About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I spend countless hours running in the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, TX. I call it "going to church". I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Monday, April 16, 2018

Team RWB Leadership Trail Running Camp

Last weekend I taught several trail running classes for our Team Red, White and Blue leaders who were attending the Leadership Academy in El Paso, TX. I’m not sure I was qualified for this task, but was flattered and honored for the invitation all the same. Our Team RWB leaders are very motivated and work hard to enrich the lives of our veterans by connecting them to their communities through physical and social activities. Several other of our El Paso chapter members also taught classes. Jessica covered trail running gear while her husband Tim, an orthopedic specialist, talked about running form and injury prevention. They are both very fast and accomplished ultra runners who are top finishers in some very tough races.

Highly motivated and passionate Eagle leaders!

The topics I covered were trail safety and hydration/nutrition. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors and have gotten myself into enough scrapes that I felt confident to talk about safety. Also, I’ve completed a lot of ultramarathons and have experimented with many different sports nutrition products and what I call “real foods” so felt that I could offer a bit of information on this topic. 

I began my briefing by explaining  that, for safety reasons, we aren’t supposed to travel the backcountry alone, but that I do it all the time. One reason I do it is because when I ask runners if they would like to meet at 4:00am to go for a 35 mile training run in the Franklin Mountains they look at me like I’m crazy. (I am, but it’s good crazy.) I’ve been hiking and running alone in the wilderness for years and am comfortable with it, but that doesn’t mean I may not die tomorrow. Personally the benefits outweigh the risks though and I’m much more likely to die driving to the trailhead. Nevertheless, I recommend running with a buddy in remote areas; especially in bear country. Just make sure you can run faster than your friend. (That was a joke.)

Photo: Alan Pruitt
I started with heat related injuries since most of our participants were from Texas and the Desert Southwest. I’ve, on several occasions, found myself running in extreme heat in remote areas and have run out of water. I think the best way to protect yourself, besides planning well, is to be in good shape so you are still able to walk out if need be. We should also run to the conditions, take breaks and slow down in heat.

I also talked about cold exposure and told the story about Jemez Mountain Trail Runs on Memorial Day weekend where aid stations can be as far apart as eight miles with 3000’ of elevation gain. I showed a picture of a runner in this race wearing shorts/singlet and carrying only a hand held water bottle. Race participants were warned to pack a rain shell as weather may get nasty. This race takes runners through remote mountainous areas up to 10,400’ elevation and mountains are known for “making their own weather”. Indeed a freak snow storm struck later that day and many unprepared runners suffered hypothermia; some ending up in the hospital. For safety reasons, the race was called off half way through the event.

Don't be this guy when you head out into the mountains!
Look at the storm clouds gathering.
The lesson to be learned is that we have a false sense of security during races as if the race directors can protect us from backcountry emergencies. We are all responsible for our own safety and running in wilderness areas can be dangerous so come prepared. You signed a waiver saying that you understand the dangers of entering a trail race including death and you do not hold the race staff accountable if you die. Always respect the wilderness!

Snakes are also my biggest fear while trail running during the warmer months. I’ve had not one, but two dogs bitten by rattlesnakes so this is very much on my radar. (Both dogs survived and recovered completely. You can read about them here, here and here.) When you see first hand the damage that a snake bite causes to flesh you have a greater appreciation for snakes. Yet, I still now and again pass by them on the trail without noticing them until the guy behind me yells, SNAKE! I informed our trail runners to keep their eyes wide open because rattlesnakes don’t always rattle and if they do, you won’t hear them if you are blasting Slayer through your earbuds. If you are bitten by a venomous snake remove any compression and footwear because of swelling and calmly go to the nearest hospital where they will treat you. Don’t use a tourniquet because isolating the venom in one area could cause you to lose a limb. 

I took this photo while out running with my dogs.

Other topics I covered were altitude sickness, other wildlife encounters, getting lost, what to carry in your mini first aid kit and blister care. If you are looking for information on how to deal with blisters and Engo patch use I recommend Rebecca Rushton’s website Blister Prevention.

My kit. Wrap duct tape around your irrigation syringe. You can use it for emergency repairs.
I opened my segment on hydration with the following question: How did man survive on Earth for thousands of years without the internet telling them how much water to drink? I talked about outdated hydration guidelines that I followed for years that stated we should drink as much as tolerable, top off fluids before a race and if you get a little bit dehydrated, it’s too late. I also experienced headaches and was actually over hydrating. The newer and smarter guidelines say to drink to thirst because drinking too much can cause electrolyte imbalance leading to life threatening hyponatremia (water intoxication). Hydration is not a one-size-fits-all and we need to experiment with our hydration to figure out what fluid ingestion rates and types of drinks work best for us. 

Photo: Alan Pruitt
We also need to experiment with our foods during our training runs. I’ve recently stopped using sugary sports drinks and gels since I’m on a lower carb, grain free diet for health reasons. I prefer real solid foods when I run, but this strategy may not work for everyone especially those running a very fast pace. I’m still experimenting and tried a new recipe that Anthony from the class shared on Facebook —vegan sweet potato and avocado brownies! They worked great on a 35 mile training run and the only thing I would do differently next time is add some nuts to the recipe. They are definitely worth a try.

Sweet potato avocado brownie!
I advised the class to carry a plastic baggie during their ultras to fill up with goodies from the aid station table. I always prefer to eat while walking or running so I’m still putting miles behind me. The other thing I shared was that I wear RaceReady shorts because they have mesh pockets sewn onto the outside. This allows me to have quick access to foods during races. They got a kick out of the fact that I could carry half a sandwich in the largest pocket!

Following our running classes, we hit the trail in the Franklin Mountains State Park for a group night run. We had several groups of different paces, but all met up at the old tin mines for a group photo. We enjoyed the dark skies and did a little star gazing; one of the perks of night running. I showed them an App called SkyView that identifies constellations when you point your phone towards the sky. It will even show the location of the International Space Station.

Another highlight of night runs is the little glowing diamonds that adorn the sides of the trail. You can see thousands of them if you shine your headlamp along the edges of the path. In fact they are spider eyes! Wolf spiders come out at night to hunt like wolves as they do not spin webs to catch their prey. They are very common and will cause a painful bite if they feel threatened, but are harmless as long as you leave them alone.

Several of us spotted some Texas blind snakes that resemble large earthworms. I was nervous about rattlesnakes, but was confident that my earlier warning was heeded by all of our Eagle leaders. I didn’t see anyone wearing earbuds and everyone seemed to be alert on the trail. Ironically it was at the end of our run when someone spotted a rattlesnake along the cement flood control levee right next to the city park where we began our run.  

I hope ya'll like rocks!

The following morning we met at the state park and ran or hiked to the Mundy’s Gap. The trail begins with a scree field filled with softball sized irregular shaped jagged rocks that do a number on your ankles. The scenery is spectacular though with red rock towering above as you run or hike. Once at the top you can see over to the NE side of El Paso as well as into New Mexico and Mexico. 

Photo: Alan Pruitt
I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent with the leaders of one of the fastest growing veteran’s organizations. Anyone can join Team RWB, vet or non veteran alike, and it’s totally free. In addition, they not only hold group runs, but also offer biking, rucking, CrossFit, yoga and many other physical activities as well as social functions. This is a great way to support veterans so please spread the word so we can reach as many vets as possible. Keep your eyes and ears open as you hit the trails, snake season is upon us!

See you on the trail.

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