Trail Running 101: That Time I Got Lost

My trail running experience over the last few years has consisted on running on the Flagstaff Urban Trail System and on a handful of other trails that are always near where I’m living. I haven’t ventured too much onto hiking trails (with the exception of Walnut Canyon where I’ve done a handful of long runs) and never anything with any serious elevation gain.

Yesterday, I desperately wanted to try something new out. Since trail running typically has quite a bit of elevation gain (if you haven’t, check out Sweaty Emily’s blog. She amazes me), I knew I needed to start incorporating that into my runs. I recently have switched my long run days from Sunday to Monday (another topic for another day), so I set out for a longer-ish run, with some hope of elevation gain and some killer views as a reward.

I originally wanted to run up Mt. Elden, but turns out, a lot of the Forest Roads are still closed. So, I scrapped that plan, and headed out to Buffalo Park to run on some trails around there. There’s quite a few different hiking trails and I figured it would be good practice.

As part of my amateur trail runner status, I made a deal with J-Money. I’m allowed to run on the trails, but I must bring my phone and mace with me. I used to hate carrying anything with me and would hit trails with nothing at all. I look back on that and think about how stupid that was. So, I brought mace, water, my cell phone and my key fob with me and headed out on the trails. I also had let J-Money know where I was going and mileage anticipated (the original plan was 10).

I set off on the trail and very quickly realized this was going to be tough. I slowed waaay down and told myself that I would run whatever I could and not worry about pace. One thing I’m quickly learning is that pace will not translate from my road pace. I’m not going to run an 8 min/avg on rocky trails while climbing 1,000 ft. I’m just not. And that’s okay! The thing I really enjoy about trail running is that I can just be outside, exploring a trail and enjoying the scenery. It doesn’t matter how fast I’m moving, it only matters that I’m out there running. It’s freeing and a lot of fun to be running for the love of it, rather than obsessing over paces.

Anyway, I continued to climb and ended up texting J-Money to let him know that ten probably wasn’t going to happen, I was moving slooooowly, and was now hoping for 8. I kept going for a while before stopping to take some action shots:


My legs were really starting to feel the terrain and I was getting tired. But, I was climbing so much, I was determined to keep going until I was able to get an awesome shot of the view I had.

I got off the hiking trail and onto a Forest Road since it was easier terrain. I started climbing even more and finally came to an area where I could get an awesome view shot.


My watch beeped at 4 miles and I decided it was time to head back. I took it easy running down the hills and watched my pace so I wasn’t thrashing my quads too much. The way down was certainly easier, though running a bit faster and avoiding the rocks got to be tricky.

I finally made it to the trail sign “Buffalo Park -0.9 miles” and was so relieved. I was tired, hot and hungry. I kept going, thinking about what else I was going to do that day, how much fun I had just had, and that I wanted to keep exploring on these trails. I was too unfocused on where I was going and suddenly found myself on a trail almost in the backyard of some folks’ homes. I had no recollection of running past them on my way out and slowed down thinking maybe I had missed a turn somewhere. Shortly after, I came up to a gate that I had definitely not run through before.

I promptly turned around and started to head back to find where I missed the right turn. I came up on a side trail that went up and over a small hill that I figured would meet up with the right trail. I took it, climbed the hill and stayed on the trail for a few minutes. I saw a few hikers up above and figured that I was definitely on the right trail. Shortly after, I saw a sign with an arrow for the trail and was confident I was on the right path.

I kept going and found myself close to another neighborhood. I stopped, confused, and took out my phone. I located my position on Maps and searched for Buffalo Park. It said I was a few miles from it, but it showed directions on roads, so I figured on trails it would be different. It was to the left on my phone (the direction I was heading), so I kept going.

After another half a mile, I realized that this could NOT be right. I texted J that I still wasn’t sure where I was, and that I was going to get onto the roads to figured it out. Luckily, I was close to another neighborhood. I got off the trail easily and once I hit road, pulled out Maps for another look.

Guys. I learned yesterday that I don’t know how to read a map! I had been going in the total wrong direction and ended up 2 miles east of Buffalo Park. Luckily, I know the area well and headed back in the direction of my car.


This is my “Oops, I got lost face”

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 2.35.25 PM

As you can see, I ended up with quite the loop. I definitely took a wrong turn and really had to loop around to the beginning.

I LOVE trail running. I had such a fun time yesterday before getting completely lost. It was a real eye opener for me–If I’m going to pursue this, I really need to be smart about it. I need a better idea of the trails I’ll be running before I do it, and I need to have some kind of mapping app open and running while I’m out on the trail. I believe MapMyRun does this, and I’ll be looking into it. It would have been so helpful to be able to see the map from my run while out ON my run in order to see where the wrong turn happened.

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday. Wrong turns happen and that’s okay. That’s part of the excitement of running on the trail, but I think about how lucky I was it happened when I was already in town and able to get back to my car. I don’t want to think about the outcome of getting lost on the mountain–where the possibility of losing cell service is real.

I want to continue this sport, but I want to be sure I’m doing it as safely as possible. I have a lot to learn about trail running, for sure. I’m also extremely grateful I had water with me. It was hot out and it would have been bad news if I hadn’t had my handheld with me!

I ended up with a total of 10 miles–which is funny, since that’s what I wanted originally–and about 1,000 ft of elevation gain.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 2.43.37 PMLong run accomplished!


6 thoughts on “Trail Running 101: That Time I Got Lost

  1. I have just started trail running (as in, I went on a 9 mile trail run Sunday and fell in love) and I’m already a bit anxious about figuring this kind of thing out! When I go hiking, I always think I have a good idea of where I’m going, but I invariably have to pull out my phone to check the picture I took of the map.


  2. Oh that’s scary. I had a similar thing happen a few weeks ago, but I wasn’t even on trails. I just knew that I wanted to turn left on a particular street and somehow just obliviously ran right past it. I kept waiting for it and waiting for it and didn’t realize I had passed it until I got to another major street that I knew for sure was after it. It ended up adding 3 miles to my route! Oops!


  3. I absolutely love trail running! I actually started out on trails when I first began running (when I was only 8) so it feels second nature to me. I do get freaked out the first time I’m on a new trail. I get scared of getting lost! Thank goodness for GPS or I would never go on a new trail or running path!


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