Start Trail Running, Improve Your Hunting Season

If you enjoy being in the woods and hiking new trails, get into trail running to help you get into shape for hunting season.

Start Trail Running, Improve Your Hunting Season

Check with  your local state parks, national parks and public land trust organizations for good trail systems to use. Local running clubs and running stores also may have good information about group runs and events. (Photo: Alan Clemons)

Huffing and puffing a bit during hunting season? You can avoid that by dropping a few pounds, getting in shape and doing both by simply enjoying the woods hiking or trail running.

About four years ago I joined a local group doing weekly 4-mile trail runs on some public land near our home. I'd been on these trails before but for more casual hikes. This time, with these folks, were pushing it a bit uphill and downhill. I was the inexperienced slow guy, in cotton socks and road shoes. But in less than an hour I'd finished without falling, dying or getting lost.

Success! That led to new events, from 10K to 25K in various weather conditions from February to November. Cold rain, humid summer heat, creek-flooding thunderstorms, otherwise "normal" conditions for the seasons. It's been quite fun, other than a couple of falls that I figured out were due to wearing incorrectly sized shoes and poor form.

That first time with the group run, I felt like I was 11 or 12 again playing in the woods with my buddies. 

Don't let "hiking" or "running" dissuade you. Fast hiking is good and a great way to get started. If you already run on roads, consider hitting the trails. Instead of cars, bikers and dogs to consider, you have to watch for roots, rocks and an occasional overhanging tree so you don't bonk your head (have done this, ain't fun).

How will this help your hunting? Being in better shape, sleeping better, eating better and losing a few pounds now will help when you're dragging out a deer in November or putting up stands in August. Plus, it's fun being in the woods any time of the year. When I'm out I regularly stop to look at snakes, bugs and flowers, listen to birds, watch deer or to just chill out in the woods. 

If you're going to do this, first things first: check with your physician. If you have existing health issues, know your limits and do your homework on the trail difficulty. I've been on some I thought would be easy that turned out to be difficult, and others that were a breeze. Be smart, use common sense and have fun. As with any athletic activity you can intensify or scale back as needed.

Speed Doesn't Matter

I'm not speedster in the events I do, with anywhere from a 13- to 18-minute mile pace. Some days I feel good and get it in gear. Others, not so much. I don't "race" against other people like the speedgoats in our local trail community. I go at my own pace based on how I feel, and that's cool with me.

I'd recommend starting slow and building up, if you plan to get into trail running. Finding a local group also is a good thing, whether it's a running club with members who have different interests or a dedicated trail group. My local community has a wide range of ages, genders, races, political interests and shares one commonality: enjoying the trails. Or if you don't care for doing that, get some of your hunting and fishing pals to do your own thing.

No Fancy Gear, But ...

One good thing about this is you don't have to go out and spend a bunch of money on gear. I prefer quick-dry shirts and shorts instead of cotton, which retains sweat and heat, so I opt for Nike and UA shirts and shorts. I usually take some walking sticks on longer runs to help with traction, but for casual stuff just use a cedar sapling I cut and smoothed.

Proper shoes and good walking sticks can help you navigate challenging terrain if you're hiking or trail running.
Proper shoes and good walking sticks can help you navigate challenging terrain if you're hiking or trail running.

You'll definitely need water in summer. Do not ignore this, and do not think you're rough and tough enough to get by without it. You're not. Dehydration is a bad deal that can be prevented. Trails don't have water fountains and you don't want to get giardia from a stream

In my vehicle tote bag I usually have a towel, extra socks, an extra shirt, a long-sleeved pullover or hoodie and lightweight rain jacket for colder or rainy conditions, and some slides or other shoes to change into. I also use a Run's Done seatcover, which keeps my sweaty bod from stinking up my truck seats. Skin dries, so in summer I just go with whatever happens. If it rains, I get wet. No big deal. For longer events in summer I use a vest to carry two water bottles to refill at aid stations along with my keys and wallet in a resealable plastic bag. For short trips I'll take a lightweight HydraPak or Amphipod hand-held bottle that also has a zipper pack for my keys.

Do you need a lot of stuff? No. But you do need to think about what you're getting into and plan well. Taking one 12-ounce bottle of water for a 3- or 4- hour trip isn't smart. Driving home in wet, sweaty clothes may not be enjoyable. Common sense prevails.

Buy Good Shoes

One thing I don't scrimp on is shoes. If you have foot issues like a hammer toe or something else or need ankle stability, good shoes or hiking boots are a must. I'm a fan of Altra Lone Peak trail shoes, but you need to get what's best for you. Hoka, Salomon, New Balance and other brands have a solid selection of neutral, stability, cushioned and other options. Visit a reputable running shoe retailer to get sized properly and find what's best for you.

This includes boots, too, with Vasque, Lowa and other brands having super options. Your lace-up hunting boots may work if you're in love with them, too. I have some Danner Pronghorn that are lightweight and work well. I like the ability to lace them tightly or loosely.

Avoid cotton socks in summer, because they retain sweat and can create hot spots for blisters. This added moisture isn't good for your boots' lifespan, either. Let your boots or trail shoes dry. Two pair is good so you can alternate. I like the Swiftwick Aspire for warm temps and a wool version for colder months. Some runners use ultra-thin wool socks year-round and they work, too.

Leave a Plan

If you're hitting the trail, just like with a hunting trip you should leave a plan with someone. Let them know you're going to the Arrowhead Trail or Slippery Rock Falls trail for a few hours. If something happens, they'll at least know where to start looking. 

Take Your Phone?

One of the joys of hitting the trail or road for me is being unplugged. I don't listen to music or podcasts, run with ear buds or have it out checking social media or emails. And some trail systems are located where cell service may be spotty or non-existent. But I still take my phone for a couple of reasons. One is for an emergency. The other is if I want to photograph or video something cool, like a snake or bug or flowers. I like seeing cool stuff. Otherwise, my phone isn't being used. Enjoy the outdoors without it.

Sign Up For an Event

Trail running several years ago was almost an underground deal for "those crazy people" who would run 15 or 30 or 100 miles. Now, trail running has grown in popularity to rival road events. For me, being on the trails is more enjoyable than asphalt and sidewalks. I still do a couple of local 5K and 10K events but mostly opt for trail events.

The trail community is laid back, helpful and, probably like you, enjoy being in the woods and what we consider "the outdoors" more than running through the neighborhood or city streets. Both are fine, of course, because getting out and being active is good. Scientific American published an interesting story about how our brain reacts to exercise. My takeaway was running on roads, while good, may not be as good as being on a trail where you're having to be more aware of twists, turns, roots, rocks and other things. You're thinking more often. That's good for the brain (or, so I believe).

If you're interested in a timed run, look online for trail running events in your area or check with your local shoe store or running club. Start with a 5K, which is about 3 miles, or maybe a 10K, which is about 6. Don't jump into a 15K or 20K right off the bat. You may think "Eh, I can do 10 miles!" but just don't. Trust me. Start slowly and work up.

Enjoy the Process

One thing I've learned with my longer events is to not think about it being 13 or 16 miles. I did two 25K events, which are almost 16 miles last year. I completed both but let the overall number creep into my head too often and that got to me.

It's sort of like painting a house or cleaning out a closet. If you think "Oh, gosh, I have to paint the whole house!" it becomes overwhelming. If you think about painting one room, and then another, and then the kitchen and so on, it may not seem as overwhelming.

I break down trail runs into sections. This first two miles is to X-point. Then we have another three miles of hilly, rocky terrain. Then I get a break of about three miles on flat track. Then it's that hellish rocky downhill or uphill section. But I don't think about those until I get to them. I put things in a mental box and open the box when I get there.

Another thing: I don't "run." I'm slow and often walk, albeit quickly. I'm not a speedgoat like the podium finishers. That's fine with me. Don't hear or read the words "trail running" and think you have to be Speedy McGillicuddy. Learn as you go and grow from that.

It's the same with starting all this if you're not too active. If you're thinking "Dang, man, it's hot and summer's here and you're talking about hiking or running miles of trails?" then find a short trail and start there first. Knock it off and add another. Find an uphill and do it, and go downhill. Learn about looking ahead on the trail (for those doggone rocks or roots!), finding your pace and stamina, the whole process. You don't eat an elephant with one bite. Don't let it get in your head and overwhelm you to the point that you give up or don't even get going.

First things first, though. Start walking, hiking, getting active. Now's the time to get into a routine. You'll enjoy it, and probably will find yourself eager to learn more about it, along with proper hydration, nutrition and sleep. Those all are important.

And all those things can create a better, healthier lifestyle. In autumn when you're dragging out a buck or hoofing it to a cutoff for an elk or pronghorn, you'll be in better shape and maybe enjoy it a little more.


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