Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Leaving the Pavement Far Behind (Tuscon Citizen)

The Tuscon Citizen did a solid article on trail running, including the "10 rules of trail running" at the end. Sounds like somebody else has learned the hard way to stop before looking at the scenery!

- SD

Leaving the pavement far behind

Trail runners enjoy their exercise more, but must be careful not to do too much sightseeing.



Ross Zimmerman, as many first-time visitors do, felt the lure of the mountain ranges surrounding the Tucson basin some 25 years ago.

But Zimmerman, who eventually moved here - as many first-time visitors do - wanted to go one better.

"I had it in my mind to run in those mountains," he said.

As Zimmerman discovered, "going 20 miles there is not the same" (as running on a road), but in less than a year he was actively involved in what has evolved into a local trail-running series started in 1979 by new friend Ken Young.

Trail running can prove to be a rather precarious thrill if one doesn't go about it correctly, but he was hooked.

"I quickly found out that as well as being more comfortable than running on pavement, it was more fun," said Zimmerman, 52, who was struggling with road race marathons before he came to Tucson in 1978. "There's nothing like the feeling of tearing down a trail as fast as you can move."

He has run 100 miles several times, and he and his wife, Pam Golden, have run the Grand Canyon, the mother of all trails, rim to rim and back.

(Trail runners John Wall, 58, Sherry Hansen, 52, and Elisa Kinder, 54, finish their weekly run in Catalina State Park. Running off of pavement is easier on the body and more visually interesting, say many trail runners.)

Doug Kelly shares Zimmerman's enthusiasm for trail running on desert and mountain terrain, but he tempers it. Also a hiker and road racer, Kelly doesn't run as fast as he can move because he might miss something and he says, "if you make a mistake it could be the end of your running career."

"One of the key things in desert hiking and running is you shouldn't look around while in motion," Kelly, 39, said. "The desert is too unforgiving. Trails tend to be rocky, and you have to pay attention to footing and stuff that pokes and scratches you at the side of the trail."

Like Zimmerman, Kelly has a desire to experience and absorb the landscape as much as is humanly possible, so a competitive running pace is not always for him. Sometimes you have to stop and look around.

"Trail running lets me get the same kind of experiences I get from hiking, experience the beauty of the mountains, get out into nature, see wildlife," he said.

Kelly has advice for road runners who want to convert. He's seen those who have tried to make the transition do so "with terrible balance. Rolling over all the rocks, don't know what to or what not to step on," he said. "So whenever the footing gets bad, they really struggle.

"Try to pick a surface that when you step on it with the impact of a running step, it's not going to give way, and also slow down a lot."

Road running, because of the constant pounding, tends to "beat you up more" than trail running, said Golden, who as a road racer holds the women's masters record for the annual Saguaro National Park Labor Day Run.

"Last time I ran the Tucson Marathon, I was a cripple for a while," Zimmerman said. "I'm always surprised how much less (stress) trail running has."

10 rules of trail running

  • Body should be relaxed and upright.
  • Be always aware of the trail beneath your feet.
  • Look at scenery only when stopped or slow enough on easy enough terrain.
  • Always run at own pace.
  • Keep balance in mind and your mind will respond to signals regarding body position in space, risk of injury, the rate length of muscle changes and amount of resistance and stress generated in muscles and joints.
  • Running downhill, take short, fast strides.
  • Running uphill, keep the body perpendicular to the ground with butt tucked in and head erect.
  • When falling, keep body loose and tuck-and-roll and try to land on shoulders and thighs.
  • Hydrate efficiently at all times.
  • Keep the body cool, especially in warmer weather.

Tucson Trail Run Series

  • Low-key activities December through May designed to conform to National Park and National Forest rules for informal, small groups not requiring permits
  • On public lands trails
  • Open participation events
  • No fees or awards
  • Emphasis on safety
  • Contact 628-8773 or 206-4806 for information and schedule.

Tuesday Morning Trails

  • Informal all-levels runs at Catalina State Park every Tuesday at 6:30 a.m.
  • Contact 628-8773 or 206-4806.


  1. I grew up in Tucson, great place to trail run. Glad to see the article on your blog. If ever in western NC, holla

    Scott Wolfe

  2. Hi all. I'm not sure if this page/blog is still active, but I thought I would give it a try! Right now, I live in Fairbanks, Alaska and will soon be moving to Tucson. Yay! (the Interior of Alaska is beautiful, but today it hit 24 below. Tucson will be a welcome change). Before moving south, I want to ask about places/areas in Tucson to live. Is there a good neighborhood/section in Tucson that is very very close to trails and good roads (not a lot of traffic) for running? After a couple years in Fairbanks I am desperate to run outside and want to live in an area where trails and good running roads are really really accessible. Any ideas?


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