Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Trail Running Questions ...Please Help!

Recently I've been doing a lot more trail running while I train for my first ultras this Spring.  But I have several questions about trail running that I would love some help on.  So please feel free to share a quick comment with any advice or experiences.  Don't feel like you have to answer them all, but I really value all your thoughts.  Thanks!

        1) Should I carry something to defend myself from animals, like pepper spray or a knife?  A knife seems dangerous and I really don't want to fall on it.

        2) If I do carry some defense mechanism, don't I really have to "carry it" in my hand?  An animal's not going to wait for me to get it out of a backpack.

        3) Snakes scare me the most - is that a major concern for trail runners?

        4)  Is there certain clothing I should wear to protect me from thorny branches that cover a trail?  The thorns snag my clothes or bloody my legs, which ever it encounters first.

        5) Do people wear their YakTrax snow shoes on really muddy trails?  Seems like it might work.

        6) Do most trail runners wear hydration packs or belts?

        7) Do trail shoes really matter that much?  I seem to do okay in my regular running shoes if the trail's not too rocky.

        8) In a trail race, is it okay to go around someone on a single pass section, or is that rude?  I mean it is a race, but sometimes it seems like you get stuck behind people on narrow trails.

        9) What happens if I run into a leprechaun?  Do I get any wishes?  Do they bite?

      10) To those who've ran ultras - what do you eat and how often during an ultra race?

Thank you for your help everyone.  I've enjoyed my brief time as a "trail runner" so far.  Your words of wisdom will be valued!
... be great today!


  1. I will answer but my experiences are all South Africa and Africa related...:)

    1. No need, animals are more scared of you and unless you are runner no1 they are long gone when you go by.

    2. I will never carry anything like that in my hands.

    3. Snakes are easy to jump over! Seriously, just leave them for the next guy. But usually they are waiting for runner no1...

    4. I just cope with thorns and don't worry about clothing for that. I do wear short skins and then my shorts over that but more for sitting and sliding down steep places.

    5. We don't get snow or YakTrax here but very wet muddy trails indeed. My trail shoes cope well with this on their own.

    6. Hydration pack are far more common over here. I find them less in the way and they don't hook onto branches and things like belts do.

    7. Trail shoes make it 500% better! I'm really serious about this. Go with trail shoes if it is technical or slippery at all.

    8. You will often get stuck and usually this is good as it helps you not to go out too fast. Over here we are very friendly and the front runner will always step out of the way if someone is close behind. If not ask politely.

    9. They bite and only grant wishes to very cute and sexy girls in the trails. That's the South African one's anyway.

    10. I live by the motto "you eat your way up a mountain". I eat normal food as far as possible and some power bars as well. Also lots of jelly babies and jelly beans. I don't use much gels as they make me vomit. Drink plenty of whatever is available and water water water!


  2. 1)I have carried a knife before… but only because I found it on the trail… I fear the unleashed dogs of my redneck neighbors more than I do the creatures of the woods.

    2) I recommend a holster :-)

    3) I have been struck at by a rattlesnake (he missed) mostly I try and think about something else

    4) Yes… try a shorter skirt ;-)

    5) Never tried em… (i live in the deep south)muddy trails are the best tho

    6) I do simply because I plan to race in one but… only on runs longer than 90 minutes (I wear it on the road too)

    7)In my experience, no.

    8)Most runners will move over and invite you to pass. Lots of courteous people out there on the trail. If you get stuck be patient and look for an opening off trail.

    9) You get a pot of gold and a box of lucky charms

    10) It varies but I try and mimic training (and vice versa) that said aid stations at ultras have:

    staples: pretzels, chips, peanut butter, gels, banana

    other stuff I have seen: gummy bears, m&ms, grilled cheese, hot dogs

    be careful you might get hooked on trails... and ultras

  3. Gosh, I have much to say, but will try to be brief. 1) I carry pepper spray and a knife. My knife folds and clips on the front of my my pack. I can't fall on it, but if attacked from behind and am face down, I can access it. I carry weapons for protection against people, not so much animals. 2) Don't be afraid of snakes. Be aware. Know their striking distance, never play music too loudly so that you can't hear rattles (though a rattle snake is very loud). Most people get struck by stepping on a snake. Don't go off trail. And read up on what to do if struck. 3) 10 or more miles, hydration pack, shorter runs, a handheld, 4) I don't wear protection clothing, I just get bloody. 5) It's okay to pass on a single track, I just let them know that I'm passing. Also, if someone is behind me I often tell them, "Just say when you want to pass," and I try to make it easier. 6) I don't think leprechauns bite 7) I go for the gels on ultras, plus protein bars. When I work ultras, big ones, like 100 miles, the thing I see runners go for most are the potatoes. Hope this wasn't too long. Good luck!!

  4. 1) I never trail run solo so I personally do not carry anything. My dad however, carries a small pocket knife.

    2) clip it on your waist if you do decide to bring something along.

    3) I've never seen a snake on the trails I run.

    4) I wear my normal running clothes.

    5) I do not wear them, just trail running shoes.

    6) I'd wear a belt. that way, your hands are free to brace yourself when you fall. I say when, because you will fall at least once!

    7) YES!!!!! I will never run trails in my road shoes again. I run in Brooks Cascadias and love them. I definitely think trail shoes are a must!!

    8) yes, just say "on your left" and go around them on the left.

    9) you do get wishes

    10) I carry Gu with me, but will munch on whatever is offered at the aide stations. I have seen pb&j, pretzels, coca cola, boiled potatoes w/ salt, oreos, water, etc... offered. I usually go for the potatoes, coke, pretzels and an oreo or 2. :-)

  5. 1. I would pass on this

    2. Again, I would pass on this

    3. I have come across some snakes occasionally on the trail - but as long as you see them you will be fine. I've probably seen 4 snakes in my trail running life

    4. I wouldn't worry about thorns at all

    5. I just wear trail running shoes, and if the trail is super muddy I just don't to to that trail

    6. I wear a hydration pack for every run - trail or road.

    7. I think you're right - generally I just wear my regular running shoes for trail running. But if you are getting into some serious trails, you may want to get a pair of trail running shoes - they provide better traction and balance for going over rocks and down hills, etc

    8. It is a judgement call, generally you try to wait until there is room to pass, sometimes if a person is really slowing you down they may slow and pull to the right to allow you to pass. I will say that trail running is more about the experience of the trail and less about placing.

    9. lol!

    10. no ultra experience

  6. Also, I will say the craziest thing I've come across while trail running is a pack of wild coyotes - it was legit scary. We had to pick up a branch and try to scare off the pack, they were crazed. We ended up being able to scare them off and finished the run, but I still remember that experience. Have to be ready for anything while trail running. But I prefer it to road running anytime.

  7. If you run into a leprechaun you take him hostage and make him show you to his pot of gold.

    I can't help with any of the other questions - sorry!

  8. As someone who is planning my first ultra this year, too, I'm glad to read your questions and everyone's answers!

  9. Aron from RunnersRambles runs trails all the time. You should contact her.

  10. First I have limited trail running experience so excuse the answers but I will take a stab at them.
    1. I never did, and nothing ever bothered me, but if I would carry something maybe pepper spray as it is often recommended.

    2. have it in reach, defeats the purpose if you cant get to it.

    3. Put on your man suit

    4. toughen up

    5. Maybe

    6. Depends on how far you are going

    7. It depends how technical it is, I think they are over-rated and people will buy them just because they are "trail" shoes. If it works, then its your trail shoe. (money pit)

    8. Ask Miles (hahaha) But I think the proper etiquette is to just shove the guy or gal in front of you off to the side?

    9. yes you get wishes, but I have never seen one as of yet.

    10. Sorry, never ran an ultra trail.

    Hope this helps some. Take care and Trail running is about just getting out there and seeing what works for you. That's all part of the process. Trail running is def not a one size fits all. But what do I know? lol. Im not Scott Jurek.

  11. From my experience:
    1. I worry more about the neighborhood dogs. I’ve never had a need to carry anything while on the trails.

    2. Many trail runners, self included, run with small packs (spipacks). I like to carry my phone, ID, and band-aids.

    3. Seen plenty on runs but they have never done anything to me. Especially in MO/KS area, there are only 1 or 2 species that can hurt you.

    4. Blood is a trail runner’s badge of honor.

    5. Interesting idea, I normally just slide through it and consider it cross training.

    6. Anything over 15 miles, I will carry some water or create a loop course. I’m old school and just carry a bottle.

    7. I always said no until I purchased some Merrel trail shoes. I probably still do more trail miles in road shoes but if its muddy, the trail shoes make a big difference.

    8. Done both, depends on the situation but most just let you pass if you make it obvious.

    9. Bite first and see what happens

    10. My first ultra is on the list this year. My brother has run several ultras and swears by half a PB&J every hour.

  12. I have absolutely no answers but I do think it's awesome you're going to do an ultra!! Can't wait to read all about it.

  13. Great questions Jim!
    1 - 3. I occasionally have pepper spray with me, but only because I worry about dogs. I see many deer and turkey, and I have come close to stepping on a couple of snakes. In most cases there is no need for any type of weapon, but if it makes you feel better, do it.
    4. A little blood is a badge of honor among trail runners.Don't be a pansy.
    5. Yak Trax are for ice, trail shoes are for mud. Or, you could put sheet metal screws in your shoes for ice and mud traction. Works very well.
    6. Depends on the distance. I usually take my camelbak so I can carry my phone, gels, bars, etc. Handy to have if you get lost.
    7. Trail shoes are nice, but if your current shoes work for you, then go with it.
    8. In my experience, many people will move out of the way for you to let you pass. Or you can holler ahead and say something like "passing on your right".
    9. Worse than snakes.
    10. My plan for Ice Age is a gel every 30 minutes. I did the 50K last year and took something about every 40 minutes. Also alternated HEED and water in my Camelbak and tried to eat a little something at about every aid station.

    Seriously - you should sign up for the Psycho Wyco Run Toto Run. I am signed up for the 20 miler.

  14. Johann would be the most experienced voice in this melee of trail running questions and I don't know a whole heck of a lot, but I live in the trail running mecca of the world and he is pretty much spot-on...other than NO YakTrax, they are for wusses ;) (trail shoes all the way!) and I only train with liquid fuel (Hammer's Perpetum or Twin Lab's Endurance Fuel) but when I did Leadville Marathon and Pikes Peak, I grabbed a few solids and they tasted awesome at that time.

  15. 3 hours after saying I have never had problems with wildlife, I have a coyote chase me. I was on a road run in a very rural area near my home.

    Shined my knuckle lights at him, yelled, and charged him. Thankfully he ran.

  16. I have never carried any weapon or spray in thousands of miles on trails and have never needed them.

    I've only had one rattle snake encounter ever (scared me to death.) I avoid narrow over-grown trails in summer during times when snakes are out.

    No YakTrax but trail shoes make a HUGE difference. Two reasons: 1) They have a rock plate that helps protect from rocks, and 2) grip on the bottom is much, much better.

    Spend the money to get a good hydration pack. This is one area you don't want to scrimp on (learned from experience). Check out the Nathan HPL 020 or UltrAspire packs.

    No such thing as leprechauns. I have been bit by a unicorn twice.

    In ultras I always try to rely on real food as long as possible. It is critical to stay on top of nutrition and hydration, try to maintain 200-300 calories per hour.

    Side note: after spending time on the trails, I now dread running on roads. Trails are where the fun is.

  17. Ya know, you leave that weapon question WIDE open for me to walk right in. Did you know that spatulas are GREAT for slicing up snakes??

    I saw a snake on my first ever trail race. We all jumped over it. No fatalities. We all did yell a bit.

    If your sneakers work then great. I always wore trail shoes because my ankles love to roll on trails. Not fun.

    Get yourself a hydration back pack. Wait, don't you have one already? Fill it with snow cone juice. I recommend blue raspberry. Keep some in your mouth so when you pass people you can spit some at the side of their face like a fountain. Say "gotcha!"

  18. No trails with animals or without lots of people here - 9miles outside of Manhattan - I'm no help, but I think, anyone can correct me if I'm wrong, Leprechauns are friendly, and don't bite, unless bitten!

  19. I love the leprechaun question!

    In my experience, YakTrax do not help at all with mud--nothing really does.

    I've never carried pepper spray or any other "weapon," but I got some for my birthday. Honestly, I'm afraid I'll end up somehow spraying myself with it. That said, I'll probably carry it the next time I'm on a trail run because a) there have been some coyote attacks on runners here recently and b) I'm (probably irrationally but nonetheless truly) scared of mountain lions.

    I don't recommend jumping over rattlesnakes. And since I can't tell what they are usually (who has time to actually get close enough to look for the rattle???), I turn around or let the snake pass before moving on.

    I do wear a CamelBak on a long trail run, but I don't fuel any differently. That said, I've never trained for or run an ultra. I think you should absolutely experiment with this.

    Finally trail shoes do help if the trail is stony or technical in some other way. If it's just hard-packed dirt, I see no reason to switch shoes if yours are comfy.

    Good luck, Jim!

  20. 1. I carry a whistle & we make lots of noise....that takes care of bears & other 4 legged forest critters. Otherwise, run with someone slower....all you have to do is outrun them ;)

    2. The above whistle is on an elastic band on the front of my hydration pack.

    3. Snakes scare me too...even the regular grass variety. It's ok to scream like a little girl while in the woods. Stay off the sunny side of a mountain in the afternoon if they really bother you. Do you get Rattlesnakes?...they scare the bejeesus out of me

    There's nothing you can do about a snake bite so just give them a wide berth.

    4. I carry basic first aid supplies to deal with cuts & scrapes. They happen.

    5. Haven't tried them. Would the elastic get snagged on roots & branches?

    6. Nathan hydration pack. How else could I carry all the above first aid supplies, whistle & food! Seriously, it's awesome. Don't even feel it.

    7. I wear Brooks Pure Grit. Love them. They are muddy. Very muddy. But I need something with a rock plate now I think for the more technical trails.
    8. Go ahead, pass me if you can stay passed. But don't pass me then make us leap frog the whole race. That's annoying.

    9. Say hi to the leprechaun...just don't cross him ;)

    10. Try eating regular food. I pack a sandwich & chips if you can believe it. Also electrolyte tabs are really important if you are running in heat. You REALLY do get foggy in the brain when the lytes get messed up.

  21. great trail running resource....

  22. 1) Should I carry something to defend myself from animals, like pepper spray or a knife? A knife seems dangerous and I really don't want to fall on it.
    It depends on where you are running - what type of animal(s) you might encounter. Nix the knife (unless a pocket knife in a protected pouch with your duct tape).

    2) If I do carry some defense mechanism, don't I really have to "carry it" in my hand? An animal's not going to wait for me to get it out of a backpack.
    That's why pepper spray is a good idea if you are going to run in a remote area of say...Alaska. I ran with a fella in Alaska who ALWAYS carries Pepper Spray on his trail/mountain runs and has used it at least ONCE!

    3) Snakes scare me the most - is that a major concern for trail runners?
    Again, depends on the area you are running. They usually are in cover/brush, but I have seen them on the trails -- esp. bull snakes in CA.

    4) Is there certain clothing I should wear to protect me from thorny branches that cover a trail? The thorns snag my clothes or bloody my legs, which ever it encounters first.
    If you are running through thickets, best to avoid cacti or thorns by not running through these areas. Wear tights (lightweight pair if it is warmer weather).

    5) Do people wear their YakTrax snow shoes on really muddy trails? Seems like it might work.
    YakTrax would not be good choice as the springs/components will just pop off without you realizing it. A "spike" or screw shoe -- best are ICESPIKE -- is suggested.
    6) Do most trail runners wear hydration packs or belts?
    Depends on how long they are running. Some just carry a hand-held water bottle. Don't go out and run your first 20 miler with a hydration pack having never worn won. You need to get comfortable with the weight and the ride on a shorter run first.
    7) Do trail shoes really matter that much? I seem to do okay in my regular running shoes if the trail's not too rocky.
    Yes. They are built more for the terrain changes and the rotation/balance required on the rocky/ non-flat stuff. Not to mention grip, stability...
    8) In a trail race, is it okay to go around someone on a single pass section, or is that rude? I mean it is a race, but sometimes it seems like you get stuck behind people on narrow trails.
    Say "Trail" when passing and typically the person will step aside to let you pass. Don't however speed up, pass, and then park it at a slow pace in front of person you just passed.

    9) What happens if I run into a leprechaun? Do I get any wishes? Do they bite?
    If you are wearing green, you're ok.

    10) To those who've ran ultras - what do you eat and how often during an ultra race?
    That's a question which takes more than a few sentences. Read our book, THE Ultimate Guide to Trail Running -- Adam W. Chase and Nancy Hobbs authors. Happy Trails, Nancy Hobbs, Exec Director, American Trail Running Association

  23. I wear trail shoes and everything else is same as racing. I pass too. Ran a half last year and it was all single track. Lots of passing. I also yell "on the left" and people move out of the way. I use a water bottle on the trails. Some races require them since they don't like to bring cups into the forest.

  24. 1. & 2. pepper spray is good to have so long as you carry it or fasten it on an easily accessible area.

    3.I've had a rattlesnake lunge at me..... scary stuff. A good rule of thumb is to keep your eyes on the trail and always be aware of your surroundings.

    4.Blood and scrapes are badges to wear with pride!

    5. Mud will suck off your yaktrax..... and possibly your shoe. Don't bother.

    6. I wear my Nathan hydration pack.... I like having extra supplies with me.

    7. You'll appreciate your reinforced-toe trail shoes after you've stubbed your toe a million times (generally allows you to keep your toenails). Trail shoes are also made for gripping onto rocks etc. If your trails aren't really technical or hilly then you could get away with regular runners.

    8. If the person in front of you is slowing you down.... they will generally move aside without your asking. If not, say 'passing on your left'..... they will move then. Make sure to smile and say hello as you pass!

    9. You'll usually run into leprechauns around the 18 hour mark....... if they bite, you won't feel a thing because you're too tired!

    10. If you can figure this out, you'll excel in the ultra world. As a rule you need to make sure that you're getting in at least 200 calories an hour (the body can't process much more than that). Trial and error is the only way because everyone's bodies are so different. Make sure your water and electrolyte levels are maintained. So many DNF's come from poor nutrition, not lack of training.

    Trail running is sooooo much fun and the people are soooo awesome.

  25. You may have already saw this, but if not...

  26. I'm super glad you posted this question on your blog since I am a trail runner at heart. I have been enjoying what other people's ideas and thoughts are.

    I will be referring back to it occasionally.

  27. This has been a funny read! A lot of good, and bad, suggestions. You just need to find what works best for you. Mix it up and practice it on your long runs. Repeat during the race. I use a hydration pack for my long runs on the trails for extra water, supplies (phone, food,knife, tissue,..) and weight to make the miles feel longer and harder. But only use handhelds on race day.
    Snakes - Seen lots (live in the South). Develop good scan patterns of the trail and go around them. We are the one who are invading their yard.
    Get some trail shoes.
    Food - Mix it up and see what works, and doesn't, for you. What works for someone may not work for you. If high temps - Liq cal and gels best, cooler temps go for real food because the body can digest easier with a lower core temp. Also depends on distance of race - 50K, 50M, 100M.
    Most important - Enjoy the trails, and use your body as a test experiment.


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