Hitting the trail: Taking running off-road

November 2019 Posted in Other

Amy Ullan and Tanie Hotan. Courtesy Amy Ullan

By Melissa Wagoner

Running can get boring, treadmills, tracks, even sidewalks – it can all start to feel like the same routine day in and day out. But there’s a way to break out of the monotony and reconnect with nature at the same time – trail running.

“Trail running would technically be considered anything off the road,” Amy Ullan, 45, explained. “It can
be in parks, wilderness areas and even some cities have trail systems that are great for running.”

Ullan, a Dermatology Physician Assistant, has been running trails for 10 years.

“I started trail running as a way to break up the monotony of training for marathons,” she recalled. “Running on the road takes a toll on feet and knees and it is easy to grow weary of the same country roads and city sidewalks. Trail running is much softer and easier on the body and has constantly changing views that keep it interesting and different every time.”

Ullan’s friend and trail running partner, Family Physician Tanie Hotan, 48,  had similar reasons for taking up the sport.

“Silver Falls is only 25 minutes from my house,” she said, “and so the convenience and the sheer beauty makes it an easy go-to place to train and meditate.”

Far from merely promoting physical fitness, both women see trail running as a mental health support as well.

“I like running with friends, as this is the most effective therapy for me,” Hotan said. “It’s calming and gives me hope that my problems are surmountable. The beauty of the forest and nature remind me that I am a very small part of this magical world.”

“I love to run with friends whenever I can,” Ullan agreed. “I have forged some of my best friendships on the trails. There’s nothing like isolation, beautiful scenery and hours of trails to really get to know someone.”

But whether running alone or with a friend, both women stress the importance of being prepared when heading out on the trail.

“This is huge,” Hotan advised. “I like to pack enough gear to survive 24 to 48 hours in the wilderness in case of an emergency, even if we are going running for only two to three hours.”

Packing all that equipment may sound like overkill but today’s super lightweight gear packs small, fitting into most hydration vests and only adding an extra pound, according to Hotan, who brings her first-aid kit wherever she goes.

“Injuries go hand-in-hand with trail running,” Ullan said. “I’ve had numerous bee stings, bloody knees; I’ve lost toenails, sprained ankles and dislocated a finger.”

Although both Hotan and Ullan also compete in marathons and ultramarathons, stretching their daily training runs into the 20 and 30 mile range, they maintain that just about anyone can get into trail running on any level.

“If somebody wants to get started trail running, there are lots of online, well detailed trail routes,” Ullan said. “Joining a running group can also be a good introduction. I would certainly recommend beginning with a relatively flat and shorter route than you may typically run, because trails tend be a little more challenging.”

Both women are fans of the trails at Silver Falls State Park but for beginning runners Hotan recommends several Salem area parks – Bush’s Pasture Park or Minto-Brown Island Park – due to the shorter, less technical trail systems.

“After you can build to six miles and have added some hills, then you can walk/run the Canyon/Rim trail [at Silver Falls],” Ullan said. “This loop has challenging staircases, and low-moderate technical roots and rocks.”

But no matter the difficulty, the distance or the speed, in competition or just for fun, both women think trail running is the sport to try.

“I run for fun,” Hotan said. “Amy and I’s motto is ‘we walk and then take run breaks’.”

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