Discover the Appeal of Trail Running
WTA's Julie Cassata, our resident trail runner, has some tips for hikers or runners interested in starting to run trails. An experienced hiker and runner, Julie has thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and serves on the board of the Seattle Running Club.
Running on trails is not just for the super-fit. For most of us, trail running is just another way to have fun, move on trail, and experience the natural landscape.
Whether you’re sprinkling in some running on a regular hike, or challenging yourself to run long distances on trail, you might just be a trail runner.
What’s so great about trail running?
- A different trail experience. Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be a deer running through the woods? While we might not be able to replicate that exactly, trail running can offer a more exhilarating experience than a hiking pace.
- Trail running is flexible. Run when you can, walk when you can’t. Don’t forget to stop and admire the fungi!
- The natural high. We all know that payoff views are especially satisfying when you are physically challenged while hiking up to that point. By trail running, your body responds to the workout by releasing endorphins and adrenaline. You might just find yourself weeping with joy when that next big view comes around!
- Cover more ground. By trail running, you can cover many more miles in a day than you can by hiking. A route that may ordinarily be an overnight hike, may be achievable in one day running.
- Make friends at fun events. There are many opportunities to do trail running events in the Pacific Northwest. A wide range of distances are available, generally from 5k to 50k and beyond. It’s a thrill to find yourself among an excited community of trail runners before the start, and then snake through the woods in a sinuous line of runners.
Five tips for getting started as a trail runner
- Be prepared. You’re not running around the neighborhood, so you’ll have to carry the 10 essentials just like you do for a hike. You might run out of water; you might get lost; you might get stuck in nasty weather. Be prepared. You might not otherwise eat while you run, but just like a hike, you’re much better off bringing along, and consuming, plenty of calories.
- Pack right. Figure out how you’re going to carry this stuff. You’ll want to try different things until you find out what works best. You’ll need a pack that is not too bouncy, will stay close in to your back, and ideally is designed for moving fast and light. There are many small packs on the market that are designed for running. You will also have to figure out whether you prefer to carry your water in your hands or in a bladder in your pack.
- Start out slow! I know it’s exciting, but don’t get too ambitious right off the bat. It will take time to improve agility and coordination, strengthen the muscles and tendons used on uneven terrain, and gain cardiovascular fitness. Also keep in mind that the miles take a lot longer on trail compared to what you run around town. Round up big time when you’re reporting the time you expect to be home.
- Don’t be ashamed; walk uphill. Over time, your transitions between running and walking will be seamless.
- Keep under control on steep descents by taking short, quick strides. Refrain from loping down the hill like a triple jumper. Angle your toes slightly outward to keep your momentum from launching you to oblivion should you trip on uneven footing.
> Use the advanced search in our Hiking Guide to find a lower-elevation trail with very little elevation gain to get started this winter.
Wintertime is a great time to start trail running. Staying at lower elevations will help keep you from selecting hikes with more extreme, and therefore extremely challenging, changes in elevation. If you’re just starting out, find some hikes with undulating terrain and just roll with it!