I have been thinking about trail running A LOT lately. Especially with the weather changing, it is always on my mind to some degree. So, naturally, this has led me to reminisce about the trail races I have been lucky enough to participate in. I have an overwhelming amount of great memories, but I also have learned from a few of my less considerate competitors what NOT to do during a trail race.
For the most part, trail runners are a pretty laid back sort. We go out into the woods and run very long distances as a form of meditation and escape, so it is usually pretty hard to ruffle our feathers, but here are a few things that will. And keep in mind, especially at ultra distance events - these people run 50 and 100 miles for fun. While they are the nicest, most supportive people you will ever meet, they are also not the type of people that I want to anger. Just my opinion there.
First, the most obvious, LITTER. Seasoned trail runners (i.e. the crusty ones) were attracted to trail running because of their love of running, yes, but in a big part it is because of their love of nature. We run through the woods to get away from smog, traffic, noise and litter. Remember the simple Boy Scout mantra of "Leave No Trace". What you pack in, pack out. This counts for those little tear away Gu tabs too. The last couple of years, I have noticed an increased amount of trash on the trails during races, especially those with shorter distance options. I love that road runners are being lured onto the trails - much peace can be found there. I don't love when trail newbies think they are in a road marathon and just throw their trash wherever they want, assuming that there is a crew anxiously waiting to clean up after them. Very uncool, and a sure way to get one of the crusty types to give you an ear full. Carry your trash to the next aid station and dispose of it there or bring your mom along to clean up after you.
Second - and one that will get you shoved off the trail (yes I have done this - don't judge yet - full story ahead) - YIELD to faster runners. If you hear someone coming up behind you and it sounds like they have somewhere important to be (like the finish line), hop off of the trail, wish them well as they pass, then continue on your way. When a race has long single track sections, getting stuck behind a slower runner who is weaving all over the trail can be maddening. Which leads to the third thing to avoid during trail races, and the story I promised...
If you want to listen to music during the race, that's cool, just keep it low enough so you can hear someone coming up behind you. Here's the story: At the Wild Hare 50 miler last year, I was pushing for a PR (personal record). There is a 10k option at that race which attracts many first time trail racers. This is usually awesome because they are happy to be out there, and it is great to encourage them when you cross them on the trail. BUT last year, as I was running through a single track section of the trail (narrow section where there is only room for one runner wide), I came upon a slower runner ahead. As I approached her she didn't budge, so I called out, "Passing on your left", still no response. When I got close I saw she had earbuds in, so I said a little more loudly, "Excuse me" - which I know she didn't hear because by this point I could hear her music as well as she could. So yes, this is when I dropped a shoulder and plowed through on her left side. She was startled and pulled out an ear bud, so I suggested (nicely) that she turn her music down. Believe me, I have hopped off of the trail many times for faster runners, and they are always thankful. Just be considerate. Besides, when you are running in the woods, I have never understood the reasoning behind basically cancelling out one of your senses. Hearing something growling, hissing, or approaching at a fast rate is desirable in that situation, it seems.
Fourth - be careful how closely you follow behind another runner. It often helps me when I am tired during a race to mentally hook onto another runner and have them "pull" me. This is a great tool, and you might be able to switch positions with the other runner and take the lead for a while to shift roles. BUT - don't latch onto someone's shoulder and run so close behind that they can smell your breath. And be aware of the signals they are sending out as to whether they desire your company or not. Yep, you guessed it, I have another story. This one is about a chatty little fellow named Bob. Bob hooked onto me in my second 50 miler (Wild Hare in 2010). He had evidently read a whole lot about ultra running, and was happy to impart that knowledge onto me - for about 14 miles. Of constant talking. From him. Now, I am generally a solitary runner for these races. Unless the plan all along is to run with someone, I usually like to go it alone. I like me, and the time alone is my meditation time, so I tried different tactics to politely separate myself from Bob's company. I stopped to tie my shoe (he waited) and I lingered at the aid station (you guessed it). Finally, I had to tell Bob, as politely as possible, that I wanted to run alone. I believe I said something like, "I have really enjoyed your company, but I would like to run alone for a while." He was offended, but I was late into my second 50 miler and feeling like poo, so I really didn't care. He would have been much more offended if I had said what I was actually thinking. Those of you doing Wild Hare may get to see Bob. He usually runs in very short Texas flag shorts. Can't make this up, folks.
Lastly, NOISE. When people run trails, they generally do so for the solace of nature. When I run a race, all I want to hear is the sound of my breathing, the crunch of leaves and twigs under my feet, and the occasional spurt of conversation. Last season, I noticed a new phenomenon. If you need to have an electronic voice tell you how far you have gone (never accurate out there anyway), and how fast you are going, PUT EAR BUDS IN. I was pretty evenly paced with a guy at Cactus Rose who had his app on his phone telling him his half mile splits out loud (FOR A 50 MILER). Luckily, road OCD does not translate into trail success, so I was able to pass him before too long, but I would love for new trail runners to be able to leave that OCD BS at home. When I race, I wear a $40 timex. I don't even start the timer, just look at the clock and do the math. If your gadgets are your security blanket, that is fine, but don't make others listen to it too. Trails are so varied, and conditions can change so quickly that knowing my splits would probably stress me out more than anything else. So, one more story about what NOT to do in trail races:
WEARING BELLS ON YOUR SHOES. Yes, this falls under the noise heading, but it is a funny story so I thought it deserved its own mention. Last year at Cactus Rose 50, there was a chick with bells on her shoes. Dead serious. At first, she was a little ahead of me on the trail, and the trail twisted and turned a bit so I couldn't see her, I could just hear this ching,ching, ching sound. It was like running to catch up with Santa or something. I couldn't figure out what the heck was making that noise - until I caught up with her. We were at about the same pace at this point, so all I kept hearing for a couple of miles was ching, ching ching.... Finally, when we were climbing a steep hill (or small mountain - the Hill Country is a beast), the ching, ching, ching was turning more into a CHING, CHING, CHING and I could no longer hold my tongue. I did restrain myself though and politely asked her what the purpose of the bells were. She said something about, "Oh, I think they are funny, but most of my running buddies find them annoying" and she laughed. I believe at this point I developed a twitch under my right eye that I get when I am contemplating what a few years in jail would feel like. So I said that maybe that is because people come out to the trails to enjoy the sounds of nature, not to feel like they are pulling a freaking sleigh. To which she said something about liking the way they sound, and I believe I said something about wanting to shove her off of a cliff, or something to that effect. Anyway I soon passed her and it was no longer an issue for that race.
Then, a few weeks later I was doing the Wild Hare 50, and what do I hear???? Yep, you guessed it. Same chick, and evidently she has a death wish. The only good thing is that the bells must weigh her down, because I soon put enough distance between us for it not to bother me. But, as I came in from one of the laps, she was near me, and I yelled to Christina, who knew the story from CR "That's the b*&ch with the bells on her shoes". Still makes me laugh. DON'T BE THAT CHICK! :)
Okay - remembering all of these stories makes me laugh. Even the "bad" memories from my races are awesome! I love that you just never know what the heck is going to happen out there. You will find inspiration from the most surprising sources. Remember - generally, the aid station crews are seasoned ultra runners who want nothing more on that day than to help you succeed in your journey. If you have any questions - ASK THEM. They have saved my hiney more times than I would like to admit, through nutrition advice, a back rub during my first 100 when the muscles in my back were seizing up, slicing and duct taping blisters on my feet during my first 50 to make it possible for me to finish, to telling really bad jokes to make me laugh when I am delirious after running 20+ hours. These people are a treasure - take advantage of their knowledge. Just don't complain. That they don't like.
And welcome to the darkside. Trail running is prayer time. Be thankful for any little ache or pain you feel out there - I am sure there are many who would jump at the chance to experience that feeling.
Happy Running Y'all.