Like running, but interesting.
March 28, 2014 5:21 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to take up trail running, or in my case, probably trail-light jogging. I am not a runner, I have never been a runner, I have always hated running and avoided it. What do I need to know?

Greater Seattle area if that matters.

One of the biggest reasons I hate/d running was because I am slow and was picked on and picked last a lot by classmates/siblings for this.
I recently read an article that inspired me to get past being slow.

The second biggest reason I hated running is that I find it boring. Trail running however, appeals to me as I love hiking and being in the forest. I have a number of perfect trails for running nearby, but then I think about how much I don't know about running in general. So, where do I even start? Shoes? Form? Rookie mistakes to avoid?
posted by HMSSM to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I find running really boring, but that's why I listen to audio books or podcasts.
Other than that get good shoes (I like Nike Free series, or equivalents, super flexible sole makes a difference). Watch a few tutorials on YouTube in regards to form.

Start slow to avoid injury.
posted by pyro979 at 5:39 PM on March 28, 2014

I would, honestly, look up a Couch to 5k program and do it on a relatively flat surface, either on pavement or a non-technical trail. It will take a few months to get your body used to running, and you should do it gradually before you conquer the trails.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:53 PM on March 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

Looking up a Couch to 5k program is good way to start. That will help you start slowly and build up. Your progression will depend on your current fitness level, but it takes time for anyone to adapt.

You'll need running shoes. You may not need trail shoes to start. It depends on the trail you pick. Different brands use different lasts. Fit is highly individual.

If you are used to watching your footing in the woods, that will translate to running, but I recommend an easy trail initially.
posted by TORunner at 6:07 PM on March 28, 2014

I love hiking because it is peaceful, quiet and stretches out over a long period of time. I love running for the endorphins, intensity and the stimulation of organized races with other runners and the crowds.

Trail running was a weird combination of two sort of opposing forces and never really came together for me.

In summary I don't have confidence in the "I hate running but think I will like trail running because I like hiking" line of thought.
posted by jjs6791 at 6:35 PM on March 28, 2014

Do not attempt "barefoot" or minimalist running shoes on trails; ankle support is quite important.
posted by smoke at 6:39 PM on March 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

smoke: "Do not attempt "barefoot" or minimalist running shoes on trails; ankle support is quite important."

Ah, I run in minimalist shoes on hiking trails. I'm not suggesting it's right for everyone, but I disagree that it's wrong for everyone. There's a lot more to shoe selection and running technique. HMSSM should probably consult their local running shop to have their feet, ankles and gait evaluated.
posted by workerant at 7:25 PM on March 28, 2014

You are free to run slowly, if that's best for you.

Even if you decide not to stick with it, I encourage you to do enough running that you reclaim this basic bipedal activity for your animal self and put the mean kids to rest once and for all.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:26 PM on March 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Nthing Couch to 5K, investing in good shoes (go to a specialty store and get fitted) and starting out flat. Are there any paved bike paths near you? Those can be quite nature-y and picturesque, without the trouble of rough terrain. Plus, if they're popular, you get to pass by a lot of people walking their dogs! I love seeing dogs when I run.

I was always the slowest person in my class, too, and I hated running when I started it. The first few weeks of trying to run were awful, and for a while after that it was manageable but not great, and eventually it became something I enjoyed for its own sake. Generally speaking, it's not a good idea to stick with an activity that you hate, yet it took a surprising amount of perseverance for me to like running.

Don't worry about being slow, either, at least not for now. Get to the 5K point first, then work on your speed. No one's keeping track anymore, and you're ahead of a lot of people anyway just by getting out there. I still have an unimpressive mile time despite running consistently for several years, but I don't mind because my goal is just to get moving and clear my mind a bit. (If you're a daydreamer or brainstormer, running is great for letting your brain go wild.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:36 PM on March 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I ran in minimalist (Vibram 5 finger) shoes on hiking trails when I first started running. (I did the couch to 5k in them, and then picked up some Nikes as a reward to myself for doing it). I actually had less "almost twisted my ankle" scares in the 5-fingers than I do in the Nikes. Something about my foot being closer to the ground, my toes being able to grasp the surface, and feeling what is going on down there, I think.

That said, there were too many loose sharp stones on the trails that would hurt my feet through the thin soles, plus I didn't like how mud would squish up between my toes when it had been raining.

I love running on trails. I have always just followed generalised advice for new runners and haven't found I need to adapt it significantly. The main difference is that I take water with me, because there's no drinking fountains like you'd find in parks, and I don't run too near dark because no street lighting (on the other hand, no traffic either, so it's probably not too dangerous to run in dim light, just hard to see the trees. And too many kangaroos.)

I also added intervals to my training regime recently, and I do those at a park instead of on trails. The unpredictability of the surface on the trails makes sprinting a little hard, and I can't compare times for intervals so easily there. But for long slow runs there's nothing better!
posted by lollusc at 7:47 PM on March 28, 2014

I agree with Pyro979 about listening to audiobooks or podcasts - this works for me.

Another tip: I don't like timing my runs. It's much more fun to choose a route which it's a struggle even to finish (without quitting and walking) - so I choose routes with difficult uphills. There's a great satisfaction in finishing a route which you failed at last time round!

One more thing. When I took up running, I found it very uncomfortable at first. My legs ached; I got very stiff; I got side stitches. But it wasn't long before I got into it. So don't give up if your first few runs are tough.
posted by HoraceH at 8:09 PM on March 28, 2014

As a non-runner who has been dragged pretty much kicking and screaming into being a runner, I have to advise stay away from trails at first. Trails are where rocks and roots and other uneven surfaces await you. Learn to run and properly pick up your feet. Then tackle the more technical surfaces.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:13 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

There have to be running clubs near you that have programs for beginners and trail running. My sister-in-law started running with a club that does trail and cross-country (and track) and is now kicking ass in her age group in masters-level races. Worth a look, at least.
posted by rtha at 8:32 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know, maybe it's bad advice, but I loved trail running when I was a fledgling runner. No special shoes or anything, just me and the dog on the trail. I think I liked it so much because I really had to focus on where my next step was gonna be to avoid roots and rocks and etc, and it kept my mind occupied instead of the thought "I've only been running a minute and a half????Seems like an hour!."
It was much easier and more pleasant for me than track or treadmill.
I was never concerned about speed, but I do like to challenge myself a little bit, so I went from combination walking/running to running to running faster after a short amount of time.
It does take a while to get into it if you're not prone to running, but if you cut yourself some slack in the beginning, you'll find that soon you wake up craving a run instead of dreading it.
posted by newpotato at 8:32 PM on March 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you don't run, trail running may not be easy at first. I'm going to run my 10th marathon in 2 weeks and trail running is hard for me. That said, I did love running in Discovery Park on the trails there. It's a wonderful park. It's a 3 mile loop and never as crowded as something like Green Lake.

There's the Redmond Watershed thing, that has great trails, too. If you are really up for a challenge, St. Edwards Park is very hilly. Work up to that one, maybe.

Trail running is a whole thing with bumps and lumps in your path and leaping over logs and things. It's great fun but don't expect to go very far at first.

Maybe do the couch to 5K thing on some of the rail trails? Rail trails in your area: I've run on many of those and some of them are just stunningly beautiful, and, even better, mostly empty.

My husband used to drop me off 20 miles away and I would jog home to Fremont via the Sammamish River Trail/Burke Gilman. :) The rail trails are wonderful.

If you are running in woods alone, don't listen to music. You can hear most things over a book narrator but not over music.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:26 PM on March 28, 2014

Lord Hill Park is good, too, but again, hilly. That's in Snohomish, I think.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:27 PM on March 28, 2014

Slow is fine! You're still moving, and you'll see things which are interesting, whether you are on flat city streets or on a nice smooth fire road in a park (you might want to hold off on the steep and twisty single-track until you're more comfortable).

If you find running/walking boring, consider something like the smartphone app "Zombies, Run!", which is designed to keep you engaged in the running but has a cool story to go along with your run. The more you run, the more you'll learn about the characters and the zombie apocalypse they're dealing with. Also, ZR has a couch-to-5K training package, and the friends I know who've used it say it's pretty fun.

To start, logistically: go to a good running shoe store and ask them to help you find a pair of shoes appropriate for what you plan to do. Go to Marshalls or Ross or Target and pick up some comfortable lightweight clothes to run in, with appropriately supportive undergarments. Don't forget a couple of good pairs of socks, which make a big difference in foot comfort.

It's easiest to keep up with an exercise program if you make a habit out of it: do it at the same time each time, and build it into your schedule. I like to run first thing in the morning, but it's hard to get myself up that early on work days--so two days/week I have to meet my sister at 6AM to run. By ourselves, we wouldn't do it, but because we're supposed to meet up, we have to get up early and do it.

Exercising first thing in the morning can be good because you have fewer excuses for skipping it--no after-dinner drinks with coworkers, and so forth.

Good luck and have fun! Running is fun, and if you do go into the woods, you'll see coyotes and rabbits and so forth! Me, I saw a salamandar yesterday morning, and a bobcat last month.
posted by suelac at 9:42 PM on March 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I vastly prefer trail running to running on roads -- even though I go slower, I'm so much happier to be in the woods, by myself (mostly), and on softer ground. I can run much farther on the trail than I ever could on the road.

And, what's also great about trail running is that, if it gets rocky or hilly, you can just slow down, but usually you still keep your heart rate up.

So I'd start off by going for walks in a good pair of running shoes (get fitted at your local specialty running store). I haven't had great luck with trail-specific shoes, but have done fine with regular running shoes on trails, assuming you're talking about well-gromed walking trails. So, go for a walk/hike, and, when you are warmed up a bit, then jog a bit. Stop when you feel like it, but keep walking briskly. Eventually you'll run more and walk less.

Anyway, I wouldn't worry too much about getting the right gear when you start. Assuming it's not ridiculously cold, just wear what you have -- after a couple of runs, you'll start to figure out what you want to buy (i.e. tights vs shorts, hat vs sunglasses).

Have fun!
posted by bluedaisy at 10:16 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the great answers so far! If it helps to know, the trail I have in mind for starting is very well maintained pretty smooth dirt about 5ft wide but is fairly quiet and not overly busy.
posted by HMSSM at 12:37 AM on March 29, 2014

As far as rookie mistakes go, You have to give your body time to adapt to the new stress you're putting on it. The total number miles per week that you are running should be started out a very low and increased very slowly, Maybe 10 percent increase per week, and starting with a total of 5 miles per week. Getting really motivated and doing too much too soon is the surest way to get an injury. Anyway congratulations and good on you!
posted by crawltopslow at 3:28 AM on March 29, 2014

I'm doing the same thing, HMSSM! I started from zero--I'm NOT a runner, HATED running when I was younger, and didn't do much cardio up until now. Then one day I decided to give running a go again. My advice is to enjoy having zero expectations for yourself when you first start out trail running. Take it easy, go at whatever pace feels right for you (in my case that's "jogging so slow speed walking old ladies pass me"), and don't feel like you have to go a certain distance or make it to a particular landmark. I find that for me, getting too caught up into reaching a goal or maintaining a certain pace really takes the fun out of the activity for me, and I'm guessing based on your history that you might feel the same way.

I get too discouraged if I check my watch and realize I've only been running for 5 minutes, or am running at a slower pace than I was last week, so I don't wear a watch when I run. When I first started, my goal was to keep moving--I could walk (fast) or I could run, but just standing there wasn't an option. Now my goal is to keep jogging--I can slow down to the teenest little baby jog, but I can't walk. Boy, am I getting good at tiny stepping baby jogging! Oh and if you like being distracted while you run, you could try running with a friend or running club! I have a friend who I run with maybe once every two weeks, and I don't have to say a WORD. He is in much better shape than me, and he uses all that extra breath to TALK NON-STOP. In day to day like I would probably find this behavior really obnoxious and this friend kind of insufferable, but listening to him talk about pretty much every single topic under the sun keeps me from thinking about how tired I am.
posted by gumtree at 6:23 AM on March 29, 2014

Start at your local running shoe store -- not a general sporting goods store, but a specialized running shop such as Fleet Feet. Getting the right shoe for your gait and foot is the best way to protect yourself from injury. Plus they are a great resource... I got started running a few years ago with a beginner's running group offered by my local Fleet Feet. If your store doesn't actually have their own classes, they will have lists of local clubs, classes, and groups. I think that a group class is a great way to get started, keep motivated, and avoid getting bored when you're starting out.

If you prefer to go it alone, I'd nth the C25K-type guidelines for getting started.
posted by Kriesa at 7:38 AM on March 29, 2014

One of the hardest runs I've done is a walk up Tiger mountain. It's close to the city, not a super long trail, and it's steep. I would suggest hitting it once a week in the spring (when the rain slows down). Start slowly (just walk up it), time yourself, and then keep trying to improve your time by picking up the pace. If you go in the morning you'll be with a lot of other people running up the damn thing.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:46 AM on March 29, 2014

Trail running has always seemed a bit too interesting for me, but then again, I trip over flat ground and don't like dirt. Easily entertained, I generally ran on Burke Gilman and marvelled at the dogs and the lake and cyclists. I also personified the trail to keep myself going -- "if I skip this the trail will miss me."

There's no shame in being slow because slow is faster than not running. Going too fast can also lead to carelessness / overwork which leads to injury which leads to (le sad) not running.

Remember sunscreen! Running will make you be outside more than usual and you will get weird tan lines, but at least you can minimize cellular damage. Milky-white sweat also feels badass.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by batter_my_heart at 4:39 PM on March 29, 2014

Good advice in the thread. I'll add a couple of things I didn't see covered.

#1 There is no standard rating system for trail difficulty, and they can vary from a wide, flat converted rail bed up to something that is more scrambling than running. The ones that are going to be on the easy side will be converted railbeds and (mostly) trails that are also open to horses. As a beginner, I would say you'll have enough issues just with running that you'll want to stick on the easier trails.

#2 Falling is a reality in all trail running, at least if you are going fast for your skill level. I've been running for about 30 years and running and racing on trails for about 25 of those 30 years and I still almost always take at least one fall in every trail race I do. Sometimes I wear thin cotton gloves, anticipating a fall, and I don't carry anything in my hands for that reason (like an iPhone or a water bottle).

#3 I don't recommend running in five fingers. I'm saying this as a minimalist runner that has a couple of pairs. The three main things that differentiate a trail shoe from a road shoe is an aggressive tread, a bumper on the toe, and a rock plate in the sole. For easy/flat trails, road shoes will work just fine. As trails get more technical, breaking a toe by accidentally kicking a rock is a real potential, so the thing I am *really* looking for in a pair of shoes is a toe bumper. The shoes can still be pretty minimalist (as measured by weight, forefoot thickness, and difference in thickness between the heel and toe); Inov8 makes a bunch that I am a fan of.

#4 The thing I really like about trail running is that you have to be in the moment all of the time (at least as the trails get more technical). I never listen to music while trail running, i find I just can't check out from the constant process of looking where to put my feet next.

#5 Related to #4, you need to get in the habit of constantly scanning the ground about 10 to 20 feet in front of you, figuring out where you are going to put your feet. This is something you kind of take for granted when you are running on the road.

#6 As trails get steeper, even elite runners sometimes walk (even in races). That is just part of the deal; sometimes it is more efficient to walk. So don't feel like you need to be running 100% of the time when you go out for a trail run.

#7 Since you are a beginning runner, you may not have any expectation of how long things take, but I'll just mention that your pace on a trail will be anywhere from one minute to four minutes slower per mile than on the road. A five mile run that takes, say, 45 minutes on the road might be more like an hour or more on a trail.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by kovacs at 9:05 AM on March 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just chiming in: I wouldn't recommend minimalist shoes if you're just getting started and want to (excuse the pun) dip your toes in. It takes training to be able to use them properly - especially so for a trail. If you've got an old pair of trainers lying around, don't waste cash on gear unless you're sure you actually will use it!

For those discussing minimalist gear on trails, two quick notes:

(1) It takes a while to adjust, particularly on trails: if you haven't run in them before, don't expect to buy a pair and hit the ground running. It will take weeks to strengthen the supporting muscles in your feet and ankles.

(2) For trails, I'd suggest Merrel's Trail Glove (now on its second revision - but the two are practically identical). Fantastic bit of mostly-minimalist shoe. Instead of separate toes, it has a roomy toebox, lowering the risk of fractured toes. The sole is not as thin as some, but I think it's a great middle ground - and with no arch-support qualifies as a "barefoot" shoe (IMHO).The rock plate at the tip of toes is a lifesaver on trails too, and makes them very versatile for hiking/running rocky trails.

I've walked/run hundreds, if not thousands, of km of trail across all sorts of terrain, and if you build it up slowly, it's more than doable: I started with a combination of walking and running small bursts as inspiration took me. Over time, you develop a feel for where to land, how quickly you can get down an incline, what to avoid (wet leaves + mud... bad combo), etc. Just a function of experience. But if you start slow, you'll be amazed at the progress you can make.

Good luck - it's a helluva lot of fun (having just finished a 45km day hike/run today, I'm buzzing with endorphins and love the world, greenery and the sun <3)!
posted by mrme at 10:45 AM on March 30, 2014

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