Lauren’s Rules for Trail Running

Yesterday was tough. I knew that the weather was absolutely beautiful outside, but since I don’t have any windows in my classroom (I know- no windows in an art room?!?!), I didn’t get to actually see it. I was constantly looking for a “fast-forward” button to make the day go by faster and dreaming of this view that I knew awaited me after work:

The final bell finally rang, and I headed out to hit the trails. I was greeted by a big hug of warmth and fresh air when I finally stepped outside. It was windy- but warm wind, which is totally tolerable. Check out the temperature- not bad for the first full week of March in Maryland!

My original plan for the day (when I saw the forecast) was to go for a run around the neighborhood; probably a 6 or 7-miler. But, since it was windy, I figured that trail running might be better. Since my house is directly on the way to the trails, I made a quick pit stop on the way to pick up Jackson.

We pulled up to Gambrill State Park, and the lot was pretty full (it’s never full at 3:30 in the afternoon!).

While I was running yesterday, I was actually thinking about writing this post and why I love trail running so much. Although I feel like I get a better workout overall when I run trails (as opposed to running on the road), I feel like it is a lot easier on my legs and feet, because I’m not striking the exact same spot with my feet over and over again. It definitely takes practice to feel comfortable with trail-running, but I think it’s totally worth it. When I’m running trails (or outside in general), I prefer not to listen to music. This lets me really just focus on my thoughts and enjoy being out in nature. And, let’s face it- I also talk to my dogs while I’m running with them, and music would interfere with that. 🙂

Lauren’s Rules for Trail Running

1. Wear appropriate shoes.

It’s not advised to run in hiking boots (which don’t offer much ankle flexibility) or street running shoes, because they are not designed to grip rocky surfaces well. I suggest wearing shoes specifically designed for trail running. I am faithful to Brooks for running on the road or on trails, and Iove these shoes.

2. If possible, grab a running buddy

Jackson and Lance are some of my favorite running buddies. I have a few (human) friends that are great companions too, but not everyone else has a job that lets them out as early as mine does. My dogs are perfect running buddies, because they are full of energy and push (or pull, rather) me to go faster.

3. Pay attention to your footing (watch where you’re going!).

It’s best to look about 2 feet in front of you as you’re running, but you’ve also got to be aware of what is going on all around you. You will need to learn how to stop on and around rocks, roots, and other things along the trail. It’s really easy to trip and fall (and believe me, I’ve had my fair share of falls!) or get an injury, specifically a twisted or sprained ankle. Get to know the trails and how they twist and turn and where the big hills are. Start out slow, and like with all things, you’ll get better with practice!

4. Slow down on steep inclines as needed.

If you are losing energy to run uphill, you might be more likely to lose focus and trip over a rock or debris. There’s no shame in slowing down on a section of a trail that is steep- even if you have to walk it. Your heart rate will remain high, and you’ll get a great burst of energy as soon as the trail flattens out.

5. Pound it out on flat sections (especially on dirt!)

Dirt is my absolute favorite surface to run on – I could run on dirt all day. It’s so different from running on asphalt because it cushions the impact from your feet. It just feels better! When I come to a flat, dirt section on a trail, I take advantage and really fly. But, be aware- the trail conditions could change at any time!

6. Pay close attention on downhills and slow down as necessary

To me, the most difficult part of trail running are the downhills. The particular trail that I was running yesterday has about a 1/2 mile stretch of continuous steep declines. This is where it is the most important to really pay attention to where you are striking your feet, because the extra momentum of going downhill can really cause you to take a nasty spill if you trip. Just be cautious.

7. When you pass other people on the trail, smile and say hello!

It is customary to say hello to others that you see on the trail- so follow suit! When you’re outside enjoying nature, you should be happy- so share it with others! I find it incredibly rare (and odd) to pass another person on a trail who does not say hello and smile.

8. Yield to Mountain Bikers
If you see tracks along the trail, chances are that you might cross paths with a mountain biker. If you see one coming, step over to the side and let them pass. They have the right of way. In the same token, if you are coming up behind a hiker or someone moving at a slower pace, let them know that you’re behind them and pass to the left. I loudly say (in a friendly voice!) “on your left” when I’m approaching them.
9. Re-fuel as needed
I can get through an hour-long trail run without bringing hydration (unless it’s really hot out) or any snacks. My buddy, however, can not. I bring some snacks along for him and take advantage of any streams along the trail for him to get a drink
or just to cool off 🙂
10. Enjoy the scenery!
Take time to look stop for a second and look around- soak it in and enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer!
11. At the end of your run, stretch and hydrate!
I will be the first to admit- I do not always take adequate time to stretch after hiking or running outside. I try to make an effort to at least take a few minutes to stretch out my hamstrings, quads and hip flexors before I leave, and then stretch a little bit more when I get home. (I actually did stretch for a bit after I got home- AND I foam-rolled!). Tina had a really great post yesterday about the importance of stretching, which included a photo tutorial that I would recommend checking out. I also always have a full bottle of water in my car to consume after my run. Even if I don’t need to drink water during my run, it’s important to get those fluids in after!
12. Give your running buddy a hug and thank him for being your companion
(This is pretty self-explanatory)
And you can see why I traded in my Honda Accord for a Subaru Outback when I got Jackson and Lance….
It is definitely the perfect car for dogs!
When you run on trails (especially those with a lot of variation in elevation and steep sections) be aware that your mile time will not be nearly as fast as it would be on pavement. We covered about 5 miles in a little under an hour, with a few stops for photo-taking and other things. When I run on the road, I can cover 7 miles in that same amount of time- but I’d still choose trail running any day.
Do you like to run? What’s your favorite place to run (road, trail, treadmill, beach…)?
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28 Comments on “Lauren’s Rules for Trail Running”

  1. Reading this makes me want to find some trails and head out for a run…more like walking these days, but whatever! I literally can’t imagine covering 5 or 7 miles in an hour right now, either treadmill, road or trail, but it’s a goal!
    Have a great weekend 🙂

    • Lauren says:

      It’s easy to just go and go on the trail… I could literally stay out there for hours (running slowly at least). Just such a different world when you’re out in the woods!

  2. I’ve only been trail running once, I’ll admit I was terrified for the first couple of miles but after I got in a groove, I loved it. It was definitely sore in a different way than street running bc of all the rocks and branches I had to maneuver around.

    • Lauren says:

      Exactly- once you find your groove, you’re good to go! It feels like a whole body workout too- and definitely a different kind of sore than regular road running (and so much more fun, in my opinion!)

  3. Corrie Anne says:

    I need a great dog car like that!! I agree with the smiling and saying hi part!! Dirt IS the best to run on. I get a little nervous about all the wildlife in Colorado when I’m running alone though!

  4. OMG I want to snuggle your dog so hard. Seriously.

    I would love a doggie running buddy. I have a mini dachshund, and needless to say, he is no good for long runs. He’s good for short speedwork though (he FLIES).

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great post! I love having my pup as a running buddy. I finally started running with him last summer…I don’t know why I waited. He loves it and his energy and enthusiasm helps me with my running energy.
    The back of my car is disgusting…we use my car to cart the dogs and so it’s full of slobber, dog hair, etc. Oh well!

    • Lauren says:

      My whole car is full of dog hair and dirt, it’s impossible to ever get it perfectly clean. And i am a total neat freak! It is what it is…

  6. Love this post – I’m totally afraid of trail running because I don’t want to get injured, but I know it’d be great way to build my endurance (hello hills!) and get outside! These are great tips!

  7. Trail runs are my favorite – so much more fun scenery-wise and easier on the knees.

    Watching out for mountain bikers is key. 🙂

    • Lauren says:

      Definitely better on the knees- for me it’s my feet though. I have bunions (that developed when I was road running all the time) and they get really sore on long runs. Trail running doesn’t seem to hurt them though.

  8. Ed says:

    My favorite place to run has to be the trails! No need for music or tv….just the sounds of the path…

    What a nice running companion you have! Looks like he had a blast…

    • Lauren says:

      I agree! Mother nature provides the perfect soundtrack- there’s no where else I’d rather be! (Well, maybe I’d rather be on a trail in Mt. Rainier or anywhere in Colorado…)

  9. Great post! I don’t do much trail running, so these rules were great for me to read!

  10. I’ll be the second to admit I don’t stretch properly, I know I should too, I’ll work on it. I love trail running but rarely do it. I usually want to get a run over with so I can head home and get the kids off to school. And if I don’t work out in the morning, most likely it won’t happen.

    Your pups are so cute cooling off. And way to sweat Lauren. I think you look so beautiful, probably the exercise high you’re on.

  11. Gil says:

    I dont know what my deal is, but I just cant learn to love running. Ive tried many times. I even slowly worked up to the point a few years ago when I was running regularly and would do few 10Ks a week. I still never enjoyed it, but I kept it up for a few months (hoping to win myself over)…and then we got Sunny, whose dog-mania does not really lend itself to a city jog…and switched to (anxious) walking. And I LOVE walking (which is good, since I cant drive, never owned a car, and get where I go on foot).
    BUUUUT….now Im wondering if maybe trail running would be different. Maybe its a kind of running I would actually like? And there are plenty of trails out here…..

  12. Errign says:

    Love this post – and your running buddy!

  13. Lee says:

    Were Lance and Jackson always good running buddies or did you have to train them? Murphy is horrible. He has to sniff and mark EVERYTHING.

    • Lauren says:

      I started running with them (just short distances) when they were about 5 months old. Jackson was not good at first- he would just get so excited and jump up and down- but Lance has always been great. Now they are both awesome.
      Neither one ever “learned” to mark their territory, and I hope they never do! It is definitely nice to only have to stop once or twice if they legitimately need to potty!

  14. Tiffany says:

    I love this post, it made me smile the whole way through and these are great tips! I’m not a runner but love hiking and the inclines are whats killing me out here. I would go hiking in NC and the elevation gain wasnt horrible but here I will be making my way down a mountain and not even know it. Then before I even know it, I look up and have to make my way up and feel like my heart is going to explode! I dont know if I have dry mouth syndrome or what but I must have water at me at all times, I’m obsessive about it. And now reading this makes me wish that Lincoln was bigger and liked to hike.

  15. […] that she strategically works into almost every post, including my favorite recent post about rules for trail running. I swear every comment I leave on her blog starts out with, “OMG I WANT TO SNUGGLE YOUR […]


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