Running in the 'Meda: Trail run tips

Running in the 'Meda: Trail run tips

Marty Beene

Photo by Marty Beene.

Happy New Year!

I closed out 2014 with a couple of trail runs - something I hadn't really done much at all in 2014. Running on trails is definitely going to be on my resolution list for 2015. What do you need to know to go for a trail run?

Safety: Running on trails involves a couple of elements of danger that are less present in urban running. One is that you are usually more isolated than when running in town. This means that you are theoretically more exposed to personal safety issues like being mugged, although, to be fair, I doubt that many muggers will hike miles into a forest to steal someone's sports watch. Still, it's almost a given that you should run with a buddy if you go out on a trail, just in case anything happens.

Another safety issue is the terrain. Trails can have irregular surfaces, rocks, roots, twigs/branches, mud, and other things to trip over or slip on, so you have to pay close attention. When I ran on the Seaview Trail (near the Tilden Park Steam Train) on my final run of 2014, I was busy talking with my running buddy, and stepped on something and rolled my ankle slightly. Fortunately, I was able to complete the final four miles without any significant trouble, and my ankle was fine by dinner time. The solution is simply to slow down and look ahead.

Expectations: Many people want to "go out for a six-mile run," envisioning that workout on a flat, paved road or sidewalk. But running on a hilly trail for six miles takes a lot more effort than the flat version, so runners need to expect to be running at a slower pace. I usually advise people to use minutes instead of miles to design workouts on trails. For the "six-mile run" example, say you're generally a 10-minute miler. On an ordinary flat-ish surface, it would take you an hour to complete your run. If you go run on an out-and-back trail, I would advise you to run out for 30 minutes, then turn around and come back. You will likely run only about five miles, but your body will think it's just run six. If you're running a loop of a known distance, expect to take 10 to 20 percent longer than on flat ground.

Locations: We are incredibly blessed with fantastic trails here in the East Bay. How do you find them? Most of the accessible trails are part of parks managed by the East Bay Regional Park District, so visiting their website is one place to start. Another agency that manages trails is the East Bay Municipal Utility District. Some of their trails require permits, which may add an element of bureaucracy, but likely means that you will be running on less crowded trails, too.

One of my favorite resources for finding trails is Google Earth. If you use that program, check the "roads" box, and when you zoom in to an appropriate scale (you have to experiment with this), established trails are shown. This doesn't mean that the trails are necessarily accessible, but going there to find out can be part of the fun. Oh, and, by the way, most of the trails in the East Bay have absolutely spectacular views, and you can often see local wildlife like the cute little bunny rabbits that hopped across the Seaview Trail on my recent run.

Races: One of the types of running races that has exploded over the past several years is trail racing. These races are not the place to go for a 10k personal record, but instead offer an opportunity to explore trails in a group setting that is only a "race" for a small proportion of runners. There are a couple of groups that specialize in producing trail races here in the Bay Area, and I have heard nothing but positive reviews from the events put on by Brazen Racing and Coastal Trail Runs. The race distances range from 5k to full marathons, although the difficulty of the terrain usually means that the distances are not that meaningful, except to help you choose the "short," "medium," or "long" option for a given event.

What's your favorite East Bay trail?

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups. Marty can be reached at