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Skill Builder: Run on the Wild Side

Trail racing is a fast-growing sport in state parks.

By Trey Hamlett

Are you bored with the gym? Tired of inhaling exhaust fumes in town? How about satisfying your competitive urges with a race on the wild side in a Texas state park? It’s a great way to get healthy and see the parks from a whole new perspective.

There are year-round opportunities galore across the state, from 5K races to ones as long as 100 miles, from mountain bike and ultramarathon trail races at Bandera, Palo Duro Canyon, Brazos Bend and Huntsville to triathlons and duathlons at Blanco, Inks Lake and Enchanted Rock.

Trail racing is running’s fastest-growing endurance and adventure sport, and one of the most welcoming. There are participants of all skill levels and ages. Many participants “hike” the distance; walking breaks are common even among the runners in the longer distances.

One of the biggest differences between racers on road and trail is the laid-back and friendly attitude of the trail racers. Everyone is proud to be there and happy to see you there. At a 50K run at Palo Duro, almost everyone who passed me or I passed had some word of encouragement. It was either “Looking good!” or “Have a great run!” the entire way.

The benefits don’t end there. As one trail running club points out, trails are cooler in the summer and warmer with less wind in the winter and, thanks to Mother Nature and photosynthesis, have a higher level of oxygen and a lower level of air pollution. (You won’t find many cars on the trail.) The surface is softer than pavement, and the pace is slower because of the terrain, thus reducing impact injuries.

Things to consider for races:

»Races often start before daylight, so be prepared with a headlamp.

»Trail etiquette is important. It may be crowded at the start of a race. Wait for wide spots on the trail to pass or “pull over” to let other runners pass. Let others know a pass is about to occur. The crowd usually thins out after the first couple of miles, so you’ll have the opportunity to spend some quiet time concentrating on the trail and enjoying the amazing views that our state parks have to offer.

Things to consider for any trail run:

»Although most trail regulations give the right-of-way to hikers, use common sense and yield to mountain bikes. Taking on a bike going 15 miles per hour will definitely cut your run short. Horses always have the right-of-way. When you approach walkers, hikers and equestrians from the rear, let them know you are coming and always pass on the left.

»Pick up at least one piece of litter each time you run. Every little bit helps.

»Keep your eyes on the trail so you don’t trip on roots, rocks and uneven ground.

»Carry a hand-held water bottle or hydration pack with you. Drink 16 to 24 ounces every three to five miles, depending on the temperature.

»Wear a hat, sunglasses, proper shoes and sunscreen.

»Make sure someone knows your planned route and return time. It’s always best to run or hike with a partner.

»Follow the principles of Leave No Trace and let common courtesy and love of the outdoors dictate your actions.

If you aren’t ready to race, many trail running clubs schedule weekend group runs at state parks. Bring the friends and family and make a weekend trip out of exploring a state park at a little faster pace.


Related stories

Take Your Gym Outdoors

Endurance Tested: Palo Duro Trail Run

Enchanted Rock Event Takes Racers Around and Up the Rock


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