Coming To America: Tips For The European Trail Runner Headed To The New World

[Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part humor series on intercontinental trail running fashion. Our first article was a survival guide for Euro trail fashion. This article acts as a how-to for Euros looking to fit in the American trail scene.]

Anton Krupicka - 2012 Leadville 100

American trail blazer Tony Krupicka. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

We live in difficult times, confronted with 21st century global challenges that seem intractable. The results look profoundly worrisome, to say the least. Building bridges, physical and metaphorical, is imperative to our collective survival.

We can all do our part. My part, it turns out, is small. Very, very small. I’m no diplomatic emissary, but thanks to family connections, I have spent a bit of time trail running in Switzerland. So, in the interest of adding another brick to the bridge that connects Old Europe with us troublemakers in the New World, let me offer a few highly important fashion tips for European trail runners headed for a run here in the land of spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and, well, no shortage of golden arches.

Ready to prep for our wild American trails? Great! Allons-y!

Skimp on Clothing - Timothy Olson - Dom Grossman

Even sponsored runners skimp on clothing here in the States. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Do’s

Dress randomly. We aspire to be colorblind in this great melting pot of America, and that goes for our clothing choices, too. Many of us dress for a run based on which articles of clothing were easiest to reach for on the drying rack. If years of thoughtful color coordination makes this physically impossible without inducing a seizure, try this: throw your running clothes on your hotel room floor, close your eyes, reach down, and put on the first thing you find. Repeat as needed. (You forgot to breathe, didn’t you? Your teeth are clenched, aren’t they? Relax. It’ll be okay. You have lots of time to Photoshop your vacation photos before friends back home see them on Facebook.)

Leave those batons at home. We’re the country that figured out a thousand uses for WD-40, but we still can’t comprehend that poles might have uses beyond skiing or hiking. One day, we may get there. In the mean time, if you run with poles, be ready with a snappy answer for, “Where’s the snow at, fella’?”

Bring your gadgets. Worship of technology appears to know no international bounds. So, in this respect, at least, you’ll feel right at home. Bring your GoPro, your iPhone, your GPS-equipped computer that counts calories, monitors your pulse, defibrillates your heart on tough hills, and then tweets a note about it.

Accessorize–with a dog. Borrow one from an American friend. Having an animal sidekick is a long tradition here. The Lone Ranger had his horse, Silver. John Wayne had Banner. And all of us of a certain age had Mr. Ed. Horses, though, are awkward at your work cubicle, so these days we settle for dogs. As living examples of America’s heterogeneous roots, mutts are best. Equip him or her with gear better than you have yourself. Spare no expense. (Side note: The color-coordination rule does not apply here. Your dog’s vest should coordinate with his or her coat.)

Destroy your shoes. That dog you just borrowed? Feed her your trail runners. Then, cover the shoes in mud and let them bake in the afternoon sun. The more you can make them look like they’re still fresh off the Bataan Death March, the better. To us, our shoes are old friends. Like a good scar, they tell us stories about who we are and where we’ve been.

Strip down. If you want to go ‘all in,’ that is. I have a friend who rarely runs in anything more than a pair of shorts and his sneakers. No shirt, no socks, no high-tech hydration system. (Come to think of it, I also have a friend who stripped down all the way and went for a trail run. Everything went fine, until a rather puritanical family drove by as he emerged at the trailhead. Our town cop is still talking about it. As a foreigner, you might actually be able to get away with this more readily. Plead confusion about local customs. Drop me an email and let me know if it works.)

2013 Leadville 100 - red carpet

No shirt? Suit jacket? Why not!
Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Don’ts

Don’t wash your clothing. Instead, bake it in your rental car. The goal here is to get it as putrid as possible. Daisy-scented trail running clothing will get you nowhere in the U.S. One of my friends once said that I had successfully ‘weaponized’ my trail running clothing. I took it as high praise. (If the NSA is reading this, I’m available for consulting. You know where to reach me.)

Don’t expect public transportation to work. Here, when you reach a small town, there won’t be a train within 15 minutes. The last one came through in 1955. Instead, rent a car. On the upside, there’s a long tradition in the U.S. of returning your rental car looking and smelling worse than if it had just traveled across Mongolia. Use the backseat for fast-food wrappers. Since your country’s customs officials will probably confiscate your newly trashed running shoes, you might as well leave them rotting in the trunk as a ‘special gift’ for the rental company.

Despite what you might be expecting, we don’t trail run with guns. Yet. True, guns are practically a fashion accessory in some parts of the country, but until Salomon gets to work on the carbon fiber .357, you won’t need to worry about surprising anyone on the trails.

Conclusion

It’s hard to see something when you’re in the midst of it, but I hope I’ve managed to capture a bit of the fashion and running sensibilities of the American trail runner. Give them a try, and let me know how it works for you.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem intuitive at first. Even seasoned European pros can use a hand. Two years ago, six-time Skyrunning champion Marco De Gasperi came to my hometown. Down the road a few minutes is Mount Washington, where Marco battled a remarkably competitive field for fifth place in the Mount Washington Road Race, that year’s U.S. Mountain Running Championships. A week later, he ran in the Cranmore Hill Climb at nearby Cranmore Mountain. During his stay, we crossed paths briefly as he enjoyed his time in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Everyone loved his fun attitude and good spirit.

At Cranmore, Marco finished in a more predictable place than Mount Washington: first. Scanning the field after I finished the run, I looked for my friends. But, someone else caught my eye—someone, well, a bit out of place. He was dressed in bright green, fully coordinated, and wearing a Buff. It was Marco. Next to him were my friends who blended into the mud, dirt, and forest so well as to be practically invisible. Marco, when you next find yourself racing in the U.S., just know, I’m here for you.

Kilian Jornet - 2012 Speedgoat 50k

It took a little practice, but here’s Kilian blending in at the 2012 Speedgoat 50k. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you have any more funny, ‘coming to America’ advice for Euro trail runners?
  • And, what about the fashions of other countries? If you’re from somewhere outside the U.S. or Europe, can you give potential visitors to your country some humorous advice on surviving trail running fashion where you live?
Hardrock 100 2013 - Old School

The old guard at the Hardrock 100 kicking it old school, American style. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

There are 23 comments

  1. Mic_Med

    The year that Marco ran Mt Washington, 2012, the US Mountain Running Championships were in fact held at Washington. He ran Cranmore versus the New England mountain runners, but not the whole US Mountain Running Championship crowd. Just pointing it out. I was there at Cranmore, and he did in fact look dashingly fantastic.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Mic_Med,

      Ah, thanks for the catch! I’ve updated the text to note that Mt. Washington was the U.S. Mountain Running Championships location in 2012, and that Marco competed in the Cranmore Hill Climb the next weekend.

    2. runthealps

      Mic-Med,

      Appreciate the catch on what was totally my error. I think maybe my compression neck warmer was on too tight, and not enough oxygen was getting to my brain. At least, that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

      Doug

  2. @PhilJeremy

    I get funny looks in the US when I wear my lycra running shorts! In Europe everyone has a Camel back or equivalent whereas in the states it all seems to be handheld. Finally if any Americans are running in France do not be surprised to see some very good ultra runners light up a cigarette at an aid station …. I am serious!!

  3. zbultra

    A beard! How could you forget a big shaggy beard or at least a goatee!!! Even a trimmed beard, or half a beard, or even a mustache, but some type of facial hair…on the men at least…

  4. cumbriansun

    I race/train in Northern England (Lake District, Dales, etc) and came to the California last year to run the AC100. I had my "short" shorts, my beard was looking fine, the tan was nearing completion and I had my Sierra Nevada brewery hat… unfortunately I cracked me noggin during a run in the Lassen Volcanic National Park. Had a hilarious time at Chester ER talking about the omnivorous habits of Bears and free health care!

  5. Scott_RJ

    "America" is not synonymous with the U.S. There are these whole two other "americas," filled with countries- Central and Southern America. Amazing!

    1. Bryon of iRunFar

      While "America" does refer to a pair of continents (although, more often, that'd be "The Americas"), colloquially, "America" is used to refer to the United States. As reference, the accepted demonym for US-citizens is "Americans." Not trying to pick a fight… quite the opposite, just pointing out that there's no actual issue here.

      1. @SeamusFoy

        I agree that it isn't an issue, but some people from the Americas believe that it is. I know that in Peru a lot of people say Estadounidese. I kid you not. Several people there have also told me that they are also "American". Some also say Norteamericano and Sudamericano to refer to the larger geographic regions. and the people who live there.

      2. mikehinterberg

        I don't think there's an "issue" in this case because "Coming to America" is itself wordplay in a humourous article, perhaps even an homage to (the great) Neil Diamond.

        But even if it's silly, it's an issue not easily dismissed for some people; "American(o") as an adjective is commonly accepted (e.g., "futbol americano") in regard to the U.S., and the eponym is used somewhat frequently — but if asked which country one is from, especially in South America, "EEUU"/"Estados Unidos" is by far the preferred option, and quite often the only one available in checklists, computerized dropdowns, etc. Scott and Seamus are dead-on, I would say I've actually never heard a South American say (or ask) if I was from "America," with dozens of examples of hearing "Estados Unidos," so it's stranger for me to see an unequivocal stance from Bryon otherwise. But only slightly more strange than myself bothering to type this response. Cheers!

        1. Bryon of iRunFar

          Not sure I was taking an unequivocal stance here. Certainly wasn't my intention. I just think that it's silly for the opening coming for try and make something of the author's use of the word America in this context. "America" can be synonymous with the US. It can also have other meanings. Words are useful (and fun) fun like that. :-)

          1. mikehinterberg

            Right on, I just thought the original comment was either light-hearted at best, or a throwaway comment not worthy of response at worst.

            I was talking about the use in general, also having fun with words, as I think there's a confusing but noticeable difference between acceptance (and clarity) of "American" vs. "America" abroad — but it's more clear to me (now) that you were talking about this specific case.
            "make something of the author's use of the word America in this context" — you're right, in this context I think it's a non-issue and in fact an even apropos humourous choice precisely because the article is supposed to be self-deprecating to Americans. I really like Doug's writing, and even sprinkling in a "'Merica" would've worked for the tone.

            Mostly I was just avoiding doing some work. Run on!

  6. ctkohm

    When running in the US, you need to protect your feet from getting at all dirty or hardened by sand, dirt, pebbles or twigs. This can be partly achieved by running on platform shoes such as Hokas. Running strictly on street-sweeper clean roads? Makes no difference, wear your gators anyway, but make sure that they do not match anything else on your body!!

  7. BuzzBurrell

    Excellent advice. But you left out key one-liners to fit into the US scene while lined up on the starting line:

    "I'm going to take it easy and see how it goes"
    "I'll just try and follow you as best I can"
    "I'm in terrible shape; I just want to finish"
    "I had the Flu/Cold/Intestinal Worms/Bubonic Plague last week; I'll be taking it easy today"
    "I had an Injury/Broke my leg/Fell off a bridge/Got run over by a dump truck last month, so I'll just be hanging in there".

    1. runthealps

      This is great. There's a whole article in here! I've personally used every one of these lines, and often several at once.

  8. throwerbt

    Facial hear is a must. Clean shaven American ultra runners are even out of place. The idea is to look like your environment. Animals are furry, so you should be as well!

  9. sharmanian

    It's difficult for transplants. Back in Europe (and even the UK), everyone seems to wear more tight clothing than a female pop star. Here I feel out of place for wearing a T-shirt and not having a beard down to my nuts :)

  10. georgetslc

    I'd like to post an unequivocal comment that men running shirtless may be unusual in some places in America (aka los Estados Unidos, les États- Unis, etc.) but almost never unknown, and I'm surprised that this article seems to think it's strange in Europe.

  11. @zhangschmidt

    Coming late, I know, but… Funnily, my matching tights and tops are all CW-X or Mountain Hardwear (windstopper) stuff that you still can't get in Europe too easily. It's all something like 10 years old. So, it all matches, but if you want to know what "weaponized" clothing means… Well, let's just say I have no idea why the 10 meter – perimeter around myself is still able to breathe. As for me, maybe that's why I need to move fast enough… to keep abreast of my own stink.

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