After the recent death of a man at Mission Trails Regional Park, the trail running community is reminded of the dangers of running on trails. For the most part, running on trails is relatively safe. As any experienced trail runner would agree, it’s considered safer because there are no vehicles to look out for. It also is softer on the joints, is a tougher workout on the legs and of course has better scenery. All of which lures runners to their local trails. And although trail running has gained momentum in recent years, there are definite dangers out there that need to be considered.
On every trail, runners can encounter the local wildlife. Animals on the trail range from the smallest insects to dangerous mountain lions. Here in San Diego, we can see a variety of animals on our local trails. The most common animals that cause concern are mountain lions, coyotes, snakes and bobcats. Due to increased home building, these animals are forced out of their natural habitat and left to fend for themselves in our communities. It’s only expected that the more we build, the more we will come across these natural predators. So before heading out on a trail, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local wildlife and how to react if you come across a wild animal.
Despite the small size, insects can be a danger as well. Trail runners frequently encounter ticks, fire ants and bees, all of which can be hazardous in certain situations. Plants are a concern as well, since poison ivy and poison oak are prevalent on a number of local trails. As a precaution, some trail runners will wear clothing that covers more of their body (running tights, compression socks, etc) to protect them from poisonous plants.
Obviously, here in sunny San Diego we don’t see a lot of severe weather. But if you are frequenting trails in far East County or up in the mountains, the weather can definitely be a hazard. The weather in these areas can change quickly and without warning. These areas frequently see thunderstorms, hail, gusty winds, flash flooding and even snow. In addition, during the winter months the temperature can change dramatically, catching unprepared runners off guard. So before you head out in to the mountains, be sure to check your local weather forecast and pack accordingly.
Uneven Surfaces (aka rock ninjas)
As most trail runners will reluctantly admit, they’ve taken a spill or two while running on the trails. It’s expected that running on a constantly changing surface is bound to cause you to trip over a rock or some other landscape. Although for most runners, that’s the joy of trail running – it’s always something different. But being on such an uneven terrain, your risk of injury increases. The most common injuries are breaks or sprains to the feet and ankles, but once you trip on a rock and fall forward, it’s also possible to injure the hands, wrists and shoulders. The best way to prevent injuries is to pay attention to the surface and try to run as lightly as possible. Trail running is like a dance, you have to bob and weave around many obstacles. Even taking your eyes of the trail for a moment can result in a fall. So although it may take a little more effort to manuever across the terrain carefully, you are more likely to have a successful and safe run.
While trail running can sometimes be a little dangerous, most runners agree they would rather get hurt by mother nature than an automobile. True, trail running takes a little more planning and attention to detail, but can be extremely rewarding if you keep in mind the following tips:
- Be prepared: Be sure to bring water, food and additional clothing if going out on a longer run. There are no water fountains or convienience stores out on the trail so plan accordingly.
- Check the weather: Although we live in sunny San Diego where the weather rarely changes dramatically, the weather in the mountains and deserts are a different story. Make sure you are prepared for heat, cold, rain and sometimes even snow.
- Watch where you are going: Those rock ninjas come out from nowhere. It only takes a second to take a tumble that could lead to a serious injury.
- If you use music while running, turn it down very low and only wear an earphone in one ear. It’s important to be able to hear what is going on around you (like rattlesnakes).
- If you run in the early morning or late at night when it is dark, use a headlamp.
- Take identification with you: In the event that something does happen and you are unable to speak for yourself, your ID can do it for you.
- Invest in trail shoes: The added grip and aggressive lugs of most trail shoes can help you from sliding downhill and can make uphill easier as well.
If you are interested in learning more about local trail running, stop by SDRI and talk to any staff member. We can help you find the perfect trail and gear for you!