TrailRX: Toilet Paper, Power Hiking and Being Normal

Should you take TP on the run? Is it okay to walk? What is a "normal" distance to run? Your trail running questions, answered.

Photo: Getty Images

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In our new TrailRx column, we’ll attempt to answer your burning, embarrassing and thought-provoking trail running questions. Whether you’re looking for advice on gear, training or the best Oreo flavor (birthday cake) we’ll have a prescription for you.

Q) Do you carry TP with you?

 I needed to hear exactly one horror story involving a fellow runner mistakenly using poison ivy to attend to their hygiene before committing to always sticking backup TP in my running vest. For long runs, I like to carry a few wet wipes in a Ziploc bag, just in case. Depending on where you’re running, you’ll need to pack out your wipes or TP, as burying them (or insufficiently burying them) is bad for fragile ecologies. No one likes to see a little white flag flying by the side of the trail. 

RELATED: The Inconvenient Truth Of Trail Running

Q) Is it okay to walk? How much can you walk?

Short answer: Heck yes. Long answer: It depends.

First off, trail runners don’t walk, we power hike. Walking is what you do to catch your flight after eating way too much airport Chili’s. Power hiking is how you win UTMB! Generally, the longer, higher altitude or steeper the race is, the more you’re going to want to power hike. There’s no exact algorithm or rule of thumb that can tell you when it’s best to hike, but it can help to put that climb into the context of the run or race. Will running that hill vs. power hiking negatively impact the rest of the run or race?

RELATED: Get Your Power Hiking In Gear

The goal in a race or adventure is to maintain a consistent effort level, never mind the pace. The optimal walking grade decreases as the length of the race increases and muscles fatigue. In long ultras (50-100+ miles) most runners hike anything over eight to 10 percent later in the race—grades they might crush in training no problem. If you’re doing a short race with steeps or a long race with normal hills, knowing how to power hike can save energy. But, even the best trail runners will power hike steep and long climbs.  It’s not cut and dry, but the key points are to cut yourself slack if you find yourself hiking in a race or on an adventure run (Plus, placing unrealistic expectations on yourself or your pace certainly won’t make you faster). Power hiking lets you move quickly, powerfully and efficiently through challenging terrain. It’s an important tool in the trail runner’s toolbox, never be ashamed to deploy it with style! 


Q) What is a “normal” distance to run?

A) The great thing about trail running and the trail community is that this is a group of folks supremely unconcerned with being “normal”.  Some folks like to compete in the VK, or vertical kilometer, an event where you ascend 1,000 meters in less than 5k. To my glutes, this would not be normal. Others may compete at races of up to or over 200 miles, or, complete three 200 plus mile races in a year for the Triple Crown of 200’s. While this feat is unthinkable to me, there are plenty of folks who make running 200-mile races seem almost normal.  While there are lots of incredible athletes looking to go faster, or pushing to go farther, what makes this sport so dang exciting is that athletes are continually re-writing what’s thought of as “normal”. Most people would consider a sport that demands specific foods and lubes a serious departure from normality. 

RELATED: Trail Running Involves Walking, And That Is Freaking Awesome

The key with trail running (and life) is to not let other people define what is normal, or fun or fulfilling for you. Want to chase fast times on steep climbs that aren’t normally run? DO IT. Want to run distances that most folks wouldn’t drive? GET AFTER IT! Want to make getting outside, getting some exercise and taking care of yourself part of your daily life? HELL YES. A recent survey showed that the average American who identifies as a runner completes about 2.2 miles a week. If you run even three miles a week, you are above average, and therefore – not normal. 

Perhaps the coolest thing is that given enough time, and a bit of hard work, something that once felt unthinkable could become your new normal. Being “normal” is overrated. Trail running is awesome. 

Q) How can you make your trail shoes last longer?

Drawing out the life of your trail shoes is a great way to live more sustainably and save money! Both are great things. Trail shoes (depending on the runner, terrain, and other factors) tend to last between 300-500 miles. The most important thing to do is to dry out your trail shoes after any run where they get wet, muddy or sweaty. Take the inserts out and set them out to dry in the sun for a few hours (don’t use your dryer!), but not for multiple days. Sun-baking your trail shoes will cause degradation after too long. 

Keep your trail shoes for the trails. Running on pavement will wear down the lugs, and makes for a less enjoyable run overall. As a bonus, take a pair of flip flops or slides and change out of your shoes directly after your run. A $10 pair of flip-flops can save you tons of miles on your favorite trail runners!

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