was muddy and my shoes took on an amount of water that would have ruined any previous run. And it was completely liberating.
Since I’ve started trail running, I’ve gotten wet, dirty, and lost. (I’ve avoided those other things, so far.) And I’ve finally become a runner.
It took me way too long to get into trail running, mainly because I didn’t know how. And that’s why I’ve put together…
Trail Running for the Complete Indoorsman
1. Find a trail.
Do you have a local running club? They might have a trail-running contingent who can tell you where to run. Maybe they’ll even run with you. That’s how I got started. If not, check trailrunner.com‘s listings of trails by state. (They’re not all there, but it’ll get you started.)
If you’ve never run trails before, look for something that’s not too long or too technical (translation for indoorsman: rocky and hard to negotiate). Most importantly, pick something that will be easy to navigate if you’re unfamiliar with the route.
2. Buddy up.
Being lost is probably a lot more fun when you’re with a pal. So is hobbling back to the car if you get hurt. So is fending off a bear.
Run with a friend the first time.
3. Get dressed.
Slip out of your high-thread-count robe and into your running stuff. You might want to eschew your fanciest technical gear in favor of something that you don’t mind getting snagged or muddy. (I promise it will.)
If you don’t have trail shoes, you can get by with road shoes. They don’t offer the protection or the grip that trail shoes do, but they work. If possible, I’d go with a thinner sole rather than the SuperUltraCushion 5000, for greater stability on the rocks and slopes. And leave the Vibram Fivefingers at home the first time, until you see how rocky your chosen trail is.
4. Exit the comfort of your home and drive to the trail.
Things to bring along: a towel, a change of shoes, socks, and maybe clothes for afterward, whatever food and drink you’ll want on your run, plus more for emergencies, a cell phone, identification, your water vessel of choice (handhelds and backpacks are popular, especially if they have extra pouches to carry stuff), a headlamp if you’ll be running at dusk or night.
And beer for afterward, if you’re like me and all that primal hardcoreness brings out the wild man (or woman) in you.
5. Forget about pace. Run slowly and walk the hills.
Mile splits are concepts that we indoorsmen have made up to cram what used to be a freeing experience into our modern, time-obsessed world. To get the most out of your foray into the great outdoors, forget about pace.
But for safety’s sake… Trail runner magazine tells me you’ll be 10 to 20 percent slower on trails. That sounds about right, maybe even on the low side. Especially while you’re new, take it easy so you have energy for any unexpected bonehead moves you pull, like missing a trail marker and running 10 miles instead of 5.
One of the joys of trail running is that you can walk hills and not feel like a slacker. Everybody does it. In fact, it’s often more efficient to do it this way, since you’ll encounter hills steeper than what you find on the roads.
6. Run through the streams.
You are not to slip on a rock and sue me, however. This entire trail running thing is done at your own peril.
But when I run with my trail group, I get made fun of for tiptoeing across rocks. Embrace the sloshiness and run right through it. Just don’t slip.
7. Let loose.
Guess what? You are officially trail running. Now enjoy it. Splash through the mud and water. Think about granola and hugging trees and everything zen.
8. Once you’re done, drink one of those beers you brought. Ideally, while you’re still dirty. Just don’t break any laws.
Congratulations, you’re kind of hardcore.
What questions do you still have? Ask them in the comments so you can get yourself out there! Trust me, it’s really fun. Don’t let stupid fears keep you from doing cool stuff.
For a more serious look at getting started on the trails, see Blaine Moore’s Trail Running 101.
This post is part of a series of posts designed to teach you how to run long and strong. Go check out the rest!