Down & Dirty: Getting Back On The Trails

Early spring trail conditions can be a little treacherous when welcomed warmer temperatures melt a winter's worth of snow. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Spring is here, which means so is trail running. Here’s how to get started for the season.

The first trail run of the spring can vary greatly depending where you live. Fickle temperatures, ever-present showers and the last vestiges of winter are just a start — Southern climes are awash in pollen; the deserts of the Southwest come alive with sleepy snakes; snow country runs can go from snow, to mud, to black ice in just as many strides and the Midwest to Northeast specialize in brown, many shades of brown. And this year, it’s remained downright cold and snowy.

Still, the trail beckons.

Legs accustomed to the fixed pounding of roads or winter treadmill workouts need to flex their proprioception awareness. Sunshine is a proven mood booster and playing on the trails just does a person good. For those who spent the winter lounging more than usual, trails can offer a kinder, gentler way to work back to fitness. At the other end of the spectrum, the trail racing season now lasts all year long, meaning hard-core trail fiends need to stay in top shape, even if the trails aren’t.

After spending a cold and icy winter training in Virginia, Mike Wardian ran to a top-10 finish at the Tarawera Ultramarathon in New Zealand on March 15 — that’s the end of summer in New Zealand. Not only did Wardian train in “cold, icy and generally horrible” conditions, he had to be ready to race in hot weather. For him, wearing an extra layer or two for some runs, spending time in a sauna, even doing some training in the sauna and hot yoga were all ways to prepare his body for running hard in higher temperatures.

Whether you are easing into the season or ready to charge, choose the tips you need to get running.

Hike Your Run

Head to your favorite trail and have some fun — hike, walk or jog and start running when you’re inspired. Bring your watch to set a new base time for the year, or leave the techno gadgets at home and simply enjoy your surroundings. It’s a good opportunity to check trail conditions and be prepared to hit the ground running your next time on the trail.

RELATED: 5 Tips For The Trails

Help Work On A Trail

Trails need some love to stay safe and runnable. Plus, putting in a little sweat effort is a good workout. Check with local running clubs or land agencies to see how you can help with trail work. And to cut back on future work, remember to go through mud patches, not around, so as not to widen trails, and avoid shortcutting.

Volunteer At A Race

If you’re not ready to race just yet, volunteer at a race. Watching other racers is always inspirational and race organizers will appreciate the help. Plus, it’s a great way to reconnect with trail running friends, and you just may bank some good trail karma for the season ahead.

Get The Right Shoes

Buying new kicks to match the terrain you’ll be running on can be a good first step to a great season of trail running. Finding the right shoe for you starts with a good fit, but it’s also a balance of protection, traction, flexibility and stability. Some hybrid shoes — those that have the qualities of a road running shoe with a bit of added traction and protection — are great on dirt roads and smooth trails, but not very good on technical trails. On the other hand, souped-up mountain running shoes will handle rocks, roots and other rugged trail features, but might feel slow and sluggish on dirt gravel paths and dirt roads.

Sign Up For A Race

Nothing is quite as motivating is clicking the “submit” button on an online race application. Now is the chance to get your groove on for a race later this spring or in early summer. Pick a race — either one you’ve never done before or one of your favorites — then set out on a training plan and hit the trails.

RELATED: America’s Premier Trail Running Races

Hit The Treadmill

What?! Prepping for outdoors by running indoors? Running on a treadmill allows you to avoid the weather and rough trail conditions while getting your fitness. “It allows you to run at a faster pace than you can when it is slippery and nasty outside,” Wardian says. “It’s also easy to layer up with clothes and get your core temperature up to help simulate warmer conditions.”

Test Your Nutrition And Hydration Strategies

Now is the time to figure out what your stomach can handle. If you’re planning to run longer trail races this summer, you can test out gels and other trail snacks on moderate-length runs in various kinds of weather. “I have had issues with something tasting great when running in 50-degree weather, but when the temperatures climb to 90, 100 or 120 degrees, well, that fuel didn’t taste as good,” Wardian says. “When you are racing in extremely warm weather your body, or at least my body, has to work much harder to try to cool off, and I need more water than I normally do. I try to make sure I account for that, and, most of the time, I get it right. But every now and I then I miscalculate and get to pay the price, which is fun too, but at the time it hurts.”

Work On Your Core Strength

Trail running builds core strength, but it also requires it. Before you start running technical trails, spend a couple of weeks reinvigorating your large and small core muscles. The stronger you are at the core, the more nimble you can be on rugged terrain. Running up and down trails can leave you gasping for air, but if you’re stronger, you’ll be more stable and more agile and use less energy going from Point A to Point B. Spend 15 minutes doing core strength work every day and you’re likely to find yourself more adept to handling the unique challenges of the trails this summer.

RELATED: Preparing Your Body For Trail Running

Practice Running In Your Warm-Weather Kit

OK, so you’re not going to run outside in a singlet if it’s still in the 30s with blowing snow, but running with once it is warm enough, get out there with the gear you’ll race with to see how it feels. “During the winter, it’s sometimes hard to remember what it’s like to run in a singlet, shorts, hat, sunglasses and hydration pack,” Wardian says. “Do a few runs in your warm-weather gear — on a treadmill, if necessary — so you know it works.”

Prepare For The Weather

Running on trails is always different and always changing, especially when it comes to the weather. What might start out as a warm-weather run might suddenly turn to cool and breezy conditions, or vice versa. Remember to pack dress in layers and pack an extra one in the form of a light shell, just in case the temperature drops. If you get used to the changing weather and prepare for it mentally, you can focus on your running whether it’s cool, hot, rainy, breezy or — in those rare moments — perfect conditions.

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