Chasing Trail

By John Parker
Photos by John Mireles and Brevin Blach

20,000 years ago, humans were the main course for bigger and faster animals.

Tapping into our primal instincts to run for our lives, sprinting reminds us that our bodies are capable of great athletic feats in times of need. Flight responses give us a rush of adrenaline and endorphins that spurs us on, toning and tightening our thighs, calves, quads, glutes and cores as we run, simultaneously reestablishing our mind-body connection with nature.

A more modern self-preservation technique is trail running, an excellent way to melt off all those 2 a.m. tacos hiding atop the abs. Exercising in unfamiliar terrain tests the body’s ability to adapt, sparking favorable gains in muscle tone, fat loss and athleticism. San Diego’s abundant hiking trails offer a breathtaking backdrop against which to create a toned and health body, while relieving stress and making adventure a weekly pursuit. It’s something that runners and hikers of any ability level can enjoy.

Getting started is easy. Pick one of the many hiking trails San Diego has to offer. Wear comfy clothes, sturdy running shoes and sunscreen, and take plenty of water.

To prevent injury, first walk the entire trail to get a feel for the topography. When you’re feeling capable, pick up your feet and gather speed, paying close attention to changes in foot positioning.

Once you’re a trailblazer, pretend you’re trying to escape a hungry grizzly to add a touch of fun... if not ancient history.

Three local trails

At 1,592 feet, Cowles Mountain (pronounced “coals”) is the highest point in San Diego, offering a stunning view from its summit. Located in Mission Trails Regional Park in Mission Gorge, this three-mile (roundtrip) trek has an easily accessible trailhead and well-maintained landscape, suitable for beginning trailblazers.

Iron Mountain provides athletes of moderate skill a variety of terrain to explore, including soft dirt and more challenging, rock-covered stretches. The trail is perfect for those seeking a jog/sprint workout, offering both long straightaways and technical switchbacks. The trailhead is located off Poway Road and state Route 67, and offers 6.3 miles of trail (roundtrip), with an elevation change of 1,000 feet.

It’s hard to believe Cedar Creek Falls is located in San Diego County. This serene, hidden waterfall and pool (aka Devil’s Punchbowl) resembles a foreign oasis where sun-beaten trail runners refresh and reward themselves with a plunge into cool, churning waters. Newly renovated trails offer wider paths, gentle inclines and declines and plenty of stunning vistas. This 4.5-mile (roundtrip) jaunt caters to beginning and intermediate runners. Wear sturdy shoes-the return trip is mostly uphill.

- John Parker is a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who trains clients at FIT Athletic Club downtown.

Toeing the Line
Runners are baring their soles to prevent chronic injury

The Tarahumara people of Northern Mexico run distances of up to 120 miles at a time, without shoes.

Until recently, most humans ran barefoot or with thin-soled footwear, such as moccasins.

Reflecting a return to this simplified running style (and bolstered by the success of marathon-winning Kenyan runners who race barefoot) several footwear companies are creating thin-soled shoes that conform to the natural contours of the foot, effectively mimicking barefoot running without the unnatural cushioning and support most running and cross-training shoes offer.

Experts say barefoot running allows the arch of the foot and lower leg to absorb the impact of landing, whereas running in standard shoes sends a shock straight up the heel to the ankles, knees, hips and lower back, which can lead to chronic injury and encourage the progressive weakening of foot muscles.

In barefoot-style running shoes, athletes can better center their movements, allowing more
efficient strides and less overall impact.

The Vibram company’s FiveFingers’ “glove” shoe design comprises individual toe pockets, while
Merrell has opted for a traditional closed-toe design (great for those who feel too nerdy sporting
toe pockets). Both shoes offer virtually zero foot support, serving instead to protect feet from sharp rocks and rough terrain. The shoes are available in most sporting good stores and online.

First, acclimate your feet to the shoes: take up to six weeks to walk in the shoes, leading to exercise in the gym or light hikes before picking up speed. This will help avoid chronic injuries such as shin splints, rolled ankles and blisters.

Advantages to barefoot running
• A great, primal feeling and enhanced awareness on trails
• Improved body and stride mechanics
• Foot strengthening and increased stability
• Development of more natural muscle movement patterns