Q&A: Trail Running Tips

Phong Chieng

Running on a path carved out by Mother Nature can prove to be much more of a challenge than that man-made track at the gym. Prepping for such a run requires additional planning and equipment.

Experienced trail runner Phong Chieng, who blogs about his outdoor excursions at Trail Running Blog, joins us this week to answer those questions. After running cross country for three years in high school as a way to stay out of trouble after school, Chieng has continued to train and blog. He shares tips on trail running, blogging and gear.

How often do you trail run?

Not as often as I would like. Trail running takes more time—driving to the location, figuring out where and how much to run. I did run a trail half marathon about a month ago. It was very challenging, but rewarding to finish, too.

How did you get into trail running?

When I first joined cross country in high school, quite a few of the races were on trails. Every day we ran on a horse/dirt trail. So when we raced on flatter surfaces, it felt a lot easier.

How is trail running different from other forms of running?

Trail running is a lot harder than traditional running. You have to be alert with your surroundings and focus more on your form when running up and down hills.

Does your gear differ?

I usually carry a hydration pack with me when I go trail running, just because it can get quite hot and public drinking fountains are almost always non-existent. In the hydration pack, I usually pack some snacks and my phone for emergencies.

Where is your favorite place to trail run?

There is a trail just north of where I live called Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. There’s a waterfall, which looks more like a river, about three miles away, which is a nice place to relax mid-run. Although I haven’t been there yet, I heard La Jolla/Torrey Pines has a great scenic trail with beautiful views of the ocean.

If you are new to trail running, are there any precautions to take?

Try not to go alone. If you have to, make sure to let someone know where you are going and how long you plan to be gone. You can easily get hurt or lost while on a trail run. Also make sure to bring hydration, snacks and a phone at all times.

You started your blog as a suggestion from your high school running coach. Did it help keep you motivated? Would you suggest blogging to other runners?

When I ran in high school, there was a teammate that I would always compete against. Most of the (pre-blog) journal entries were about how well I did against that teammate. So, on days I did not run as well or did not beat my teammate, it kept me motivated and made me want to try even harder the next day to run faster.

Blogging is a great way for runners to log all their runs (and look back on them) but also have a place to share their stories for others to read. It’s a great way to keep you motivated and receive support from other runners.

In one blog post you refer to running as “daily punishment.” So why do it?

That was actually a quote from another blog, but there are days that it does feel like a punishment. There are days when I don’t want to get up in the morning to run and just sleep in for that extra hour or two. But it’s important to understand that any training you do now will pay off and benefit in the future.

What’s the most difficult part of being a runner?

Letting your mind tell you to slow down. There is always a point in a run when you’re too tired and you make internal ‘negotiations’ to slow down, run less or just stop completely. Being able to overcome that feeling is a victory in itself.

Do you think you’ll ever run a marathon? Why or why not?

I’ve actually ran two now. The most recent was the LA Marathon in the most terrible weather conditions I’ve ever ran in. The marathon is not something you can just wake up and do; it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to complete. It still amazes me how many people participate every week. But it’s definitely something I would recommend everyone to try at least once in their life. The feeling you get when you cross that finish list is something you’ll never regret.

What’s your favorite brand of running shoes and why?

My last two pairs of running shoes have been Brooks, and I have a pair of trainers on its way that I’m hoping to use for shorter distance races. They seem to fit me well, are very comfortable and I’ve never had an injury running in them. So I definitely can’t complain.

What would be the coolest thing you could imagine to be at the finish line?

Easy. Running a 3:09:59 at any marathon, which would qualify me for Boston, winning in my age group and smashing my current marathon PR of 3:40.

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