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10 Tips for Hikers Who Want to Trail Run

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I’ve been hiking since the early 1980s. I have been running since the mid 1980s. Then it would only be a matter of time I suppose before I married my two biggest passions into one—trail running! Yet, for some reason I kept them segregated for quite some time thinking that their purity couldn’t be hybridized. Boy was I wrong!

I dabbled in trail running over the past decade before I made the total conversion in 2011. And like many new converts to religion, lifestyle, philosophy, etc., I fully embraced it and shall I say got a little fanatical too. I turned 50 in 2011 and thought that a great way to celebrate that milestone would be to train, compete, and complete the White River 50-mile Endurance Run near Mount Rainier. No ordinary trail run, this event includes two arduous loops over mountain summits and along ridges gaining over 8,700 vertical feet. And you have to complete the course in less than 14 hours.

rsz wendy st helens
Author Craig Romano runs the Loowit Trail at Mount St Helens. All photos: Wendy Wheeler-Jacobs

I accepted the challenge and began a six-month intensive training schedule that had me competing in four 50Ks, several marathons, and some confidence-building long trail runs. The first thing I did was call upon my seasoned trail running friends for advice on all aspects of trail running. And as should be expected, I got a lot of different opinions. I tried out a lot of the advice—and kept what worked.

Every trail runner is different with different expectations and desires. But I can safely say that my following points are sound advice for all hikers considering making the leap (or grind) to trail running.

  1. If you’re an experienced hiker who also can comfortably run a few miles—you can become a trail runner.
  2. Get the right footwear. Regular running shoes are usually okay for smooth rail trails; but if you are going to run backcountry trails—get trail running shoes which are lighter than hiking boots but much firmer and better gripping than regular running shoes. (Currently Oboz doesn’t make a specific trail running shoe; I often do my long 20-plus mile fast-hikes in the Traverse Lows, but I always run on trail runners.)
  3. It’s okay to walk when you trail run. Walk the steep up and down hills and rocky and rough sections which leads me to next…
  4. Pay attention to the ground. While trail running will bring you to some incredible scenery, always be aware of your footing. Watch for loose rocks, marmot holes, downed logs, slumping tread and cliff sides! Of course all of those obstacles can make trail running exhilarating, too!
  5. Travel light—but not too light. You will often encounter trail runners deep in the wilderness wearing not much more than briefs and carrying a water bottle. Not good. I run with a lightweight hydration pack filled with the following items: shell, long pants, water purifying tablets, first aid kit, sun screen, bug dope, map, hat, gloves, head lamp and ample food—which leads me to…
  6. Pack plenty of food and particularly performance food that will break down easily so you can maintain a pace just after eating. Graze to keep your blood sugar even and to constantly fuel the thousands of calories you will burn. Always experiment with new foods before a run so you do not have an unpleasant experience deep in the wilderness.
  7. Plan accordingly. If you run 10 miles into the wilderness and bonk, you could be courting disaster. Make sure you don’t over extend yourself and be sure to pick trails that are well maintained, lest you burn up lots of energy negotiating washouts and windfalls.
  8. Find a partner. I do trail run alone and enjoy it—but when I am going into a really remote area and doing some serious distance—I run with a partner. The more serious my trail run also means I pack more gear too which can be split up among several runners.
  9. Stretch beforehand and cool down properly afterward. Ice baths and compression socks work wonders for sore muscles. Properly rehydrate, refuel and recharge after your run.
  10. Have fun and consider signing up for events. One of the best ways to enjoy trail running is through organized races. Many are low-key, emphasizing camaraderie over competition. And many, like the Seattle Running Club’s Cougar Mountain Trail Running series, give lots of money and volunteer time back to our trails.
I made my White River 50 Mile Run a fundraiser for the Washington Trails Association. Oboz donated some shoes for me to give away in random drawings for folks who donated to my cause. I raised over $4,500 for our trails!

And yes, I successfully completed the White River 50-Mile Run with a time of 12 hours 58 minutes and 55 seconds. It was one of my proudest moments. Right now though I just thinking metric, sticking with 50 kilometer runs as my upper limits. But I take plenty of easy 10K trail runs too—a great way to stay fit and enjoy the great outdoors.

Craig Romano is an award-winning author of more than a dozen hiking books on Washington State. Visit him at CraigRomano.com and on Facebook at "Craig Romano Guidebook Author."

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