Trail Time


What is trail running? For me, if the surface is not paved, I’m trail running. Rocky, narrow singletrack through the forest, a grassy mowed path through the prairie or a crushed limestone bike trail along the Missouri River all add to the diversity of trail running experiences.

There are many things I love about trail running. Each run on each trail is unique: different seasons, birds, plants, weather and one-of-a-kind experiences. It is not just about running, it can be a mix of running, power-hiking or walking, and usually there is no one around to judge how fast you are going.

So why run? Why not slow down and enjoy the hike? It’s a different way to see the trail and a great workout. You run out to see sights that you might not have time to walk to. Running on a trail also exercises different parts of your brain. As the trail unwinds in front of you, it’s like your eyes and feet are navigating a puzzle. When you are on that right track, all your senses are working together and you are moving smoothly through nature.

I got into trail running accidentally when a kayak race on Perche Creek included a combination of 3 miles of paddling and a 2-mile run on the Katy Trail. It was after that race that I found out about the Finger Lakes Challenge. This race, held in September at Finger Lakes State Park, starts with 5 kilometers of paddling and ends with a 5-kilometer run on the Kelley Branch Mountain Bike Trail. It was part of a series of races held at state parks. Racers came from as far away as Hannibal and Joplin for the challenge. State park personnel and volunteers do an excellent job putting on this race.

Trail running often shares the same trails as mountain biking. Another local trail running event takes place on the Rhett’s Run mountain bike trail at Cosmo Park. This trail packs a lot of switchbacks into a small area. Rhett’s Outdoor Challenge R.O.C. 7k is a 7-kilometer race put on by the Columbia Parks and Recreation in late January. A brisk run, sometimes with snow cover, followed by an awesome oatmeal buffet from Lucky’s Market, is a great start to the season. They also have a bonfire burning for pre-race “warm-ups” and post-race socializing.

The big trail run in Columbia is the Rock Bridge Revenge at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park and takes place in October. Columbia Track Club hosts this race and runners can choose the 7 mile, 25 kilometer or 50 kilometer distance.  If you run fast or run the shorter length and finish before noon, you’ll be treated to a picnic of pancakes, sausage and chocolate milk. Like many trail races, the number of participants is limited to help protect the trails.

So what do you need to get started? The great thing about the sport of running is its minimalism and all you might need is a pair of shoes. Do you need trail specific shoes? Probably not, but if you enjoy checking out the latest gear, there are many options to ponder. In fact, the diversity of trail running options for your feet might exceed those of all other types of running. Some go barefoot, the Tarahumaran Indians of Mexico run in sandals made from recycled tires… There are options that look like hiking boots, shoes with rock plates and others with a thick, cushioned platform, and many other shoes that cater to the specific needs of trail runners.

Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book “Born to Run” tells the story of the Tarahumara tribe’s running culture in the Copper Canyon region of Mexico and has been an inspiration to many trail runners. Trail runners tend to prefer longer socks and some wear gaiters to protect the lower legs from brambles and keep sand and grit out of their shoes. There are also trail running vests or belts for carrying water and nutrition through longer runs.

I like to carry a small first aid kit, which looks like a thin duct tape wallet and holds a few band aids, butterfly strips, antiseptic pad and moleskin. The occasional fall can be a part of running on the most technical trails and hot spots and blisters can occur on very long runs. And, of course, the only time I’ve needed the kit was the time I left it in my truck.

You don’t have to race to enjoy trail running. Having an upcoming event can help motivate you to explore the route. The events are often called “challenges” and the goal for many of us is just to finish well. Each runner gets to decide what that means for them. Rock Bridge State Park is a local gem for nearby trails and practice runs in the park are what really got me hooked and looking for other trails to run.

The Columbia Trail System  provides many other great choices like the MKT and Hinkson Creek Trails. The Bear Creek Run half marathon ( is another popular run hosted by Columbia Parks and Recreation.

Trail running is about the experience of the trail, so I am always looking to try a new trail. Each new trail that I run adds to my collection of trail running experiences. The collection of sights, sounds, smells and sensations, including a bit of pain, creates memories of sections of trails that I can recall and run through my mind, long after the run.

Dr. Paul Porneluzi is a biology professor at Central Methodist University in Fayette. He competes in numerous ultra-marathon paddling and trail running races.

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