I’m an efficient suitcase packer. I keep it simple, only bring the essentials, and make sure everything fits neatly into the overhead bin. But when it comes to packing for a nice little run in nature, I have an overwhelming urge to load my backpack with all kinds of “might needs” and “just in cases”— like a headlamp (even though I only run trails in daylight) or a poncho (it never rains here in Silicon Valley!). In an effort to cut weight, I’ve forced myself to come up with this barest-of-the-bare sundries list that acknowledges my paranoia but doesn’t indulge it too much.
Hydration Pack Better than a bulky backpack, The North Face Enduro Pack was worth every penny. It comes with a bladder to store my water, and the small size forces me to fill the pockets wisely.
Sunscreen Burns, brown spots, skin cancer—no thanks! I apply SPF head-to-toe before leaving the house, and then every two hours when I’m in the sun. I like this Badger Sport Sunscreen Cream SPF 35, because it blocks out both UVA and UVB rays, and it’s 100% certified natural.
Poison Ivy Pads The best way to avoid a painful rash is to steer clear of over-grown paths. Still, contact happens. Last summer Michael K. Farrell stood knee deep in 3-leaf itchiness—these single-use Cortizone 10 Poison Ivy Relief Pads would have been super helpful.
Energy Gel I’ll suck down a GU on runs lasting more than an hour, but I usually carry four with me on the trails—you know, in case I get lost and need a “meal.” (GU Peanut Butter is still my fave flave.)
Toilet Paper Mother Nature doesn’t always provide this for you. I bring mine in a baggie, and I pack it back out with me to a garbage can if I end up using it.
Light Jacket Shady woods and Bay Area winds can make temps drop fast, so I keep The North Face Women’s Verto Jacket handy—it scrunches up (hence, all the wrinkles) into its own pocket! It also happens to be water resistant in case of pop up showers. (Seriously, this fear is unfounded. Weather.com shows a 0% chance of precipitation around here most days.)
I also carry along my cell phone, sunglasses, and car keys—those are necessary for actually getting me to the trailhead and then home again.
Am I missing anything important? What do you pack for outdoor runs?
Have you ever been in one of those races where everything just goes right? The conditions are perfect. You’re solidly trained. The weather couldn’t be better. The course is a dream. Well, The North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon in Bear Mountain, NY wasn’t one of those races. But the photos of me participating in it would certainly lead one to believe otherwise. (What can I say? The camera loves me!) Still, I have to admit those smiles were 100% genuine. I loved this event!
The morning started out in a bit of a panic. Our GPS device sent us to the wrong address and we ended up on the wrong side of Bear Mountain. (All together now: “The bear went over the mountain, to see what he could see!”) Luckily, we planned to be at the start 45 minutes early, so we had time to correct the mistake. It took 22 minutes to drive west, find the right exit, and get to the parking lot—and I was an anxious mess.
The laid-back start line was nerve-soothing. Unlike road races where directors line you up in corrals based on your pace, this was a free for all. Runners casually milled about in a grassy area in front of an inflatable archway that demarcated the start/finish. Instead of feeling like we were about to embark on the toughest trail half marathon in the region, the atmosphere was as calm as a backyard barbecue. Thank goodness—after the hectic drive, I couldn’t have handled a stressful line up.
Early miles were no indication of the intensity to come. I got into a decent mid-pack position within the first two miles, knowing that the trail would turn to single track soon and I wouldn’t be able to easily make passes after that. From there, the course wound around through the woods, progressively getting steeper, the ground changing from dry to muddy, and the terrain becoming increasingly treacherous. I was prepared for roots, rocks, and the occasional branch across the trail, but there were sections of this course that we were simply unable to “run.”
Lively conversation made the death-march climbs bearable. There’s an unwritten code among trail runners that if you can’t see the top of a hill, you stop running and walk up it instead. My signature is all over that imaginary document! Hiking up the inclines that make the Bear Mountain course a five-out-of-five for overall difficulty and a five-out-of-five for technical terrain, would have been daunting had I been alone. But chatting with the girls just behind me made the climbs fly by. (Have you ever seen people hiking with a pair of caged pet birds? One of these girls had! Hilarious!)
Wiping out hurt, but I kept going. With a little less than three miles to the finish, the trail opened up and I found some speed. It felt good to pump my legs harder. But at that point I was mentally fatigued, and I wasn’t concentrating enough on where I was planting my feet. I hit a rock in the center of the path and went flying, crashing hard onto my left side. Momentum and a slight decline caused me to roll forward, so I ultimately finished the fall on my back with my head pointing down the trail. I got back onto my feet a little dazed, and started moving forward immediately. A man in front slowed to make sure I was okay—I was, mostly. A guy behind clapped and shouted, “You’re doing great! Your pace has been even this entire time and you’re almost to the finish.” I shouted my thanks to both of them and went back to a slow jog.
My heart soared when I heard the cheers at the finish line. “Finish strong with a smile,” is a mantra that I use during the last mile of every race. And it was especially helpful for this one. Half a mile from the finish my body was starting to realize that it was in pain—from the fall and from the intense workout that I’d just put it through. I came out of the woods onto a parking lot that stretched towards the grassy field where the journey began, and I started to sprint. I was done, and I was happy.
And I can’t wait to do it all again next year!
Have you ever fallen during a run? What helped you get back up?
Surprise, it’s me. (Not really a big shock there, huh.) Between stressing out over work for the past month and coming down with a chest cold (gotta thank the boyfriend for that one—every time he gets on a plane he comes back with the sniffles!), I’m not feeling super confident going into what should be a taper week for the upcoming The North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon at Bear Mountain. But thinking back on every single significant race I’ve ever participated in, I’ve never felt ready.
The morning I toed the line in Hopkinton for the 2011 Boston Marathon, I was full of dread—I didn’t think I could handle the hills. Minutes before the gun went off for the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon I briefly considered crossing the barricades, finding my dad in the crowd, and telling him to drive me back home—I wasn’t sure if I had put in enough mileage. And in the first mile of the 2009 NYC Marathon I almost pulled over to throw up on the Verrazano Bridge—the anxiety over not being positive that I could complete 26.2 miles was making me nauseas. I finished all of those marathons. Clearly, my body was ready and this is all mental.
Still, going into my first ever trail half-marathon presents new hurdles for my head. Did I run enough on actual trails to prepare my legs, ankles, feet, tendons, and muscles for the inconsistent terrain? Should I have practiced carrying my water bottle more? Was my training enough? Am I enough?
My mantra for this week leading up to the race: “Yes, I am enough.” I have no doubt that I will finish all 13.1 of those woodsy miles on Sunday 6 May. It just might not be pretty. And I might be sniffling on the way home.
What helps boost your pre-race confidence? Got any trail running tips?
It’s a little tough to find trails here in NYC. But if you look hard enough, nestled in between skyscrapers and through streets, you’ll find them. A good place to start your trek: Central Park.
I’ve been hitting up the bridal path lately—it’s basically three sections of conjoined paths that wind around the park. (It’s flatter, wider, and a lot less rocky than the single track in this photo.) If you’re lucky, you’ll see a horse, but mostly you’ll find runners like me who want to get off the pavement for a bit. I’m having such a great time playing in the dirt, checking out flowering trees, listening for birds, that I signed up for a 10K trail race in June. It’s part of The North Face Endurance Challenge race series, which kicks off this weekend in Bear Mountain, NY.
I’m so excited about training for it! I’ve been mapping out new routes in the park (to prevent boredom from going the same way all the time) and researching trails outside of the city, accessible by public transportation (hooray for small carbon footprints!). I’m also looking into trail shoes. Because a girl’s gotta have the perfect footwear for every occasion, right?
Do you ever run off road? Got any advice on trail shoes?
Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.