Six Lessons From the Trail

When I was training for my first half marathon in 2007 with Team in Training, my coach gave me the following picture:

Do one brave thing today, then run like hell.

At the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014, I started running on trails. It’s been a new, but welcome, challenge that has taken me months to adjust to before I felt comfortable. Trail running has been my ‘brave thing’ lately. When Barry and I rolled up to Claytor Lake for my first trail run, I had butterflies in my stomach like I get before a big race. Although trails often still intimidate me, I have begun to really enjoy them. I have learned a few lessons along the way, too.

1. You’re going to go slower, and that’s okay. Hills on trails tend to be more frequent and steeper, in my experience. That, in addition to the terrain (roots, rocks, etc.), is likely going to slow you down 2-3 minutes/mile. Sometimes you have to take a walk break, and that’s okay.


Be forewarned, running downhill can be just as challenging as running uphill. Also, beware of the false summit!

Joe Pye Trail Poverty Creek Trail System Pandapas Pond

2. Plan for the unexpected. You should carry extra water/fuel in case you’re out longer than planned. It’s also a good idea to always make sure someone knows in general where you plan to run, and how long you expect to be gone. I often carry my cell phone in my pack, just in case.

3. Don’t be afraid to explore. Look at a trail map beforehand, if possible, to plan a route and avoid getting lost. Once you’re out on the trail, take note: The scenery is beautiful, but you’ll be spending more time looking at the ground.

Claytor Lake State Park

4. Don’t get obsessed over the data. Take your specific Garmin data with a grain of salt. When you’re in the woods, your GPS watch can lose it’s connection with satellites. Also, see #1. But if you do happen to run up a mountain, enjoy the elevation profile. It’ll make you feel like a bada@@.

5-9-14 elevation

5. Sign up for a race. What better way to immerse yourself in the trail running community than to run a race? In my experience, the trail running community is knitted even more tightly than the general running community, and they will welcome newcomers with open arms. Trail races also tend to be smaller, and have lots of special touches. Post race buffet, anyone?

Trail Nut 10K

6. Have fun. Don’t avoid the mud or the icy cold creek water – charge right through them both! Even if you don’t invest in trail shoes, it won’t take long for you to have a pair of shoes that are designated as ‘trail shoes’. They’ll be the ones that don’t come into the house, because they smell like the creek.

Poverty Creek Trail Pandapas Pond

If you’re a runner or walker and have never explored trails, I highly recommend it! It’s a great way to add a new challenge to a routine that’s feeling mundane. From what I’ve read, trails are also beneficial because they help build strength and flexibility. For me, running on trails has made running feel brand new again, filled with firsts, new experiences, and personal distance records.

Do you like to go off road?
What tips would you add?

12 thoughts on “Six Lessons From the Trail”

  1. Off roading is great fun. I spend most of my time on paved routes but when available, a good trail ride is a blast.

    Agree with the “carry your stuff”. Few water stops in the woods. I also find it good to take dry stuff to put on when I am finished. Nothing worse than driving home in wet socks!


  2. Hell I still get butterflies before all my races, I think it’s normal. I like that trails are slower, roads make me feel like I have to go fast all the time. I’m expecting to hike/walk parts of the trails. I always plan my runs and bring maps with me. On trails my Garmin is strictly for elevation tracking, and yes I feel like a bada$$ llol. Ahhh you had to bring up a race didn’t you. I think next couple months will be the time since you keep pressuring me.

    Only addition I have is to stop and take in the views. Yes you have to run eyes down because of the terrain but trails offer amazing views so stop here and there to take it all in.

    Great post.

    1. Very true! Trails are kind of low pressure, because you run when you can and walk when you have to. You should definitely sign up for a trail race sometime soon!

  3. I love this post! Yay for trails! I am still not exactly thrilled by puddles or rivers on trails, but I will do them! It does beat the road any day!

    1. You should always be thrilled by puddles and rivers! In the summer they cool you off and in the winter they give you major bragging rights 🙂

  4. I used to do most of my running on trails. I’m getting back into it! Trail running is definitely what I love most.

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