Chasing Trail: Running Outdoors to Spark your Primal Fire


“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”

  ~Henry David Thoreau

Just think: 10,000 years ago, our ancestors were quite possibly the main course for bigger and faster animals. By tapping into our own animal instincts, sprinting and fast-paced efforts remind the body that we are capable of great athletic endeavors in time of need. These flight responses give us an adrenaline rush that tones and tightens the body, develops muscles, and nourishes our mind-body connection with nature. 

The chase for that perfectly sculpted, sexy, summer body is not a pipe dream. Forget the monotony of a gym routine. San Diego’s abundant hiking trails offer a natural backdrop to create a toned and healthy body, as well as a way of relieving stress, having fun, and making adventure part of our weekly habit. And it’s something that runners and hikers of any ability level can enjoy.

Trail running is a top calorie burner that will start melting all those tacos hiding on top of your abs. Exercising in unfamiliar territory will test your body’s ability to adapt, sparking favorable gains in muscle tone, fat loss, and athleticism. Trail running is about experience. Our trips to these local trails serve as a constant reminder of the beauty of our city and ground our senses in outdoor activity.

Getting started is easy: You’ll need some comfy clothes, sturdy running shoes, sunscreen and lots of water. Next, you have to pick one of the many hiking trails that San Diego has to offer. Start by walking the trail to gather a feel for the terrain, and when you feel capable, pick up your feet and gather speed, making sure to pay close attention to changes in depth and foot position. Running the trails is safest when prepared, so thoroughly examine technical sections before treading over.

Three of my favorite trails are right in our backyard:

Cowles Mountain is the highest point in metropolitan San Diego at 1592 feet. Located at the corner of Cowles Mountain Blvd and Boulder Lake Road, this trail has an easily accessible trailhead and well-maintained landscape, suitable for beginners to trail running. Don’t let it’s altitude fool you, this 4.7 mile trail offers a stunning view from the top and a great landscape to test your vigor. Switchbacks full of rocks and soft trails are perfect for beginners new to trail running, without the danger of high drop points and unruly terrain. The trail is suited for beginning to moderate exercisers.

More info:

Iron Mountain allows athletes of moderate skill to explore a variety of peaks and terrain through both soft dirt and more challenging rock-covered ground. The Iron Mountain trailhead is directly located off of Poway Road and Highway 67, and offers nearly 6.5 miles of trail with an elevation change of 1000 feet. This trail is perfect for those seeking a jog/sprint workout as it has long straightaways coupled with technical switchbacks. Make sure to pack plenty of fluid and sunscreen on this one: open trails and summer sun intensify UV rays and dehydration.

More info:

It’s hard to believe Cedar Creek Falls hike belongs in San Diego. The serene hideaway waterfall and pool of water look like a foreign oasis where trail runners refresh themselves with a jump into cool, bubbling waters below. Renovated trails offer wide paths, gentle inclines and declines, and plenty of great views. This trail caters to beginner and intermediate runners. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes as the return trip is mostly uphill and can be challenging in direct heat. At just 4.2 miles and a short drive through the San Diego Country Estates, Cedar Creek is a great escape from city life to connect with our mind, body, and soul.

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John Parker is head trainer at Karbon Kinetic in La Jolla, CA

Please direct any questions about these training protocols to John Parker

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