On the Trail


Experience From - Dan Baglione, Jay Hodde#1, "Frozen" Ed Furtaw, Karl King, Jeff Wold#1, John Davis, Jay Hodde#2, Jeff Wold#2, Dana Roueche ,

Dan Baglione

Subject: Foot Placement

While it is obvious, it cannot be overemphasized that running down rocky trails without falling requires constant concentration.

Another piece of advice given to me by Stewart Dutfield, an excellent downhill trail runner and winner of the first Everest Marathon in 1987, is to try to look about five footplants ahead. A common mistake is to look at the ground just in front of you. This does not provide much time to react when an obstacle suddenly rises up to trip you. By looking farther ahead you anticipate the presence of these obstacles and have time to react.

Another mistake is to follow the runner in front of you too closely. If you do this, you see only his heels and when he jumps to avoid an obstacle hidden by his body from your view, you again are left with little time to react.

Jay Hodde#1

Subject: Following Closely

I like to run alone on the trails. At the beginning of an event, I have a hard time running behind someone else. The reason is because I *do* plan my footplants about 10 feet in front of me. I only look at my feet directly when I'm trying to decipher if the shoes got sucked off by the mud.

Another tip on downhill running: holding back and slowing down is very difficult on your quads. My delayed muscle soreness is much decreased when I run an event with a "kamakaze downhill". To slow myself down on the hard downhills, I often use rocks or roots in the trail to hold me up. By stepping on the rock or on the root, a little bit of force is exerted to counteract gravity. This way, I can keep the speed under control without using the muscle quite as much.

There's always the loose rock to be afraid of, however. . . .

To better prevent falls, I run with my arms away from my body -- at as much as parallel to the ground! This spreads out the weight of your torso, and gives ME more balance. I don't feel nearly as in control when my arms are at my side.

"Frozen" Ed Furtaw

Subject: Training on Rocks

"So with all the back and forth here... any sage wisdom for learning to dance on rocks AND maintain the full and upright position... Grasshopper"

Grasshopper and other rock-dancers,

Maybe it's pretty obvious to us all, and so no one has said it yet, but I think the key to successfully running on rocks and staying upright, is CONCENTRATION. You must maintain close visual concentration on the trail ahead of you. I try to keep my eyes scanning along the trail from immediately in front of my feet to several strides ahead. Using this technique, I can almost "memorize" the rocks for a few strides at a time, and thus occasionally safely glance around at scenery. But in extremely rocky terrain, I focus on where to place each footplant, and thus avoid faceplants. Good eyesight is very helpful, but it takes a lot of mental as well as visual focus. It's just another way in which ultrarunning is predominantly a mental activity.

Karl King

Subject: Stream Crossings

Cool Canyon Crawl '95 was a delightful run for me despite lots of water on the course. What worked well was a Reebok Harrier ( designed for high school cross country racing ) which had vents on the sides that let the water drain right out, and Ultimax socks which have fabrics designed to dry rapidly.

No blisters whatsoever. The best strategy for running in lots of water was to get right in it and have fun. The best footing was on the "stream" bottoms where the flowing water had washed away the mud. In the first mile of trail I tried to dance around and keep my feet dry - a colossal waste of energy.

The traction on the slippery mud was ugly. The footing in the water was much better.

For those who prefer no stream crossings, there are none on the Ice Age 50 course.

Jeff Wold #1

Subject: Stream Crossings

Karl L. King wrote about last year's CCC:

"In the first mile of trail I tried to dance around and keep my feet dry - a colossal waste of energy. The traction on the slippery mud was ugly. The footing in the water was much better.
Agreed, Karl! Best thing is to get yourself muddy right away, go right through the worst of it. In the really slippery stuff, I look for small rocks, twigs, or roots for traction. If there are none of those available, step in the middle or deepest part, as the slimiest stuff is usually around the edges.

"For those who prefer no stream crossings, there are none on the Ice Age 50 course."

But mud, yeah, Karl has been known to truck in some mud. Or heat. What's it gonna be this year?

John Davis

Subject: Stream Crossing

If you put your left foot in the water less than 3 times per crossing, if the water is not from snow melt, if the rapidity of the water is slower than twice your sprint speed then it does not count as a stream crossing. All ultras must have at least three of these crossings or they shall not be called ultras.

Now there is a definition of what an ultra really is.

How to get across and keep your feet dry? Why worry.

There are two ways to get across, and I have practiced both in races:

  1. Fall full length into the water. (WS before Robinson) Great wake up call! If some runners are close, make sure to splash in their direction.

  2. Scream loudly and painfully. It slows down the person behind you, who will then look very hard to find a better crossing. (Accomplished very well at Shadow of the Giants and SJT 50K)

Jay Hodde #2

Subject: Mud and Streams

As for the stream crossings, they don't bother me. Look at it this way: When you run, your feet sweat. You socks are wet when you come in from a run, right?? Well, what is so different about a stream crossing?? Sure, your shoes might get wet, and might be a bit heavier on your feet, but I would suspect that your feet feel the same thing as they do if you "didn't" cross the water.

That being said, I admit that I try to avoid getting my feet wet early in a run. But I don't obsess about it. At the Mohican 100 last summer, there was a wet spot about 5 miles into the run. I can remember thinking to myself that the prudent thing to do would be to try to avoid the wetness. Well, it didn't work, and I got wet. No big deal . . . . I knew a major stream crossing would definitely get me wet shortly after mile 10. In the context of a 100-miler, an extra 45 minutes of wet shoes doesn't matter a bit!

As for Steve's question about mud, I find that a well-tractioned shoe does well in the mud for a step or two, then behaves just like a Skylon. A well studded shoe tends to hold mud between the knobs, so it gains a ton more weight. I haven't found a way to combat mud. Maybe others can enlighten me. Just don't suggest that I find a dry run in the desert!

Jeff Wold #2

Subject: Mud Tricks

This was a tip Tracey taught me a while back: Wear gaitors! They've kept my shoes firmly attached to my feet on many occasions, when I've sunk to my knees in muck.

Another important tip that she gave me (but somehow fails to mention here) regarding gaitors and mud: Don't wear the "stock" O'Brien gators with the wide strap. Modify the strap by cutting them short and installing grometts on the stubs, and use heavy duty shoe/boot laces. The wide straps tend to gather mud between the strap and the shoe, giving an unwanted raised arch."

Dana Roueche

Subject: One With the Trail

After thinking for a few days, I am responding to a direct question I had about what I mean when I say being "one with the trail".

Imagine being in a car with the windows rolled up. You can see outside, tell if it is night or day, sunny or cloudy, possibly windy or not. The operative term is you can see these things but not feel them. Everything is at a distance and you are removed from the outside environment by this protective shell, you are not part of the environment. Now if you step out of the car, preferably with few clothes and bare feet, you will be able to use all of your senses, not just your sight. You will feel how warm or cold it is, how strong the breeze is, be able to smell the air, feel the sun. Under your feet, you will now know if you are on pavement, concrete, dirt or gravel if it is hot or cold, rocky, grassy, smooth, rough. By being allowed to use more of your senses, your are much more aware of your surroundings and will have a greater understanding of how to move in them.

Now imagine stepping onto the trail beside the road. Before going anywhere, you are wearing gloves and need to thread a needle. Not an easy task because you have deprived yourself of the sense of feel. Before starting down the trail, think of yourself as the thread and the trail as the eye of the needle, do not deprive yourself of any of your senses by separating yourself from what's beneath your feet and ahead of you. Feel the dirt under your feet, notice the rocks and roots within the dirt, the relationship of the trees on the side of the trail with the roots, the outcropping's with the rocks. The roll of the terrain with the rocks and roots. The amount of moisture in the ground, the type of soil and so on. If you pay attention to all of these details, what seems random and chaotic may not be that way at all. Using all of your senses and tying together all of the signals may form a bigger picture that makes sense and has order. It can be as simple as noticing a stand of trees ahead and anticipating roots in the trail.

After using all of your senses, being completely aware of all of your surroundings and processing all of the data you should try to reach an understanding. It is an insight into your surroundings where things will make sense to you. You will say to yourself, "now I get it". This can be thought of and will appear as a "sixth sense". I'll explain using other sports. In alpine skiing for example, at first everything is odd. You have little to no control. There are these big boards strapped to your feet, you can't turn them and you are picking up speed. What do you do? You fall before you pick up too much speed and hurt yourself. How much where you able to notice about the terrain? Nothing. With time, you learn to turn and stop, with more time you learn to anticipate changes in the terrain. Eventually when you learn enough, all of a sudden a light goes on, you have found the insight into this. You say to yourself, I know how to do this and you are then able to master the most difficult slopes. I have seen this happen coaching basketball as well. The ball, the wooden floor, the glass backboard all seem at a distance when kids start to learn about the game. With time, some of them get more of a feel for the elements of basketball, then all of a sudden, click, it falls together and their performance increases tenfold.

Allow yourself to learn about your surroundings using all of your senses to the fullest, take what you know about those surroundings and try to make sense and order out of them. You are hoping for a light to go on. If it does, a smile will come across your face because you will realize that you are no longer separated from your environment, you are in it and part of it. You have become "one with the trail".

If you approach the trail as something remote, distant and separated from you. Something that needs to be overcome or conquered, you will never gain this insight and never be able to reach your potential ability to run on the trail. You have your boxing gloves on ready for battle and never be able to "thread the needle". What gives you strength and power on the trail, is understanding.

If you spend all day on the trail learning and working towards insight, by the time night comes, you will have a much easier time. You will have understanding and sight wont be as critical. You will have plenty of help from your other senses. by using signals from your total surroundings, you wont need to rely as heavily on a flashlight to find your way. You may surprise yourself and find you don't need it at all and have become "One with the trail".