Mountain Biking… Moab, Utah. Surfing… Oahu, Hawaii. Jai Alai… Miami, Florida. Trail Running… Atlanta, Georgia??
O.K., admittedly there may be some subjectivity lurking in that last sport-location association. I guess you might call it “civic pride.”
Still, I have spent more than a decade searching for those elusive trail running meccas in every major city our rightfully proud country has… only to personally find it rests comfortably here at home! Of course, the fact that this statement surprises so many is a real shame. At a minimum, it should be widely known that on this side of the Mississippi, if you want to live at an urban or suburban address, our self-proclaimed Capital of the South is second to none in its off-road running milieu. And for those of you who have not yet been turned on to the most unruly member of the running family of possibilities, you better give it some consideration. For it is, indeed, true that trail running is gaining popularity and becoming something for almost everyone. This primer is meant to provide you everything you need to get started and/or get the most out of your time trail running.
Let’s take a closer look at those questions that seem to be the most popular:
What do I need? Most minimally, you need nothing more than what you use to run on roads. HOWEVER, there is some gear that is designed specifically for off-road running that will certainly allow you to more safely and more enjoyably manage your trail travels.
SHOES: Although the components will vary by name and material, there are items found on a shoe built specifically for trail running that just make good sense. For starters, most shoes will contain an outsole that has a higher, denser “toe-kick.” Think along the lines of, “front of foot colliding with a protruding tree root.” Yes, it’s a protective measure. In addition, the lugs on the outsole will be configured differently than road shoes to give you better traction. Trust me, running fast downhill on wet rocks does not solely come from confidence in your abilities… In the midsole, most manufacturers will incorporate technology specifically designed to prevent against stone bruising and uneven landings on unforgiving surfaces. Phrases like “Ballistic Rock Shield” and “TerraHex Shock and Shear Absorption” were created because you will appreciate them. And, no, you will not find them needlessly fused into the midsole of a road shoe. Notably, for those familiar with pronation, you already know that your pronation tendencies dominate the road, track or treadmill. Keep in mind that on unpredictable single track trails, your pronation tendencies are, instead, often times dominated by the surface… If this logic does not resonate with you or if you are unsure of its meaning, ask someone at Big Peach for further explanation. Lastly, relative to the upper of a trail running shoe, there’s the ever-present option to practically customize the shoe for where you’ll be using it… If you’re going to be running through briars and thorny patches, an abrasion-resistant material just might make sense. Planning on a few stream crossings? Yes, there are waterproof and water-resistant options! Fortunately, just like road shoes, the intention of the upper is still to be breathable.
HYDRATION: In its most basic form, trail running begs for longer jaunts and self-sufficiency. As such, staying hydrated becomes even more important and, yes, more challenging. With the advent of portable hydration systems that are hand-held, waist-based or shoulder-strapped, this task need not be impossible. The most important decisions lie in your personal preference as to how to transport your fluids and how much fluid you will need. Hand-held water bottles reek of simplicity. Yet, the total carrying capacity is sometimes limited (especially if you’re unwilling to commit each hand to Sherpa duties), and the incremental arm strength required is more than most think for extended periods of time. Waist-based systems present you a plethora of options when it comes to determining your total ounces necessary. There are two, three, four, six and eight bottle carriers. Additionally, different manufacturers create different size bottles (Fuel Belt bottles are 7 or 10 oz., Amphipod has 8 oz. and Nathan produces only 10 oz). Most belts also come with some kind of storage (for energy gels, keys, cell phone, etc.). These waist-based systems require less strength training than a handheld and usually have less “bounce” than the shoulder-strapped. Still, you have multiple bottles to manage. Relative to the shoulder-strapped models, the biggest asset is the total carrying capacity. Without question, if you believe you’ll need more than 40 oz., this is the way to go. At the same time, the fact that the fluids are being carried on your back makes for a somewhat bumpy transport and certainly for a pretty sweaty back… Also, even though you get loads of ounces, you better like what you put in the pack’s bladder because, unlike multiple bottle waist belts, you can’t prepare a variety of options (water, sports drink, etc.)With these basic tips in mind, you will be able to train comfortably. Dressing for success when you train will make you a success on race day!
MISCELLANEOUS: Trail running equipment selection is almost as much fun as the sport itself. Do you want to try it at night? There are headlamps designed for just this use. Petzl and Nathan both make a quality, compact unit (for those of you still lost in the thought of such lunacy, yes, there are groups of people who enjoy running on an unpredictable single track trail at admirable speeds with only their headlamp guiding the way…). How about the prickly pathways, you ask. Find yourself some gaiters. These will attach to your shoes or wrap around your lower legs to protect you from the “nasties” that might otherwise claw you along the way… And while we’re talking about protecting the lower extremities, the idea of using compression socks or ankle support sleeves is a good one. Although the dangers of Atlanta traffic are absent on our trails, the prospect of turning an ankle is not… Lastly, don’t be afraid of technically-capable apparel with pockets placed in seemingly odd locations. You’ll appreciate the opportunity to stash some energy gels when you start doing longer runs.
Where do I go? All right… this is where I get to show just how phenomenal Atlanta is for trail running! Let’s start with the most popular and work our way to those places that are less discovered. For more detail and/or additional suggestions, peruse a copy of Atlanta Running Guide in the “TrailBlazers” section.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield With close to 20 miles of relatively wide and non-intimidating trails, this is the perfect place to get started or go long. Throw in the availability of a couple water fountains and plenty of company from hikers and tourists and you’ll quickly realize why you can’t get a parking space within a mile of the Visitor Center on weekends. And although the trails aren’t terribly technical, there are some savage climbs, including the mile-long jaunt to the top of Kennesaw Mountain itself from the Visitor Center. For more information, visit http://www.nps.gov/kemo or call 770.427.4686.
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) The CRNRA isn’t a place, but rather a series of possibilities for the trail running enthusiast. All told, the federally-managed land surrounding the “River of the Painted Rocks” is comprised of almost twelve separate units and more than 70 miles of trail. For the most comprehensive information on all of the inclusive areas (including maps of each unit), visit the Park Headquarters at 1978 Island Ford Parkway (Atlanta, GA 30350). For a less personable outline, log onto http://www.nps.gov/chat or call 678.538.1200. In short, although each unit is worthwhile preservation effort, there are just some that get a trail runner’s heart beating a little bit faster when thinking of the delicious prospects. Sope Creek has an abundance of trails and easy access to the much tamer Cochran Shoals unit that includes the widely used gravel pathway along the river just off of I-285. Additionally, Vickery Creek has some challenging trails, great waterfall views, and a few quality climbs. Gold Branch runs you alongside the water much of the time and delivers plenty of surprises for those who enjoy the requirement of fancy footwork.
Sweetwater Creek State Park Now that you have the practice (or the theory…) of trail running down pat, it only makes sense to figure out how and where you can participate a bit more publically. Fortunately, Atlanta has a slew of relatively nearby events and races that are top-notch, including a variety of distances in The Dirty Spokes Trail Races, Stump Jump 50k and 11 Mile Trail Run, Chattanooga, TN, http://races.rockcreek.com, or a plethora of trail races throughout the U.S. on Ultra Signup! There are also 3 great races that our neighboring state Alabama hosts in the first quarter: Mountain Mist (January), Cheaha (February) and Oak Mountain (March). All races are 50 kilometers. You may also want to become a member of one of the country’s greatest trail running clubs – – GUTS (Georgia’s Ultrarunning & Trail Running Society). Learn more at http://www.getguts.com. Our friends at Atlanta Trails has compiled a complete list of local trails along with photos, maps, and descriptions for you to check out!
Lastly, consider signing up for the Big Peach Running Co. newsletter, as various stores have group runs scheduled throughout the year, including on a monthly basis. These group trail runs are free, designed for all skill levels and abilities, and cover a variety of distances. So there you have it… This is Atlanta… and TRAIL RUNNING LIVES HERE!! Hit the trails… and enjoy!!