In an attempt to understand trail runners better, I decided to go up to Alta Sunday afternoon and do some trail running myself. Here's what I learned: running at elevations of 9,000+ feet is really quite a lot more difficult than running at about 4,500'. I planned my route carefully, deciding to go up to Catherine's Pass via Albion Basin (i.e., the usual route). But instead of going across the top of Catherine's Area to Supreme and then down the access road, I decided to retrace my steps back and then go out along the Summer Road. My thinking was that both the access road from the peak of Supreme and the main trail through Sunnyside are fairly steep with loose gravel underfoot - challenging footing for a neophyte trail runner, especially one with not-so-good balance. Even though taking the Summer Road back to the parking lot would be longer, it wasn't so steep and would be solid to run on.
I made pretty good time going up to Catherine's Pass but I must admit that I was unable to run any of the uphill. The steepness of the trail and the elevation was just too much, even for so slow a runner as I am. (I did still pass lots of people while walking, however.) Once at the pass, I tightened my shoe laces and ran back down, gingerly picking my footing in the rockier spots. The trail is mostly hard-packed dirt, though, which is wonderful to run on. When I got back to the trail head, I turned right and continued down the Summer Road. Which ended up being much longer than I remembered. I ran the whole thing, getting back to the car just as some raindrops started to sprinkle down.
That night, I could definitely tell that I had done something different, hopping around on the uneven footing. My hips were tight, which doesn't usually happen when I hike, and two days later, my quads and IT bands were still quite sore. I really liked it, though. Trail running is like MTBing for me in that I really have to concentrate on what I'm doing so I don't fall. I like having my brain engaged like that. Running and biking on trails is also so much more interesting to me than running and biking on roads. I would like to incorporate more trail running into my regular exercise routine - I just need to do it enough that I don't need three days to recover from it!