Trail Running 101, part 2


Welcome to part two of my Trail Running 101 series! In part one you learned trail etiquette (don’t be a jerk!) and all the fun gear you get to buy (more sneakers, yay!). Now that you are outfitted like a seasoned trail runner, I’ll tell you how to find your way around and avoid being a snack for a mountain lion. Read on!

Route Planning or, how to find places to run

  • Use Strava: follow me and other local trail runners. See where we run. Don’t be afraid to comment or ask questions about specific trails. Look at Strava heat maps to see popular routes and trails. And use these routes on Strava’s Local guide. There are 5 great trail runs on the list!
  • Attend group runs. SFRC has their Saturday morning run. Check MeetUp or Facebook groups. Some race organizers such as the Baytrail Runners sometimes host race preview runs where you can be led on the course without committing to the entry fee.
  • Check out the routes on the Trailstompers site.
  • Look at local races and elevation charts. Use the race route as a loose guide for your run.
  • Choose your own adventure! Use Strava live tracking to trace your route so you can find your way back. Don’t be afraid to explore! Just make sure your phone is fully charged.
  • If you are training for a race, be specific to the challenges of that race: steep, short climbs vs long, gradual climbs. technical trails vs fireroads, etc. They all present a unique challenge that requires practice.

Way Finding or, how to not get lost

Headlands - Marin

  • Keep a paper map of the area with you. Find them at visitors centers or online. Fold it up in a plastic baggy to protect against sweat or rain.
  • Take screen shots on your phone of map images and/or turn-by-turn race route directions.
  • Create a route on Strava. Pull it up on your phone during the run. The gps dot will assure you that you’re heading the right way. This works even if you don’t have cell reception.
  • Keep an eye out for trail signs. Most have distances to connecting trails and some even have maps on them.
  • Ask for directions. Trail runners are very friendly and often we’ve gone hours without seeing another human so when the opportunity to talk to someone arises, we jump on it.

Animals or, how to not get eaten

  • Most wild animals are more scared of you than you are of them. But it always pays to be prepared…


  • Coyotes: might stare and check you out, but will usually run away quickly, especially if you make noise. Nothing to be scared of, even when all you can see are glowing green eyes in the reflection of your headlamp.


  • Mountain lions: make yourself look large and make lots of noise. You want to hold eye contact and slowly back away. Never turn your back.

black bear

  • Bears: don’t run or turn your back. Make yourself look large and fight back if it’s a black bear. Play dead if it’s a grizzly. (Easier said than done.)


  • Snakes: on the trails, every twig is a snake until proven otherwise. If you do see a snake, listen for the rattle (another good reason to leave music at home). Rattlesnakes don’t like people, so back away and give it a chance to escape. Be especially careful when in tall grass or brush. Almost all other snakes are harmless and will disappear quickly when they hear you approaching.


  • Ticks: do a quick check of your arms and legs after every trail run. If you find one on you, remove it with tweezers as close to the head as possible and call your doc if it starts to turn red and swollen.
  • Dogs aren’t allowed on all trails. Know before you go.

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