I want my children to grow up knowing what it feels like to be wild and free. That’s one of the reasons why trail running is such a perfect family activity and sport for my family.
My eight year old might says that trail running is so liberating and freeing that it makes her feel like she can fly. And sometimes it seems she really does.
Though trail running is freeing and opens the door for kids to be kids, keeping a bit of trail etiquette in mind can make the running experience even better for kids and grownups–not to mention better for other runners and trail users.
Etiquette Tips and Advice for Kids and Grownups Who Run Trails
1. Run and play hard, but keep your smarts. Safety comes first on the trails. Trail running with kids can be unpredictable. The trail: roots, rocks, holes, jumps, slippery trails, obstacles, other runners, mountain bikers, dogs, rain, heat, snakes, wildlife, to name a few. The child: tons of energy, too little energy, hungry, tired, meltdowns, moody, cranky, hot, thirsty, to name a few. When you run with more than one child, as I do (4!), you never know what you’ll get or encounter on a trail run.
Run prepared. Run with what you need to stay safe on the trail. Have a plan for getting out of inclement weather. Let someone else know where you are running and when you expect to get back. Pick a trail and distance that is reasonable for your child’s ability–and for your own happiness and patience–so you don’t find yourself in a position of pushing your child too hard or expecting too much from yourself. Even if you pick a trail that should be doable with a child, be willing to turn back and give it a go another day if the stars don’t seem to align.
2. Keep your eyes open. Stay aware of your surroundings and alert to what’s happening on the trail. This is especially important when you’re running with a child or children who run ahead of you. Don’t try to take on mountain bikers, ATVs, cars, horses, etc. Give them space to do their thing, so you can do yours. If that means you need to stop, slow down, push over to the side of the trail, step aside, do it. Your priority is to stay safe and keep your little runners safe. Communicate with bikers, other runners, hikers, walkers (e.g., “On your left,” “Passing,” “More runners coming,” “Rider!” etc. ).
If you’re running in a group, as a family, or with children, and you come upon other trail users, be considerate and safe, and run in single file or staggered, so that you’re not all running abreast and taking up the entire trail width. If your children need to stop, remind them to move to the side of the trail, so they don’t get plowed over by other trail users.
3. Stay on the trail. There are obvious reasons for staying on a trail, like getting to where you are going in a predictable way. However, there are also safety and environmental considerations, too. For example, Poison Ivy, thorns, pricker bushes, barb wire, or poisonous snakes are reasons to remind your kids to stay on the trail while you run. Reducing environmental impact and erosion are other reasons–avoid short cuts.
4. Be kind. Be kind to nature and to others on the trail. Be considerate of wildlife and let wildlife be. Stay away from creatures and animals, so they stay away from you. My kids love to find sticks and leaves on the ground, but I remind them to let intact branches, plants, and trees be.
Carry out whatever you carried in. Don’t litter. Don’t leave toilet paper on the trail–if you or your kids have to use it, bury it so it breaks down faster and keeps the trail looking decent.
Say hi, nod, or smile when you see other runners, mountain bikers, or runners. They are surely loving their time out on the trail, too–so spread and share the love.
5. Going to the bathroom. If your kids have to pee, the idea is to do it off the trail and away from water sources, campsites, or other trails. 200 feet away is the general rule. If they need to do more, think Leave No Trace. Dig a hole and bury it. Or…pack it out.
6. Choose visibility. Opt for bright colored clothing. I like my children to dress in bright colored clothing when we run trails or run generally to enhance their visibility. Bright clothing not only makes spotting children easier if they run ahead, but bright colors can make it easier for other trail users to spot them, such as mountain bikers who may not expect to encounter young or small children running on the trails.
What else? Did I miss trail etiquette or advice that you think should be listed here?