5 Mud-Season Tips for Trail Runners
Strategy and smarts will get you through it.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
April showers bring May flowers, but they also bring on a mud season that can be frustrating for trail runners. You head to your favorite trail to find the goopy stuff that sticks to your shoes and makes each foot feel like it weighs an extra 10 pounds. All the slipping and sliding that occurs on muddy surfaces can cause muscle strains (and, potentially, worse). Plus, there’s the environmental impact you’re causing by mashing up trails in fragile condition.
But we can’t get around the fact that trails get muddy, especially during spring months, so here’s a guide to help navigate mud season.
Choose your trail wisely.
During periods of rain or as snow is melting between winter and spring, making smart decisions about where to run can make a huge difference. Generally speaking, trails covered by trees will hold moisture for longer, while trails that get a lot of sun exposure will dry out faster. And trails facing south will dry more quickly than trails on northern hillsides. Other factors, like how a trail was constructed or what type of soil it has, will play a role in how well a trail drains; getting to know which trails dry quickly in your area will help you make decisions based on weather. Also, when mud is all but certain on all trails in your area, consider a road run—staying off trails when they’re super muddy is better for the trails.
Time your run right.
If the ground still freezes overnight in your area, aim to run trails early as the mud will still be hardened. That mud will soften during the day and turn to an increasingly sloppy mess before refreezing at night.
Stick to the middle.
If you do find yourself on a muddy trail, it’s best for the trail to run smack down the middle. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics advises doing so as to not widen the trail. If someone else is coming and you need to make room on a singletrack, just be mindful of the vegetation and aim to step off onto durable surfaces, like rocks or grasses versus mosses and flowers.
Shorten your stride.
As with running in snow, shortening your stride can help with balance and the ability to recover from a misstep. Picture slipping on mud while taking long, loping strides versus slipping while taking shorter strides. Your muscles, ligaments, and tendons are less likely to over-stretch within a shorter stride if mud sends your footing awry.
Clean up nicely.
There are various strategies to cleaning mud off trail shoes. The first is taking heavy, stomping steps on road or firm dirt before getting in your car or when transitioning to a road section. The second involves taking off your muddy shoes at a trailhead before getting in your car and dragging them through snow patches, or dipping them in puddles, should either be present at the trailhead. The third is banging muddy shoes together, which works best when the mud is dry (so, be patient). And the fourth is spraying your shoes down with a hose, then stuffing them with newspaper and keeping them out of direct sunlight while they dry. Muddy shoes look cool, but can weigh you down.
Lisa Jhung is the author of Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running and Running That Doesn’t Suck: How to Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It).