Over the weekend I went out to Long Island to visit my family. Well, at least that’s what they think I came for. Really it was because the tree-lined, dirt running trails in the park across the road from my neighborhood have been calling my name. (Totally kidding! I came for both.) I love running in the city, but I’ve been missing these trails like crazy.
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On Saturday morning, after fueling up with some apple slices, a bit of peanut butter, and of course, a Pop Tart (Found them in my mom’s pantry. Score!) I laced up my sneakers and headed straight for the park. Before this weekend, I can hardly even remember the last time I ran these trails.
Luckily, my memory served me well and I still remember the route like the back of my hand. But as I was making my way through the winding woods, I got to thinking about some useful tips for trail workouts, including the fact that you should always map out your route. You know, so you don’t get lost.
4 Tips for Trail Running
1. Map Your Route
If you’re running a new trail that you’ve never navigated before, map your route. (It’s probably even a good idea to do this when you have run the trail before.) Look it up before you go and get a good idea of where you’re going. Yes, adventure and being spontaneous is fun, but if you get hurt or you’re too tired to keep going, being lost is not. Also, tell a friend or family member where you’re going so they’ll know where to find you if you need help and bring your cell phone so that you can be tracked via GPS and can get in touch with someone if you encounter any problems. Even better, it’s always a good idea to take on long trail runs with a buddy when you can.
In addition to mapping your route, you should also pay attention to trail markers. Most parks that have trails for hiking and running should have their trees marked with colored squares to let pedestrians know which route they’re following.
2. Run Slow
Trail terrain is not the same as running on the road. The benefit is that with dirt surface there’s less impact compared to asphalt and cement. However, it’s a good idea to take your pace down a notch or two because you’ll need to watch out for tree roots, sticks, leaves, rocks, and just uneven terrain in general. Trail running is great because the twists, turns, and varying terrain add an extra challenge which will make you a stronger runner in the long run. But if you twist your ankle because you were going too fast or weren’t paying attention you won’t be able to run at all, and we all know how much runners hate not being able to run.
3. Enjoy the scenery
Pardon my French, but trail running is freakin’ beautiful! Especially in the fall when the foliage is more colorful than a double rainbow. So instead of checking your GPS every 3 minutes, pay attention to your surroundings (also do this for safety reasons too), stop and smell the roses (it’s OK to walk or even stop and stand with your mouth agape for a minute), and just genuinely enjoy the fact that you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by nature while you partake in the best activity known to man. (I’m talking about running, in case that wasn’t clear.)
4. Ditch Your Headphones
I saved this tip for last because it relates heavily to number two and three also. There are several reasons why you should head out sans music when you’re hitting the trails. Number one is because you need to run slow and pay attention for the sake of not tripping over a stick and falling down; Number two is because you should be enjoying all of the beautiful nature around you instead of listening to Pitbull tell you about how much money he’s worth; And number three is because there are animals everywhere. Depending on where you are some of them might be very large. Chances are one will never harm you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability to maul you if they feel like it. (You never know, and runners aren’t very well liked by some right now either.)
While I was running on Saturday, towards the very end of my run, I heard some rustling in the brush to my right. I thought nothing of it. I assumed it was a squirrel because come on, this is Long Island we’re talking about, not the Outback. Well, I assumed wrong. About 30 seconds later the biggest male deer I have ever seen in my entire life leapt across the path about 50 yards in front of me. I won’t lie, I almost peed my pants. Even worse, I didn’t know what to do and it was a good minute or so before it ran off into the distance. So for what felt like an eternity, I was just standing there, and it was just standing there, and I guess you could say we were both like deer in headlights. Minus the headlights, though.
Usually deer aren’t scary, but first of all you never know what any animal will do, even if it does look as cute as Bambi. And second of all, this particular deer looked more like a moose. It had huge horns and an enormous muscular body. It was truly terrifying.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much information about what to do if you encounter a deer while running. (Plenty of tips on how to avoid hitting them with your car though!) However, one Patch reporter says:
If you do run into a deer in rut [mating] season and you feel threatened, then you need to be loud i.e. yelling or banging on a tree by you with a large stick. Most likely any movement you do will scare off the deer.
And Runner’s World has a few tips for encounters with even scarier animals like bears, coyotes, and mountain lions. God help me if I ever come across one of those! But ultimately, Holly who blogs at RustBeltRunner.com summed up my feelings perfectly in writing about her own deer encounter when she said, “I did not want to get antlered!”
Have you ever encountered an animal while running? Are there any tips you would add to my list?