BEWARE: The Dangers of Trail Running

The flowers are nice, but my untoned arms and hidden watch tan aren’t. Don’t let trail running do this to you.

Living in Colorado, I’m surrounded by beautiful hiking, biking, and trail-running paths switching back and forth up the Rocky Mountains. After work, I can run up to a rock formation resembling a mushroom with a natural throne-like seat on top or snake through fields of wildflowers up to a green lake at the base of Mt. Sopris, and that’s no where near the extent of running available in Carbondale alone. I also work in the same office as Trail Runner Magazine and can get the inside scoop on which trails are dry, brutally uphill 98% of the way, and/or have the best views. This may sound like the perfect rest day activity, but I warn you: Beware of trail running.

Now, you may be wondering: What’s the big deal? So I get to run through fields of wildflowers with a cool mountain breeze blowing at my back and end up at a lake on the few days each week I’m not climbing? That sounds fantastic! And it is, but only if you are cautious to not let the trail-running bug bite you too hard.

Here’s Why:

  1. It’s addicting. You think you’re going to die on your first two-mile round-trip jog. You stop to “stretch” seven times. Two weeks and five more two-mile jogs later, you only stop to stretch twice, actually look at the views around you, and begin to enjoy the experience. Then you want more. Within a few months you’re running 10-mile days when you’re not climbing or going for a “quick” six-mile hill workout before you join your friends at the crag. Don’t do it! Unless you’re superman, training for a marathon—or more likely an ultra—isn’t going to help you send 5.13. It’s just going to make you very tired and sweaty at the crag. So go ahead, go for those two-mile jogs. Go for a four-mile run if you want, but, if you really love climbing, don’t train for a marathon-plus while trying to send your project.
  2. It takes a lot of time. If you do become hooked on trail running, as explained above in number one, you’ll suddenly have much less time to climb. Rest-day jogs are great, but losing three hours of your Saturday morning to a 20-miler eats up time you could be spending getting in extra pitches.
  3. It’s expensive. No, you don’t have to go out and buy seven matching Nike outfits to begin trail running or try out three different hydration belts, but you will have to buy sneakers more often, and, more than that, you’ll spend way more on groceries. Think about how many calories it takes to run for an hour, or two, or four. And you cannot replace the calorie deficit with a few packages of Ramen noodles or a discount box of Oreos. You need to eat good, whole (aka. expensive) foods beyond rice and beans to recover enough to climb—and run—again. Soon you’ll be buying little power gels that are essentially fruit gummies with more intense packaging for three times the cost. If you’re a dirtbag, you probably cannot afford that type of grocery bill.

    My knee post trail-running digger.
  4. You could hurt yourself. Trail running might seem pretty tame compared to hanging off a cliff, but risk is still involved. On my last trail run, I slid down a hill on some loose rocks while passing a group of hikers. My knee—see photo—could have used a few stitches, and my foot was too swollen and bruised to wear climbing shoes, which led to me missing an afternoon of bouldering and the next day at Rifle. I’ll admit I’m not as coordinated as the average person, but most climbers I’ve met aren’t exactly hand-eye or foot-eye coordinated people either. There’s a reason we climb instead of playing soccer or tennis.

Now, I’m not saying don’t ever go for a trail run. It would be sad to miss out on running through fields of wildflowers to reach green lakes at the base of snow-covered mountains. However, know the addictive power of trail running before you set out on your rest-day jog, and remember how much you love clipping the chains before you’re tempted to devote your days off to 50Ks. Also, watch your footing, small rocks on the ground can be more treacherous that you think.

Originally published July 13, 2015, on 

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