Nancy Hobbs, President of the American Trail Running Association and a resident of Colorado Springs, Colorado, emphasizes that “runners must prepare for the weather and what the weather may become.” Weather, especially in the mountains, can be unpredictable and changes fast. It’s good to run with a waterproof jacket and possibly an insulating layer. Also, if lightning strikes, get inside as quickly as possible. If you are up above tree line, that makes you the tallest thing around. Head to a lower elevation, never take shelter under a tree, and get inside a car or building as soon as you are able to.
Look at a map, get your directional bearings and identify landmarks before setting off on an adventure. Hills, challenging terrain and scenic views add time to your miles. Basing a trail run on time instead of distance keeps it manageable and within your comfort and safety zone.
Since trail runs can take much longer than comparable distance road runs, plan for extra calories and water. When on the trails, that means being self-sufficient. Carry a water bottle or hydration bladder and pack gels, chews, nuts and dried fruit or whatever you can stomach. “I always check a map before setting out to make sure there are emergency water sources,” says Rachel Bachman, a trail runner from Aspen, Colorado. Bachman carries Aquamira chlorine dioxide water treatment drops in her pack to purify stream water.
Understanding where you’re going and what you may encounter with regards to terrain and wildlife helps you anticipate what to expect and how best to prepare. Will you be crossing water, traveling near rockslide areas or encountering snow? Knowing the answers to these questions and others helps with mental and physical preparedness, as well as proper gear selection. Talk to people who have recently run the route, learn about the area and visit message boards. For general trail safety, Basit Mustafa, a trail runner from Boulder, Colorado, considers what factors he can control in a given wilderness situation. Proper training and skills, appropriate gear and awareness of surroundings go a long way towards a runner’s control of his environment. “It helps to think about the terrain as you pass through it,” says Mustafa. “And for me, that definitely means no headphones. They zone me out mentally and limit my ability to hear and react to auditory cues.”
Educate yourself about what animals you may encounter on your run and know how to react. From making yourself as large as possible and backing away slowly to dissuade a black bear, staying put and yelling loudly if you encounter a mountain lion, or slowly and quietly backing away upon coming face-to-face with a moose, it's your responsibility to find out what’s in the area and to prepare for the possibilities. When it comes to animal encounters, Mustafa carries bear spray right by his water bottle (“It doesn’t do me any good in the bottom of my pack!”) when running in bear habitats. Likewise, he always has a shirt or jacket in easy reach to hold above his head and make himself look larger in case he meets a mountain lion.