How and Why Running Hills Makes Us Better Runners

Run, hill training, training, exercise, trail
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This weekend, not unlike any other, was full of climbing hills. The next race I am preparing for is a 25K with over 4,000 feet of elevation. Hills are something I need to get better at, but it doesn’t seem possible when I am mid climb gasping for my breath. If you are anything like me, you know you need to start running those hills to get faster, but as soon as you see that incline coming, you automatically slow down into your power hike pace. After struggling up the side of a mountain on Sunday, I decided that once and for all, I need to figure out some training plans for getting better at adding hill work to my weekly mileage. Continue reading “How and Why Running Hills Makes Us Better Runners”

How to Transition From Road to Trail Running

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Running is running, right? Well, yeah, kind of…Most of us started out either road or track running, so the transition to trail running can be intimidating for some people. Below are four tips when transitioning to trail running.

1: Get the right gear. It’s important to make sure you have the right shoes and a hydration pack when trail running. The shoes made for trail running have more of a grip to help with the terrain. You won’t find any water fountains or hydration stops on top of the mountain; be prepared with enough hydration and fuel to get you through the run and back to the car. You can find a list of my favorite trail running goodies HERE.

2: Forget your road pace. Trail running takes more energy than road running, so your pace will be slower. When starting out, it’s best to pay attention to total running time. You will most likely have to climb more hills than your normal road run. Although this is great exercise, it often kills your pace in the beginning. Be kind to yourself and just ignore it until you get comfortable out there.

3: Be safe. There are less people on the trails, but more wild life. Just yesterday my dog got into a fight with a racoon. (No one was injured, thankfully!) But you have to be prepared for all kinds of scenarios. I always carry my cell phone and share my location using a free app called, Glympse. It allows you to share your exact location for up to 4 hours, and later you can add time if needed. I share mine with a family member and let them know what time I plan to be done. This way, if they notice I’m not moving (injured) or if I get lost, they can get help. You need to have any emergency medical aid you may need in your pack. My sister is allergic to bee stings, so we make sure she has what she needs in case she ever got stung. Help could be hours away. Plan accordingly. It’s always better to be prepared and not need it than not be prepared and need something.

4: Soak up the scenery. This is one of the main reasons I love trail running. I can’t explain the views you will see from all levels of the trail. The mountaintops come with a sense of accomplishment and looking out over a vast area never gets old. When standing at a stream bed, it is amazing to see how regardless of the season, the water finds a way to still flow through the creek beds. Something as simple as a fallen tree covered in snow can be absolutely beautiful when the sun rays shine down upon it. I always have my camera ready. I love looking back at the pictures (which never seem as beautiful as the real thing) and remembering the run from that moment. It’s what keeps me coming back for more!

I hope these tips help you find your way to the trail. Feel free to add a few of your own in the comments below!

Weekly Running Log – Feb. 19

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Running log totals: I hit all my runs this week. Not on the scheduled day, but I still got them all in!

Weekly mileage: 31.4

Weekly elevation:  2,743ft

Year to date mileage: 131

Year to date elevation: 14,790 ft

My favorite products for trail running are the Nathan VaporAiress Race Vest, Cockatoo found HERE, and my all time go to trail shoe Salomon Speedcross 3 found HERE. Additional 125 ft in elevation from setting the treadmill to incline. I use Strava to track my running log; you can’t add elevation to treadmill runs. How is your training going?

Benefits of trail running

Lately, I have heard a great deal about the healing powers of nature. I have even heard stories of doctors prescribing nature walks for individuals suffering from depression. I am not a doctor, but can attest to how trail running helps me both mentally and physically.

1: Overall easier on the body. When I was in school, I ran track and as I got older, I often took to the roads. I always had issues with shin splints and felt like my body was taking a beating when I ran. It was not until my mid 30s when a friend asked me to go for a hike that I discovered trails. The impact of running on the trails is not as hard as hitting the pavement. Because trails are rocky and uneven, your body benefits from increased core strength, balance, and stronger ankles. You get a full body workout with the terrain changes and hills you are bound to come upon. I feel like the chances of injury are lower when trail running versus road running, but again, I am no doctor!

2: Sounds of nature. When I run the road, I always put on the headphones, cranked up the music, and hit the streets. Running the trails, I leave the music at home. Instead of hearing traffic, I enjoy hearing the sounds of nature. Sometimes that means I hear nothing. I soak up all the silence I can get. Have you ever stopped and realized how much noise goes on around you? All day long. Whether I am at work where the phones are ringing, people are asking questions, or in the car where my kids are talking; there is rarely a moment of silence. For me, the trails allow me the time to be quiet and really think.

3: Shift in focus. When road running, you must watch for cars, people, stop signs, etc. On the trails, your focus shifts to rocks and tree limbs. You can allow yourself to focus on the trail while falling deep into the trance of the woods. I can’t explain how this feels, you just know when you hit it. You’re in it. You are flying down the side of a mountain, watching about 15 feet ahead for any trail obstructions, breathing the fresh air in and out, and your body is full of energy. It’s a feeling I never experienced on the road due to being interrupted by the focus of trying to stay aware.

4: Less harassment. I am not sure how often men get harassed on runs, but I can say as women, it happens almost every time I head out on a road run, alone. It does not matter the time of day or the area I choose to run. I remember getting a quick run in over my lunch break, down town, along our riverbank. Two men chased me until I got off the dike, and ran up the main street back to my office. I just do not understand why people can’t leave other people alone. Sorry, that is a whole other topic for a separate post. My experience on the trails is different. I find most people are there for the same reasons and just want to run and be alone. I have not met too many people willing to follow someone to the top of a mountain just to harass them. This is not to say the trail is danger free; my personal experience has been less harassment on the trails, and for me that is a huge benefit! It makes for an overall better run.

5: Spiritual connection. I try to get my long runs in over the weekend. This often times means Sunday morning. For me, I am happy to spend my time connecting spiritually on the top of a mountain. I love getting to the top, looking out over the view, and giving thanks for the ability to do what I can and appreciate the body with which I have been blessed. I am not a top finisher in trail races, but I do not do it for that. I do it because it feels good to reconnect with nature and myself in those moments. To remember to take a minute and be grateful for the life I get to live. I do it because sometimes when I am in the midst of climbing that mountain, the struggle is comparable to situations I am struggling to work through in other areas of my life. Just getting to the top gives me the strength to continue pushing through in my daily life. It reminds me: I am worthy. I am strong. I am not alone.

Weekly Running Log – Feb.12

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Running totals: I missed my long run this weekend. Sometimes life happens and we move on…..

Weekly mileage: 15.7

Weekly elevation:  489ft

Year to date mileage: 100

Year to date elevation: 12,047 ft

My favorite products for trail running are the Nathan VaporAiress Race Vest, Cockatoo found HERE, and my all time go to trail shoe Salomon Speedcross 3 found HERE. Additional 255 ft in elevation from setting the treadmill to incline. I use Strava to track my running; you can’t add elevation to treadmill runs. How is your training going?

Tips for Trail Running in Freezing Temps

I don’t know about you, but I love being able to throw on shorts and a t-shirt and run out the door for nice long sunny run. BUT, living in central Pennsylvania that is not an option all year round. We are blessed with living through all four seasons and must adjust our attire for each season. Saturday temps were in the 20s but with the extremely cold winds, it felt like 10 degrees. Heading to the mountains in 10 degrees with cold winds is not always something that makes me jump for joy. Lucky for me the sun was shining and that is rare these days, so I had to go get myself some vitamin D. Below are some tips I use when running in freezing temperatures.

1: Cover your noggin. It is important to make sure you have a hat that covers your ears in extreme cold. Some people go so far as to wear a baklava, but for me, I found it gets wet from my breathing and bothers me more than wearing a nice wool hat that covers my ears and forehead. You will lose heat from your head and find it difficult to stay warm if you don’t have some type of hat.

2: Layer your tops. I always start with an under layer made of a wicking material. I then wear a long sleeve, half zip shirt and in extreme cold, I add a windproof / waterproof jacket. For longer runs, I follow the 20 degree warmer rule where you dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer than the actual temp. Long runs would be defined as anything longer than an hour. Your body warms up quick, and you don’t want to be over dressed or too wet from sweat if the temps are below 20 degrees.

3: Winter running tights / layer legs too. I have a pair of warm winter running pants that are made of fleece on the inside. It has to be COLD outside for me to get these babies out because they are WARM and feel bulky. Saturday I was going out for a quick 5 miles, and given the low temp, I opted to wear them. On Sunday the weather shifted to almost 30 degrees with snow showers, but heavy winds remained. In that case, I wore my under layer made of wicking material and a thin pair of windproof running pants on top.

4: Take care of your feet. I have favorite running socks and trail shoes. Be sure your shoes are made for the terrain you are planning to run. Trails are often snow and/or ice covered this time of year. I always wear micro-spikes over my trail shoes for added grip and safety. For me, it is normal to find stream crossings flooded too; wet feet in freezing temps happen often. For shorter runs (under an hour) it’s not as much of a problem as longer runs. When planning to be out longer than an hour, it is smart to carry a pair of dry socks in your pack just in case you need to switch them out.

5: Don’t forget the gloves. Again, another important area to keep covered in freezing temps is your hands. It makes a huge difference in how you feel when you are wear gloves versus not. You can always take them off if you need; better safe than sorry.

6: Hydrate and fuel. What you need to carry with you depends on how long you plan to be out. Saturday, I headed out for a quick 5 miles. I chose not to carry water or gels. BUT, I know the trails well and I went out and back 2.5 miles. I did not venture too far from the car nor did I get off the main trail. You should always carry food and water on any trail run when you are not familiar with the trails or are venturing off main trails where you could find yourself alone or lost. (This is more for safety than need in this case.) If I don’t carry water with me, I always make sure to have a full bottle in the car. For a run longer than an hour, I carry a pack with water, gels, granola bars, and ginger chews.

7: Take a friend. We always have more fun when we share a trail run with someone. I am blessed that my handsome husband also enjoys trail running, so we make a date of it. I have a sister who loves to take advantage of trail therapy. When they can’t join me, I am lucky enough to have two dogs (one pup in training) and they absolutely love the trails. This tip is more for motivation than it is for weather.

I hope this list helps you get up and get on those trails regardless of the temps. Please share any of your tips below in the comments.