Mountain-Ultra-Trail Running
South Texas Association
Chair: Joe & Joyce Prusaitis
512-294-6456

Trying to figure out what trail running is all about is not as intuitive as first appears. As the name implies, it all begins with a trail. But to be more specific, it's NOT on road. And it doesn't really have to be RUN either.

 

Trail runs (and races) are typically a set of traditional distances such as 5km, 10km, 25km, 50km, 50mi, 100km, and 100mi, but some are not so tied down by tradition and are simply the distance from the trail head to the trail's end. Some are time based such as 6hr, 12hr, 24hr, 48hr, and 72hr. Everybody runs the same time, so the winner is the person who goes the furthest. Many of these type of events are on a short loop such as a track.

Running on a road makes everything pretty much the same as the road covers up all the variations in terrain. And this is where the biggest difference lies... in the terrain. Every trail is different. It could be dirt, rock, grass, sand, snow, and creek. It could be a single track trail, jeep road, mountain tundra, sand dune, beach, and endlessly so on. The destinations are more to the tune of places like Enchanted Rock, Big Bend, Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons, and this ilk. Again, it's off road, in the parks and green areas. It could be in downtown Austin, but only if its a greenbelt area off pavement.

If you are tuned into the road running scene, you may not realize there is an entirely different world with its own race calendar and classic events that roll on their own click. Its possible you may have heard some of the bigger names like Western States, Leadville, Rocky Raccoon, or Bandera, but maybe not. It's an entirely different world... with a more laid back attitude.

In the Austin area, most of the greenbelt areas have filled with trail systems such as Barton Creek, Bull Creek, and Walnut Creek. There are many others besides these, but these are the largest ones. Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio have theirs as well, and the best way to find out where they are is to hook up with the local trail clubs. In Austin its HCTR http://hillcountrytrailrunners.com , Dallas/Fort Worth its (NTTR) North Texas Trail Runners http://www.nttr.org/. In Houston its (HTREX) Houston Trail Runners EXtreme. In San Antonio your best bet might be http://www.runintexas.com/. Amarillo and Abilene have a growing trail scene as well as many other cities and towns... and with each I suspect some excellent trails to run.

When going out for a run on trails, you should plan your route with concern about when and where you get water. This implies that you do so without getting lost. If a map cannot be had, then you may wish to take a GPS so that even if you don't know where you are, you can at least find your way back home. Also, a map of a set of trails in some areas is almost worthless when the map does not show all the trails. It helps to buddy up with a friend. Two sets of eyes and two minds usually work things out better. If you do get lost or turned around, it doesn't feel as scary as when you are alone.

Trail running gear is as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. All you really need is a bottle of water, but there is a wide variety of high tech gear and other options available. So, lets talk a little about what is available.

1) Trail Shoes typically have some sort of hard rubber bumper on the front to protect the toes. The thought is that you will have more opportunities to crash your toes into something on a trail than you will on a road... ie: the bumper. More aggressive tread is also added due to the more aggressive terrain. These are the two main components of trails shoes, but there are others too such as gore-tex material, rock-plates built into the last, and lateral support. Finding the right shoe is not easy because of each of us has a unique foot. Most of us deal with the great compromise: lightweight vs better foot protection. The minimalist movement has a lot of people going as light as possible for a lot of very good reasons, while others are looking to protect their feet at all costs. Depending on who you are, what you run on, and how far, the shoe may change. So, if you are new to trail, run in what you already have while you have time to think about which shoe direction you want to go in.

2) Hydration Systems are debatably more important than shoes. Without water, you wont get vary far. You can start with a simple water bottle of any type, and then start looking at the details. A bottle holder is not necessary but very handy. Insulated water bottles keep the water cold a lot longer than usual and pretty nice to have in this Texas heat. There is also a very wide variety of back, waist, and shoulder packs in which you can load water bladders of every possible size. And it's not just for water. You could load any concoction you want and have room left over for food, flashlights, and maybe even a GPS and map. Mostly... its about the water. Keep in mind that water is heavy. 1 gallon is equal to about 8 lbs. Again, the compromise: lightweight vs life-giving water. For the basic nutritional needs, Water is the only absolute requirement, but when you do start to stack on the miles... care should be taken to make sure you maintain a water/sodium balance, and pay attention to your calorie intake.

3) If you should find yourself away from the city lights after dark... and that will happen on trails, you will want a very good light. The better you see, the better you run. Or, the darker it is, the more you will fall. Granted some people are bats, but not so for the bulk of us. There are two main types of lights: Head and Hand. The technology boom in these fields has been amazing recently. Headlamps and hand flashlight have become so lightweight, bright, and longer lasting that most people are now running with one light, no backup, and no spare batteries and going all night long, if need be.

4) Some helpful high-tech gadgets are GPS (for route tracking, distance, & elevation), Heart-Rate Monitors, and IPODs. For low-tech, we use gaiters (to keep debris out of our shoes), trekking poles, Yak-Trax (for snow), micro-spikes & crampons (for ice), and bandanas (for everything else) Of course, we tend to pay very careful attention to the clothes we wear also.... such as high tech shirts, arm-sleeves, compression socks, toe socks, and so on.

The fitness requirements depend on how far, how long, and where you are running... or walking for that matter. You don't have to be elite or even a good runner. It's simply about you wanting to get into the woods and check out some trails. Last but not least...have fun & be safe.