A First: Trail Running


Location: Catalina State Park

Elevation: 2,601 to 2,785

Temp: 39F at 8:45 a.m.

Last Sunday I did my first ever trail run – a short 2.3 miles in the Catalina State Park.

To be honest, “trail running” wasn’t even on my radar two months ago.

How it began.

I met and spoke with a long-distance trail runner in July while we were volunteering together at a triathlon. She, too, is an active member of TeamRWB, and she told me about her and her husband’s adventures in running these crazy-long races: 50Ks, 100K, team relay races that go on for 36 hours non-stop (or more).

While I fully admit that I was fascinated with the stories she was sharing, in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Why would anyone put their body through that?” 

Fast-forward to the Boneyard 5K at the end of October. Before the race, other TeamRWBers were talking about their upcoming race agendas for 2016. One lady mentioned that she was signed up for the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon (a road race) in Lexington, Kentucky, and another gal noted that she was registered for the Grand Canyon Half Marathon (a trail run).

That conversation piqued my interest enough that later that evening, I did some research and discovered that not only is there a half marathon at the Grand Canyon, but there are several other National Park races. 

When I realized this, something inside of me turned on.

I thought, “How cool would it be to do a run in some of our country’s most amazing places?”

And I knew that if I was even going to attempt this, the logical place to start is with the Grand Canyon Half, while we are still living in Arizona. Plus, knowing that I have a definitive time period to make this happen might just motivate me.

That’s how my interest in trail running got started: A pipe-dream about a trail race in a national park.

Still, at that point, it was just thought because I didn’t know the first thing about trail running.

Then something serendipitous happened. TeamRWB announced that they were holding an “Intro to Trail Running” event, and I knew I needed to make it a priority to be there on Sunday.

I had zero expectations for the event and went into it with a completely open mind. All I wanted was to try it – to see if I even liked it. I knew this was the perfect opportunity to try it with the help of a few seasoned trail runners at my side.

Before we even began the run, the organizers went over safety and guidelines. One big “rule” they stressed was that trail running isn’t about distance, particularly when you are starting out. It is about going for x-amount of time and building your stamina.

For this trail run loop, our instructions were to run for 30 minutes total. If we weren’t at the half-way point (the set of stairs) by 15 minutes, we were to turn around and come back.

Each of the three organizers took a position in the pack – front, middle, rear – that way no one was left behind. I started out near the end of the pack but steadily made my way through the gaggle at the back, and a few in the middle and within the first mile, I found myself running alone.

I didn’t mind.

Running the trail and being surrounded by nature was an incredibly peaceful experience – much more so than road running (although I am in no way an expert at that, either).

The trail they selected for us was fairly wide and the terrain was sandy. I navigated around boulders and early on, had two water hazards to cross (seeing water made me happy). At each crossing, I carefully picked my way across the rock-path, and once I got to the other side, I continued with my jog.

I got to the half-way point (the stairs), and when I reached the top, I saw the lead pack of runners. They’d stopped to catch their breath and were just heading out. I followed their lead of catching my breath and taking a selfie.

My quick selfie at the half-way point.

The run back to “headquarters” was truly fun. By that point, my legs had warmed up, my stride wasn’t tight and the scenery had changed to field grass. I probably passed at least dozen hikers heading up the trail and said “good morning” to all of them.

When I reached the hill back down, I slowed my pace and was extra careful not to fall. The organizers had told us that hills can be tricky, but noted that after you trail run enough, you’ll figure them out.

The last water hazard (a wash) was one I was familiar with from the few hikes Jason and I had done before. It was the widest and deepest water of the three, but this time, there was no carefully negotiating the crossing. I just went splashing through it! I felt like a kid! Total fun!

I reached headquarters and completed the 2.3 mile run in 30:34 minutes (time for selfie included :)).

The Catalina Mountains from “headquarters”


Consensus: I sorta like trail running – at least enough to continue to explore this activity further. This makes sense considering I love hiking, and trail running is nothing more than hiking faster.

After the run, the TeamRWB organizers gave a good educational session covering more details about trail running safety, equipment, gadgets and nutrition.

Homework: The TeamRWB organizers suggested that each of us find a trail close to home that we can run a few times a week. They further recommended that we not try to do different trails every time. Instead, the smart approach is to continue to use the same trail and gauge improvement by how far we can go and by slowly increasing our running time.

I am currently looking into trails in Saguaro National Park West and Star Pass as both are minutes away from the house. My plan is to strap on the hiking boots first to assess the trail, and once I find one, try a run.

As for the Grand Canyon Half, while I love the idea of doing it, right now, it is still just an idea. For now, my goal is to do more trail running to see what my body can handle – and find a few more water to splash through!


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