4 Types of Trail Runners: Which one are you?

Trail runners are a unique breed. It takes a special mix of dedication, a love of nature, a dose of competitiveness, and a smidgen (or more)  of masochism to be willing to run in places where most people don’t venture without protective boots, heavy packs, and various multi-tools. This growing sport is full of people who have left the pavement and seek themselves out in the wilderness, pushing their limits and enjoying the opportunity to discover themselves in the outdoors. Since I’ve been involved in the trail community, I’ve seen that a few of these runners fall into a set of characteristics, a “type,” if you will. I’m not saying that you are any one of these particular kinds of trail runner, but maybe you’ll see a bit of yourself in one of these types. Let me know what you think!

1. Rugged Veterans:

How to identify them: These folks look like they’re in their mid-forties but could easily be pushing 80. Sometimes bare-chested (or wearing a shirt that’s older than some aid station volunteers), they can often be seen carrying a moldy handheld bottle or wearing a waistbelt above their faded split shorts.

What to do if you encounter them: Ask them for stories of racing days past. You’ll start hearing crazy things about lame horses, unmarked courses, and a weird place called Dipsea. Ask them about trails in the area because they’ll know every rock and tree of them after having run them for the past twenty years.

Why they’re cool folks: They know more about the sport than pretty much anybody out there. They’ll offer you good advice on all your running woes. And they might also tell you the best place in the woods to stash a cooler of beer.

2. “Back to Nature” Types:

How to identify them: They’re either wearing leather sandals or tiny shoes that look like rubber slippers. Usually sporting messy hair and a beard (though that could apply to most trail runners), they seem to shy away from cushioned shoes in a manner similar to the way vampires avoid garlic. Can be overheard complaining about broken toes or chatting about their latest cross country van adventure.

What to do if you encounter them: If they offer you their corn-based race nutrition, accept it politely but realize it’s an acquired taste. Avoid making references to the “Born the Run” book unless you want a complete plot summary and analysis. Ask them for running form tips though, because they’re pretty solid.

Why they’re cool folks: They make the rest of us look like wimps at races and make for really chill run buddies. Seriously though, ask them for running form tips because they just might have the solution for your knee pain.

3. Electronically assisted athletes:

How to identify them: Usually 20 or 30ish in age (I sort of fall into this group), Cyborgs outfit themselves for trail racing in a way reminiscent of the Apollo Moon landings. Often sporting the latest gear and shoes, they WERE easily identified by the wires coming out of their ears until the invention of Air Pods. More extreme examples of this type will sometimes add as much as 20 minutes to their finish time while vlogging a race on their GoPro.

What to do if you encounter them: It might take a little bit of work to interact with these folks, as they probably have their playlist booming in their ears. Consider learning Sign Language to communicate, or just comment on their runs on Strava afterwards.

Why they’re cool folks: If you run with them, they’ll be able to give you all the analytics from your session (great for accountability). If you need to find new trails, just ask and they’ll usually provide you with a GPX, a video recording of the course, and a detailed spreadsheet of the stats for each mile.

Quiet, Humble Bada**es:

How to identify them: These are probably one of the hardest types of runners to identify. They are usually soft-spoken and modest, but can run a six minute mile at 20% grade. Usually only sighted as a blur on trails and at races before disappearing into the woods ahead. 

What to do if you encounter them: At a race, it’s probably impossible to keep up with them long enough for a conversation. Outside of a race situation, they’re usually friendly and personable, you just need to be able to translate their unique language. A couple key phrases of their dialect include:
– “Yeah I ran a little bit today” (Translation: I ran 30 miles with 10,000 feet of gain today)
– “I’ve got a few races on the calendar” (Translation: I just got first place in a Golden Ticket race so I’ll be heading to Squaw Valley this summer. Oh, and Laz reached out to me and it looks like I’ll be running Barkley again soon).

Why they’re cool folks: Aside from their incredible athletic ability, they’re genuinely nice people and are some of the best people to share a beer with. Just recognize that underneath their low-key demeanor is a running machine that will smoke every single time you have recorded on Ultrasignup.

Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list of the kinds of trail runners that are out there, so I’d like to know what you think! Do you fit into any of these archetypes? Are there other types of runners that you know of? I look forward to your comments and replies.


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