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Safety tips for beginner trail runners

Safety tips for beginner runnersWhether or not you’re new to running, hitting the trails is almost an entirely different sport. There’s totally different terrain to deal with, animals and insects, and – yes – even some tricky situations you might not expect. So, before you head on that gorgeous path in the wilderness, heed this advice. And if you’re looking for a place to start, check out the American Trail Running Association’s state trail guide.

  • Communicate: It’s always wise to bring a cell phone on your run. However, the physical phone is only half the battle. On a recent trip to my hometown, I found myself deep in the PA state forrest hiking. I had zero service for the entire trek. Thankfully, I was with a group of friends who knew the trail like the back of their hands. Still, anything can happen. If you’re going it alone and might find yourself without connection, be sure to tell someone – or a few people – where you’re going, when you plan to depart/return, and a rough idea of your route. Check in so your point person knows you’re safe.
  • Pack wisely: You’ll need more gear for trail running, at least in my experience. I always bring a snack with me if I plan to jog up a trail because I usually end up walk/running when the going gets steep. This means I run on time versus distance metrics, and my workouts can last a while. I purchased one of those slim water backpacks a while ago that has an added pocket for snacks, a whistle, my cell phone, and a compass (just in case). If you ever get lost, you’ll appreciate having a few extra supplies.
  • Think safety: Yes. I bring a whistle and even some mace on my trail runs. A friend of mine got me in that habit after she encountered a bear on her Sunday morning long run at the base of the large canyon where I grew up. (She was fine, but what a close call!) Here are some additional tips for staying safe with regard specifically to bears. If there’s another critter around your home area you might experience in the wilds, contact your local park and ask for any safety tips they might be able to offer you.
  • Run light: Or, rather, run in the light. As much as I’m a night runner on the streets and sidewalks, I know better than to head out in darkness on the trails. Even with a headlamp it’s incredibly easy to get lost. And even if you start your run with the sun up, you need to leave ample time to return or you’ll risk ever-encroaching darkness. Especially in this season, try to go in the morning or early afternoon. As an added bonus, you’re more likely to see other people out and about, enhancing your overall safety.
  • Gear up: What you should wear running on the roads and on the trails is similar yet different. Depending on the time of year, you might need some additional pieces of gear to add to your collection. A headlamp, foot grips, and a brimmed hat are helpful. And depending on your overall journey, you might even want to stash an extra lightweight shirt or layer for good measure. Better safe than sorry.
  • Slow down: Don’t expect to run your usual paces on the trail. In fact, if you can deal with it — don’t watch your pace at all. Focus instead on your breathing. On nature. On how you feel. On not getting injured with all the new-to-you movements. No matter your pace, you’re getting excellent benefits from the added balance component, hills, and other trail challenges. Also: Don’t shy from walking if you need to. Trail running is different from running on flat sidewalks, and it takes some getting used to.

Written by Ashley Marcin.

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