Trail Running 101: Overcoming the Top 5 Fears Every Runner Faces

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Ever felt that tingle of excitement when thinking about trail running but immediately overwhelmed by fear of the off-beaten path?

You’re in good company! Venturing into trail running can be like diving into an epic movie scene – exhilarating, yes, but oh boy, those plot twists!

You might be picturing yourself tangled up in roots, wandering aimlessly through the woods, or even having a surprise meeting with not-so-friendly wildlife.

Well, we’ve all been there! Every trail runner, including yours truly, started with a mix of excitement and apprehension. But guess what? I’ve got your back! Together, we’ll tackle those fears head-on and pave your way to some epic trail tales.

Ready to gear up and demystify trail running? Let’s go.

Additional Resource – Here’s how to protect yourself from dogs

Fear # One: Falling While Trail Running

Whether you’re a seasoned trail blazer or a newbie just itching to hit the ground running (hopefully not literally), the fear of falling is as real as it gets.

But let’s have a heart-to-heart here. Life, in general, is packed with unpredictable moments. I mean, how many times have you stubbed a toe on your own furniture? Ouch, right? A study from the Journal of Safety Research highlighted that a whopping majority of accidents actually happen at home. So, if we’re playing the odds game, your living room might be more of a “danger zone” than those scenic trails.

However, let’s get real. Tumbles on the trail? They’re kinda of like battle scars for trail runners – a testament to the rugged paths conquered. If you’re out there exploring undulating terrains filled with rocks, roots, and everything in-between, chances are, gravity might catch you off-guard occasionally.

The Solution

Try keeping a rhythm with about 180 steps per minute. Research from the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine has shown that this swift, chippy cadence can help position your feet squarely beneath you, making those surprise trips less likely.

Oops, did you miss a step? No worries!

Instead of taking a headlong plunge, chin in, core tight, and roll over your leading arm to the back of your shoulder. Think of it as your superhero landing – minus the explosion in the background.

Check this YouTube Tutorial.

Fear # Two: Wildlife Encounters While Trail Running

Whether it’s the rustle of leaves or a shadow darting away, wildlife encounters can make anyone’s heart race faster than their legs!

Here’s the good news: while you’re out there thinking you’re about to star in a live-action wildlife documentary, most of our forest friends are basically thinking, “Human alert! Retreat, retreat!” Yep, these natural inhabitants are pros at detecting us from a distance and usually bail out before we even notice.

In other words, they’re more afraid of you than you’re of them.

The Solution

Make some noise! Think of it as your live concert for the critters. Sing, chat, or shout out an enthusiastic “Howdy!” Not only will this warn the animals of your approach, but it’ll also give you an excuse to finally showcase those shower singing skills.

But let’s address the elephant (or bear) in the room. What if you and a wild animal end up in a surprise meet-cute?

Rule number one: keep your cool. No sudden movements. Just gracefully back away and give them their VIP space.

As for the “race” aspect? These critters have home turf advantage, so trying to outrun them? Yeah, not the brightest idea.

To amp up your trail prep, tossing in some bear mace and a whistle in your kit is a smart move. Trust me, in the slim chance you need them, you’ll be patting yourself on the back for that foresight.

Number Three: Getting Lost While Trail Running

Have you ever had that fleeting, gut-twisting thought, “Uh, where the heck am I?” while clocking miles on a trail? Thankfully, with some handy tips and tools, you can turn that “lost” storyline into a “well-guided adventure” narrative.

The Solution

Think of your first solo trails as your cozy neighborhood jog – something so familiar, you could almost do it with your eyes closed. (Although, let’s not actually test that theory, okay?)

You want paths that feel like an old friend, routes that, if they could talk, would be reminiscing about that time you tripped over that ‘invisible’ root. Loop trails are a great choice here – it’s like running in a circle, bringing you right back to where you started.

Your smartphone? Sure, it’s a powerhouse of navigation. And mapping apps can be real game-changers. But remember, your trusty device isn’t invincible. Between pesky low battery alerts and trees conspiring to block your signal, going digital-only might leave you in the lurch. So, old school it up! For long excursions into the off-beaten path, have a detailed trail map, bond with a compass, and learn to read those topographical lines.

What’s more?

While solo runs have their charm, teaming up can be a smart choice. Consider buddying up with a fellow runner or even joining a trail-running group.

Apart from shared laughter and potential inside jokes, there’s practicality here, too. More eyes on the trail, more brains to decipher routes, and shared experience can make for a much more confident run.

Here’s how to plan your running routes.

Fear # Four: Ankle Sprains While Trail Running

Ankle sprains are a trail runner’s rite of passage. One misstep and you’re suddenly doing the ankle-twist dance nobody signed up for. And if your ankles have played this tune before, they’re more likely to groove to it again.

The Solution

Start by being picky. Seek out those forgiving, well-trodden trails. Let those rugged, ankle-challenging paths be a future conquest when you’re more trail-savvy

Facing a steep ascent or a technical section? Swap that run for a power walk. And here’s the golden rule: look forward. Your eyes should be set on what’s ahead, not inspecting your fancy trail shoes. After all, in trail running and in life, it’s about the journey, not just the step you’re on.

What’s more?

Make sure to keep nimble, and quick steps. This is what I call the art of tiptoeing through the trail of tulips, making you feel as airy and spry as a woodland sprite.

Before you know it, you’ll be gracefully sidestepping those treacherous spots, making it look like you’ve got some trail magic up your sleeve!

Additional Resource – Gaiters For Trail Running

Fear # Five – Being Slow While Trail Running

If road running is like cruising the highway, then trail running? Well, that’s more akin to exploring a winding, ever-changing mountain road. The uneven ground, the quick twists and turns, and the sudden steep inclines: the trails are a different beast altogether.

And here’s a heads-up: that digital pace pal that’s been your loyal companion on urban jaunts? It might do a double-take when you take it to the trails.

The Solution

First things first: shift your mindset. Those wild, adventurous trails don’t care about your mile times. What might seem like a slow crawl amidst gnarly roots and rocks is actually a heart-pumping, skill-honing challenge.

For this reason (and some more), I’d recommend giving your GPS watch a day off. Instead of being in a race against time, pick a duration. Say, if you’ve been ruling the roads at 8 miles an hour, then shoot for an hour of trail exploration. And if you want to keep it simple, an out-and-back route is your trusty sidekick. You get halfway, and it’s time to turn around.

Trail Running Fears – The Conclusion

There you have it.

The above tips and guidelines are all you need to get over your trail running fears.

Now, It’s up to you to take action on what you have just learned.

The rest is just detail.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Keep Running Strong.

David D.

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