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Fall Trail Running Guide

Posted by Carolyn Highland on November 6, 2019

 

Trail running is such an incredible gift and unique way to connect with the wilderness. Running puts our feet on the ground, in direct contact with the earth. We move at a quicker pace than hiking or backpacking, which allows us to cover more ground and see more of the stunning landscapes around us. 

I’ve spent this fall training for my first 50 mile ultramarathon, and have picked up a tip or two about dialing in systems along the way. 

Clothing & Gear

Clothing

Layering can be a very personal thing, so you have to find the system that works for you. Here’s the kit I’ve been jamming on this fall: 

  • Quick dry shorts: I always prefer to run in shorts unless it’s winter--your legs are doing all the work, so typically they’re the last part of your body to feel cold. 
  • Tank top: Especially on sunny fall days if you’re doing a lot of elevation gain, it can get super hot out there--and I love having the option to layer down to the tank. 
  • Wool or synthetic long sleeve: Layering this over the tank top has been a really effective system for me--especially if you’re starting earlier in the morning or going later into the evening. 
  • Buff: This is another easy way to stay warm during colder temps--and buffs can also be super useful in many other ways out on trail--for cooling or first aid purposes. 
  • Trucker hat: I love running in hats because it provides not only sweat absorption, but also sun protection. If it’s a little colder, I can always pull my buff up over my ears for extra warmth. 
  • Thin wool crew socks: long socks on runs are an essential--nothing worse than pulling your ankle socks out from under your heels every few minutes. 
    • Cloth gaiters: These are a game changer in trail running--they’re lightweight, breath well, and keep all sorts of tiny trail debris out of your shoes. 
  • Deuter Flower Hair Elastic: I am all about the fun items on long runs, and there’s nothing like a fun flower in your hair to make the miles go down easy!

Gear

  • Hydration Vest: This is the most crucial piece of gear to bring on long trail runs! You can stuff your water, snacks, sunscreen, layers, phone, etc. in your vest and still feel light on your feet! Another option is a lightweight, compact hydration pack.
  • Bladder: This is the easiest way to carry the most water while trail running--most hydration vests allow you to slide it right in the large back pocket and hook the nozzle around the front. 
  • Phone: I use my phone on runs to track my workouts (using the app Strava), as well as to carry a map of the area I’m running in. I use Gaia, which allows me to download high quality topo maps of the area I’m running in and track my location on the map while offline. This helps me stay on track when I’m in an area with lots of trail junctions!

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Fuel

Food: Fueling is incredibly important on long runs--you are asking your body to do a ton of work, and it’s crucial for your success and safety that you are fueling up as you do so. Again, there are tons of options out there (my favorites this fall have been gels, cheese sticks, and peanut butter cups), but according to an article in Runner’s World, you can burn between 400 and 600 calories an hour out there, so you need to be trying to consume between 100-200 an hour to keep up. I take a quick break each hour to eat something and reapply sunscreen--this also helps me chunk up the run when I’m out for 3-8 hours. 

Water: I carry a 1.5 liter bladder and Aquamira treatment drops. Depending on the heat, the elevation gain, and how I’m feeling that day, I might finish the water in my bladder at 12 miles or it might last for my entire run. Either way, I carry treatment drops to be able to fill up at a creek or river and treat the water so it’s safe to drink! I also add an electrolyte tab to the water (I usually use Nuun tablets) to beef up on calories and make hydration a little more interesting. 

Trail Considerations

The type of trail you choose to run on might have to do with what kind of run you’re interested in or what type of race you’re training for! Things you’ll want to take into consideration are the following:

Elevation Gain: How much elevation a trail gains can really impact how difficult a run feels and how long it takes! A 10 mile run with 1,000 feet of gain will feel like a completely different experience than a 10 mile run with 3,000 feet of gain. Looking at this type of information before you leave will let you know what you’re getting yourself into. I’ve found that the elevation gain of a run can change my expected mile splits by up to 10 minutes, depending on how much climbing it involves! There’s no shame in slowing it down--when things get super steep, sometimes you have to walk!

Level of Technicality: Trails come in all sorts of flavors! They can be sandy, rocky, root-covered, or of just your basic dirt variety. Similarly to elevation gain, the level of technicality of a trail will alter how difficult it feels, and how fast you’re able to move. You’ll also want to make sure you’re considering possibility of injury as you’re moving--I almost always adjust my pace in rocky or slick terrain to ensure my own saftey.  

Access to Water: If you’re anticipating being out long enough to need to refill your water, make sure you’re on a trail that crosses some type of water source--and know when that happens! There’s nothing worse than being out on the trail and having to beg hikers for extra water! 

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Safety

I frequently train alone, and so when I’m out running I always make sure of several things: 

    • Plan: I always leave my route plan and estimated time with a friend or loved one to make sure that if something happens, someone knows where I am and when to start looking for me! 
  • First Aid Supplies: You won’t want to carry an entire first aid kit while running, but I always try to bring a few essentials in case of an emergency. Most things can be improvised out in the field! 

 

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