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Five Useful Mountain Running Tips

Posted by on Aug 7, 2012 | 8 Comments

A few months ago, I wrote a post about what I learned after spending several months running in the mountains of the Southwest. Here are a few more tips:

  • When running over mud, beware of the shiny stuff. That is usually an indicator that it’s either very slippery or soft enough to sink. Dull mud has less water content, and can usually be traversed safely. This is especially true if the mud covers a cambered surface.
  • Also beware of gravel or sand over rock, especially when running downhill. The tiny rocks act like ball bearings, which is unstable. When possible, step on bare rock. If you must step on gravel-covered rocks, try to pick a flat surface. If you have no choice but to step on a cambered gravel-covered surface, dramatically shorten your stride to keep your feet near your center of gravity. This will help you keep your balance if you slip.
  • Plan at least three steps ahead. Get in the habit of looking at the trail and choosing where your foot will land three steps ahead of where you’re currently stepping. Learning to anticipate each step in advance will dramatically reduce the incidence of biffing it.
  • Pay attention to the surroundings and be familiar with the general topography of the area. Specifically, know where major roads and rivers are located, know which way water will be flowing, and where major mountains and valleys are located. In the event you get lost, knowing this basic information can return you to safety.
  • Advice from hikers on the trails is rarely applicable to runners. This includes distances (hikers always seem to overestimate), time (same deal), supplies needed (they carry far more than runners), and the difficulty of trails (they often report trails are more difficult than they are). Hikers DO often have good advice on weather and directions.

Any mountain running friends have additional tips? Share them in the comments section!


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  1. Diego
    August 9, 2012

    Keep your weight forward!
    In reality it will be just above your feet and will make you able to compensate the slippage of a foot.

  2. Mary
    August 8, 2012

    I’d also say don’t underestimate the mental fatigue involved in concentrating on navigating a rocky, muddy trail. It is very taxing. If the trail doesn’t let up, I think you should take a break every now and then otherwise you risk a bad fall.

  3. the runner
    August 7, 2012

    Take the time to stop and soak it in. All to often we mtn runners just keep on running. Take a fiver and just stare at the majestic views.

  4. Martin
    August 7, 2012

    Things get pretty scary when it’s getting cold, dark, you are running on low sugar and you do not have any flashlight or are not sure about which way to go. I think it’s important to stress not to underestimate these things.
    I went for a long run once, not even too far from civilization, got cramps and had trouble getting back. Walking can be pretty slow and I was only lucky to return before dark. Also, not carrying any bag and being lightly dressed just for running in the middle of winter certainly didn’t help.
    These things sometimes happen though and one should some extra measures too, like carrying a cell phone.

  5. Rob Y
    August 7, 2012

    For starters…

    If your route involves an out and back, make sure to stop every now and then on the out leg to observe the route behind you as this will aid in the navigation on the way back. Visual cues are important.

    Always carry an extra layer if you plan on spending any time in the high country. Weather can change very quickly. Lightweight rain/wind jacket is a must.

    • Jason
      August 7, 2012

      Good call, Rob. Shelly and I ran into a hail storm on a run yesterday. It was a short route and the movement kept us adequately warm, but we were completely unprepared.

    • Rob Y
      August 8, 2012

      Some more…

      This goes without saying but ALWAYS let somebody reliable know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

      Take the time to learn how to use a map and compass and take these tools with you, ALWAYS.

  6. kevin burns
    August 7, 2012

    Runners need to slow down and walk to allow legs to recover from either hard uphill climbs or downhill cascades. I typically fall when I am on flats with fatigued legs that hit a root or jagged rock when I let my guard down.