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