By: Andrea Lee Negroni
Last year, I resolved to make 2023 a year of “yes” where fitness is concerned. Rather than limiting my routine to the gym, 10,000 daily steps and occasional bike rides, I took up tennis, running, and even weightlifting. None of them prepared me for my first trail run.
Bishops Events posted a June 10K trail run on Facebook. It caught my eye because of its location in one of my favorite Virginia State Parks, Sky Meadows. Running through grassy meadows and along leafy walking trails sounded like a perfect summer morning so I impulsively registered. Maybe I should have asked a few questions, but I didn’t.
I can run 10K on a flat road and assumed I could do it on a trail, but slower. Some combination of confidence and stubbornness got me to the finish line but I learned that trail running differs from road running in more ways than one. You have to slow your pace but that’s not all.
Here are a few things I wish I’d known.
- Your eyes matter as much as your legs. On the road you can easily see the other runners. In the trees, you have to carefully watch where you’re going because the others may be out of sight, behind trees, around corners or hard to see at different elevations. Trails are full of obstacles on the ground, too. Tree roots and stones are tripping and falling hazards, so you must look down as well as ahead. I stumbled on roots and rocks half a dozen times; enough to throw me off balance.
- Falling is a real risk. On a remote trail, you may slip and fall when no one is around. I should have asked the organizer for his or a course volunteer’s mobile number just in case. And I should have shared my location with someone someone, easily done with an AirTag. If you don’t know where you are along the route, it’s wise to note (and remember) your current trail marker location in case you need help.
- Watching for hazards while simultaneously remembering where you are takes mental effort. Next time I will put other thoughts aside when trail running. I think several foot faults were caused by mental multitasking. Trail running isn’t the place to try and sort out work or relationship problems or talk on the phone.
- Motivation to keep going comes from unexpected places. I saw a fox and rabbits on the trail and must have startled them because they took off fast. Their quick getaways and my curiosity put a little kick in my step. That said, next time I’ll ignore the birds. Red-winged blackbirds caught my attention as they flashed by but glancing skyward briefly caused me to nearly lose my footing.
- Hiking boots might be a better option than traditional running shoes. I took the advice of a sports shoe salesman (no, I didn’t buy new shoes). He said running shoes aren’t right for trails because you need a less flexible sole and deeper tread for uneven ground. He was right on both counts. I wore broken-in lightweight hiking boots which worked well.
- Fellow runners are good information sources. They warned me about the higher elevation spots and explained I wouldn’t lose much time walking on the steepest inclines. It pays to listen to more experienced participants, especially when starting something new.
- Great music can turn a strenuous run into a party. The high energy dance tunes on my African Salsa playlist kept me moving from start to finish.
- Don’t over-focus on the clock. At nearly 70, I finished in 1 hour 50 minutes, enough for first place in my age group. I’m not disappointed to have been last across the finish line. Bishops Events volunteers and organizers were enthusiastic enough to make me feel like a winner.