Trail Running 101

It’s safe to say that many of you understand and know the simple rules of trail etiquette. But if the mountain bikers make you nervous, or you're worried about pissing people off, read on...

Rule #1: The faster moving object has the right of way. This does not mean that they have the right to mow you down or run you off the trail, But trail running requires complete awareness of where you are and who, or what, is around you (hint: this is easier done without headphones). If someone faster comes up behind you, find the next available safe place to step off the trail. If the trail is wide enough, just get to the right. Faster runners, we know you want to get by. A polite cough or snot rocket will announce your presence, and then pass with a pleasantry like “thanks”, or “have a nice run”.

Rule #2: Always travel in the direction of traffic. That might sound like an obvious one, but it isn’t. The trails in West Michigan follow this rule, but you will find trails elsewhere, and runners everywhere, who think that moving against traffic is safer. Some will even protest that they are in the right. They aren’t. They are wrong. The answer to this situation is a simple one explained to me by local legend Marshall Randall. Let’s say you head over to Cannonsburg State Game Area to go for a run. You leave the parking lot, going backwards, at the same time as one of the local teams, rolling 25 deep, starts riding the proper way. Thirty minutes later another group rolls in and they are also 25 deep. Neither group stays completely together because they are all at differing skill levels. The trail is 7 miles long and takes you 70 minutes to run. The average biker takes 45 minutes. Under the situation I’ve described you are going to see each and every one of those 50 riders, plus every rider who started 45 minutes before you arrived, and some are going to be flying! Straight at you. And remember: they aren’t going to be in two long orderly lines…they will be in multiple, smaller groups. But let’s say, for the sake of being crazy, that you chose to go with the flow of traffic. Common sense will instruct you to let the bikes go first, and now that first wave is out of the way. When the next group arrives you will have a 30 minute head start with 40 minutes of running remaining. Their average rider takes 45 minutes to complete the trail. That means that you will see about half of that group, say 13 riders. So let’s recap what we’ve learned. Option A: you go against traffic and you end up seeing 50+ riders (every person who started 30 minutes before you, and every person you starts while you are out there) who are traveling quickly. Directly at you. Option B: you go with traffic and 13 riders slowly approach, shout "bike back", and pass you with a "thanks".

That’s easy enough, right?

Rule #3: Leave no trace. Better yet, leave the trail in a better condition when you are done. If a branch has fallen, move it. If someone dropped a gel packet, grab it. It’s our job to keep these trails beautiful. Note: the West Michigan Trail Runners maintain the orange loop at Luton Park so if you are interested in helping watch for announcements on the main page.

Rule #4: Be safe. This is also common sense (see Rule #2) but here are some things you may not think about when you head out for a run to keep you safe:

  • If you can’t run with a partner or a group, someone should know where you are and when you are expected to return.
  • Make sure your car is locked when you start and keep your keys with you.
  • Wear bright, easily visible clothing.
  • Bring food and water if you even think you may not need it.
  • Have band-aids, duct tape, poison ivy spray, bee spray, and water in the car just in case.
  • Bring mace if you are going alone.
  • Bring your cell phone if you are going alone.
  • Never listen to dog owners if the dog is off leash. They don’t know with 100% certainty what that dog is going to do.
  • NO head phones! But if you must listen to something other than the birds singing and the squirrels playing, keep the left ear bud out and listen carefully for the biker who will now mow you down if you don't respond to his "bike back" call. I told her it was ok.

Rule #5: Have fun. Enjoy the beauty around you. Nature is amazing and spending quality time in it has been proven to be good for us. If this means leaving your trusty watch behind, leave it.


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