Rocky Running: The appeal of trail running and how to get into it
Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series about trail running.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Running draws those in need of a lifestyle change, former athletes or the average person checking a marathon off the bucket list.
The aspiring runner buys an Apple or Garmin watch, logging mileage on the paved roads, logging pace progressions on the same surfaces which send pounding jolts back through their bones, occasionally ripping muscles.
Life in the mountains sparks a lust for the less trodden path, where pace is just a number on the adventure of a lifetime.
The allure of trail running is its scenery and softer surfaces to run on, but the intimidation is the unanticipated obstacles of nature.
“People can trip and fall on potholes or sewer crates or drainage ditches,” Twisted Trails Running Store owner Eric Edgerton said. “Yeah, there’s a few more on trails. You just have to be aware.”
While trail running is still a form of running, comparing it to the road is like a zebra to a horse. The hooves are similar, but not part of the same species.
Just like not putting road wheels on a mountain bike, runners don’t wear road shoes on the trails.
The defining difference is in the outsole and posting. The outsole, the part of the shoe that that makes contact with the ground, is heavier with deeply-carved traction patterns.
But the posting is within the midsole of the shoe, which has stabilizing elements that provide support for road runners constantly pounding the hard pavement. For trail runners, a shoe with stiff posting causes problems.
“Road shoes you have stability posting or protonation control. Trail, they don’t do that too much,” Edgerton said. “They design them to help with a little bit, but at the same time, they don’t use that hard posting. You’ve got dense material where if you step on a rock, instead of it giving, it’s going to roll.”
The type of sock worn becomes increasingly important when trail running. Cotton socks absorb moisture and rub against the skin, causing blisters over time. Although cotton socks are not advised for either type of running, Edgerton strongly cautions cotton-sock wearers on trails since runners run through creeks or rivers. Socks made with wool blends or lycra fiber are highly encouraged since they don’t hold moisture.
Hydration and nutrition while out on the trails is even more important as runners encounter more rigorous terrain at higher altitudes. Trail runners can wear vests or waist bands that hold water bottles or one that straps to their hands.
Water isn’t enough for hydration on the trails. Runners carry gels or Nuun, which carry electrolytes to prevent cramps. Chews and waffles are needed as nutritious supplements for longer runs.
Trail running is part running and part hiking. The first trail run can be humbling or frustrating. Injuries can happen when road runners try to keep their normal pace on the trail.
“You need to understand that pace goes out the window,” Steamboat Springs Running Series director and ultrarunner Cara Marrs said. “I remember when watches that could check your pace came out. All these trails I had been running for years I was like, ‘Oh my god, that was only that far?'”
As a result, a traditional 3-mile run takes longer. Runners will have to work up to greater distances for races at a slower pace, emphasizing their cross training. Trail running involves more core stability than road running.
The Steamboat Running Series provides races that progress in distance throughout the summer, designed to cater towards the beginner getting into running and the veteran to get in shape rather than jumping into road races.
“People need to understand longer isn’t always better,” Marrs said. “Most of our races are not that. Most of the races in the country are not that. It’s really just about the freedom of being out on the trails.”
Knowing where you are is also important. Marrs said she looks through the “Steamboat Bike Guide” or “Hike the Boat” books to know where trails lead, but it helps to join a community that can show you the ropes.
The Steamboat Trail Runners get together every Wednesday for a run. Twisted Trails also hosts weekly runs Thursdays at 6 p.m. Marrs is starting a new Steamboat chapter of the national organization called Trail Sisters to encourage women of all levels to get involved in the sport. The group will meet for the first time at 8 a.m. May 19 at Mad Creek Trail.
“It’s a no-drop run. You’re not dropped,” Marrs said. “That’s just because people are going at their own speeds. We’ll try to at least have twice a month, week night or weekend runs.”
For safety purposes, it’s also beneficial for runners to tell people where they are going and when if running alone. This gives people an idea of where to find you if something goes wrong.
The trail running community is tightly-knit, especially in a mountain town, so the resources are endless. The sport of trail running grows in states like Colorado because of its abundance of trails and community resources, which is why it’s home to some of the top trail runners in the world.
“It’s a more laid back community,” Marrs said. “We have elite runners and people who have never done anything and are trying to walk a 5K. Some people get intimidated, but they shouldn’t.”
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