Hit The Trails
Fresh air, clear mind, happy running - meet you at the trailhead!
Trail running has become increasingly popular over the years with national attention being brought to ultra trail races like the Barkley 100 and Western States 100. Michigan, with its sprawling wilderness and abundance of nature reserves, is home to a number of great trails, making it the perfect place to begin your trail running journey. But first, here are a few things to keep in mind before going on your first trail run.
It’s A Beautiful, Wonderful Challenge
Trail running certainly has its challenges. It would be naive to expect yourself to run the same pace on the trail that you keep on a road or treadmill. Terrain tends to be a bit more technical than the rivertrail, sidewalks, or treadmill that you may be used to. Trails require you to slow down enough to watch where you’re going. Even the fastest runner will think twice about whether it’s better to jog or walk up any given hill. However, taking that time to slow down will also allow you to enjoy the beauty of Michigan’s wilderness.
In addition to providing a more exciting and scenic route than the road or gym, trail running has great benefits for your long term running and walking endeavors. Dirt trails tend to be easier on joints than concrete or pavement. If you’re nursing a running injury, or are simply trying to treat your knees or hips a little better, a trail run might be the best thing for you.
Trail Shoes Can Help With Technical Surfaces
While you do not need trail shoes for running on trails, they can help. Trail shoes tend to have more traction on the bottom, which allows your foot to grip muddy surfaces better. They also sometimes have rock plates that protect your feet from the constant abuse of stepping on rocks and roots.
Navigation is Key
Trailheads will usually have signs with detailed maps at the start, as well as numbered or colored posts throughout. Pay attention to where on the map you start, and where you’re supposed to head next. Often times, trails will have colored posts for their various loops. Follow the posts that have the color of your chosen loop. If you are following numbered posts, the number at the top of the post represents where you are, and the number at the bottom with an arrow points to which post that direction will lead you next.
Always Keep Safety in Mind
Trails can be more remote, which is ideal for those who tend to get harassed during runs. However, on less popular, more remote trails, it may be a bit longer before someone comes across you to help if you get lost or injured. That being said, it’s important to be prepared for any situation.
If you are worried about your personal safety, typical safety precautions apply, such as running with a friend, a dog, or carrying pepper spray. Luckily, the Lansing area isn’t known for any dangerous wildlife, however you may consider bear bells or bear mace if traveling farther north. Carrying a phone, a paper map, a first aid kit, and/or emergency blanket in new areas are extra precautions you may take if you’re worried about getting lost in a remote area.
Nutrition and hydration are especially important for trail running since you tend to spend more time on your feet than you might on flat pavement. Things like a handheld water bottle or hydration vest may help if you are going on a run longer than 30 minutes. There are also a variety of nutrition options available at Playmakers or your local grocery store. Talk with an associate or try a few options to determine which kind of nutrition might work well for you. During especially long runs and on race day I enjoy mixing in real food, such as fruit and pb&j sandwiches for extra calories and to stave off stomach issues from sugary gels or chews.
There Are More Trails Near You Than You Think
You may know that there are trails all over Michigan, including a large section of the North Country Trail. But did you know there are trails right up the road from you? Below are a few of my favorites, all within 25 minutes of Playmakers.
Lansing Area Trail Favorites:
Fenner Nature Center – Located in Lansing, near Mt. Hope and Aurelius, this area has an outer loop that is about 2.5 miles with a few smaller loop options. You are likely to see a few deer on this quiet trail.
Woldumar Nature Center/Anderson – Woldumar Nature Center and Anderson Park provide trails with few climbs for those on the west side of Lansing toward Dimondale. Ideal for distance runners, these trails connect, allowing you to get over 10 miles without having to double back.
Harris Nature Center – Located off of Dobie Road in Okemos, this park is in the middle of a trail system that spans up to 6 miles for an out and back route.
Lake Lansing North – Located on the north end of Lake Lansing, this trail has plenty of hills and a great footing for really going fast. There are loops of all sizes, ranging from 1 mile (yellow) to 3.8 miles (blue). This trail is a personal favorite because of its variety. An Ingham County parks pass is required for this trail. If you do not have one, you may purchase a day pass ($3 for Ingham County residents) or consider buying an annual pass ($32 for ingham county residents). The pass works for all parks in the area, including Hawk Island and Burchfield Park.
Burchfield Park – Located in Holt/Mason area, this place has lots of flat trails on soft, grassy terrain, making it a perfect area for beginners. There are numbered posts with maps often so you can take a look at where you are. The longest way around is about 5 miles. An Ingham County parks pass is required for this trail.
Sleepy Hollow State Park - Located in Lainsburg. Sleepy Hollow State Park contains over 2,600 acres including a river winding its way through the woods, fields and trails. The routes cover over 16 miles and take you through prairie grasses, hardwood forest, and stands of pine trees. Entrance into the park requires a state park pass or a small entry fee.
Chaz Hornburg has been running ultra-marathons since 2014. In that time, he’s run two 50k’s, a 50-miler, two 100k’s, three 100-miler races, as well as getting the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on a 135mile route on the North Country Trail. When he’s not running, he enjoys spending time with his wife Ana their dog Indy.