Improving Mindfulness & Performance with Whil

We’re only a few days into our 2019 MUS Wellness Incentive program, and we hope you’re off to a good start! As mentioned before, our 2019 program is placing a special emphasis on mental health, and to that end we’ve introduced Whil, a new tool to help you practice mindfulness, reduce stress, and boost your performance!

If you are an MUS active employee and Benefit Plan member, you can access Whil through our Incentive site, and then through your mobile phone if you’d like (the video at the end of this post shows you how).

Our Whil practices for 2019 are broken into three categories: Basic Training, Stress, and Performance. Here are some examples of programs and sessions within each.

Basic Training/Mindfullness 101

  • Focus you Attention
  • Sense the Body
  • Relax the Nervous System


  • Reduce Daily Stress
  • Focus and Be Calm
  • Overcome Conflict


  • Thrive in the Workplace
  • Develop Healthy Habits
  • Build Concentration

If you’re new to practicing mindfulness and meditation, that’s great! That’s exactly what this tool is for. I’m new as well, and have been enjoying the sessions. For me, these practices are a welcome antidote for what can be the noise, clutter, and frenetic pace of our day to day lives. One of the early Mindfulness 101 sessions invites you to Set an Intention for your mindfulness practice, and one of my early intentions has been to be able to stay calm even when I feel like there’s a storm raging all around me. With six and three-year-old boys at home, there is always a veritable hurricane of energy to manage. Not to mention lots of laundry and dirty dishes.

Following one of these early sessions, a daily tip popped up that I wanted to share:

“The point of mindfulness is making it part of what you already do, not making it an extra task. You can do short practices throughout your day. Many can even be done when you are focusing on things as basic as brushing your teeth, driving to work, lifting weights, or just listening to a colleague. You can train your attention on anything happening in the present moment. Then benefit, as you get better at the skill of focusing you attention.” 

If you haven’t started already, we hope you will soon. Research has shown that about five minutes of practice a day can do wonders for your concentration, stress resilience, and mental outlook. Enjoy!


Getting started with Whil for MUS

Wellchat Episode XIX: Intuitive Eating

Episode 19: Cristin Stokes chats with Montana Dietetic Intern Steph Tarnacki about Intuitive Eating: an alternative to constant dieting, and a healthy practice for all of us.


Here are some additional resources to learn more about the practice of Intuitive Eating:

The Montana Moves & Meals Wellchat is available on Itunes podcasts! Subscribe and take us with you for a walk, run, or drive!

Back-to-School Breakfasts!

School is back in session and for many of us, that means more responsibilities, tighter schedules, and often…less time for food prep. Breakfast especially can take a hard hit if school mornings are chaotic. Even if the start of school doesn’t change your schedule much, it’s rare to find someone who has time in the morning to sit down to a freshly prepared meal, especially as the weather starts to cool, the sun rises later, and your bed feels ever more cozy & comfortable in those early morning hours.

But rather than skipping breakfast or just grabbing a pastry at the coffee shop that will leave you hungry an hour later, do yourself a favor and prepare some healthy items ahead of time that are ready in a jiffy or that you can take with you on your way to work. While the internet is full of make-ahead breakfast ideas, I’ve rounded up some of my favorites to share with you all, plus a few additional recipes that actually sound realistic and manageable for the average working person with morning responsibilities.

Remember to include a source of protein with breakfast to keep you satisfied longer, and to spread your protein intake out throughout the day, which has been shown to be beneficial in helping your body utilize protein most efficiently.


  • Mini-Crustless Quiches in Muffin Tins. These are easy to adapt to your preferences with different veggies, cheeses, etc.
  • Freezer Veggie Breakfast Burritos. Make a big batch (i.e. half dozen or more) for the entire week. Take out of freezer in the morning and throw in the microwave for ~2 minutes. Use smaller tortillas (8” or so) for portability and cool the filling first before wrapping in a tortilla and freezing to prevent your burrito from becoming soggy. You can change up the recipe based on what ingredients you have available in your fridge; I always recommend going heavy on the non-starchy vegetables, and easy on the potatoes and processed meat (or skip those altogether).
  • English Muffin Breakfast Sandwiches. Again, easily adaptable based on what you have available.
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs. Ok, so you probably don’t need a recipe, but I wanted to make sure to include these on the list. Having hard boiled eggs prepped and ready in your fridge means you have a perfect, transportable protein source to take along with your fruit smoothie or oatmeal.


  • Overnight Kefir Oats. These are really yummy, plus you can start your day with a boost of beneficial probiotics.
  • Steel Cut Oats: Given their heartier texture, these stand up to being made ahead of time. You can cook a big bowl on the weekend or whenever you have a chance, then add some milk or water when you warm them up. I love throwing a nut/seed trail mix on top, with a spoonful of honey or jam if you want to sweeten them up.
  • Homemade Muesli: Muesli tends to have less sugar and more fiber than granola, especially when homemade and you can limit the dried fruit and any added sweeteners (which I would suggest on the recipe linked above). Can be soaked overnight or added to yogurt/milk in the morning.
  • Homemade instant oatmeal: Most instant oatmeal purchased from the store is loaded with sugar and artificial flavors. Instead, make your own at home! This recipe comes from MUS employee Jane Wolery’s blog, who adapted it from the Iowa Extension’s Spend Smart Eat Smart blog. Thank you Jane!


  • 4 cups rolled oats or quick cook oats
  • Optional mix-ins:
    • Chia seeds
    • Dried fruit
    • Nuts
    • Cinnamon
    • Pumpkin pie spice
    • Brown sugar (could also add honey or maple syrup right before serving)


Put rolled oats in blender or food processor. Blend for a bit, until you get some fine powder and some regular oat shapes. You could probably powderize about 1 cup of oats and then add 3 cups regular or quick cook oats to that powder. The powder should make a creamier and faster cooking product.  

If doing different flavors of packets, take about ½ c. of the oats and put in snack-size bags or containers.  Add about 1 tsp of sugar, dried fruits, nuts, chia seeds, etc.  If doing all the same, mix “extra” dry ingredients into one large container with oats and then portion out 2/3 c. or so into snack-size bags.  You’ll have to experiment with the sugar for a bigger batch or just add it to each portion.  When ready to use, pour contents of packet into a bowl, add hot water and let sit until oatmeal is creamy.   


  • Yogurt Parfaits: These can be made several days in advance, and then if you want a little crunch, you can sprinkle a whole grain cereal on top just before eating.
  • Chia Seed Pudding With the chia seeds as a natural thickening agent, it’s possible to make chia seed pudding without yogurt, but in my opinion, the texture if far superior when you do add yogurt.

Baked goods

  • Breakfast Muffins. The key to a healthier breakfast muffin is portion size (no oversized muffins please!), less sugar, and hearty ingredients like nuts, seeds, and vegetables to increase prortein and fiber content.
  • Tina and Michael’s Nutritional Breakfast Cookies. Thank you to MUS employee Michael Bloom for sharing this recipe!


  • 1/4 cup butter, softened                                               1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup peanut butter                                                      1/4 cup chopped figs
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar                                       1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract                                                       1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 2 large eggs                                                                      1/2 cup craisins
  • 1/2 cup cider or cold coffee                                          1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour                                                  1/4 cup flaxseeds
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour                                               1/2 cup coconut
  • 2 cups whole oats
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking soda


  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Spray or lightly grease baking sheets.
  2. In a large bowl beat together butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until creamy.  Beat in eggs and cider or coffee.
  3. In a medium bowl stir together flours, oats, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda.  Mix flour mixture into peanut butter mixture. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  4. Drop by ice cream scoopfuls (or 1/4 cup measuring cupfuls) 2-1/2 inches apart on greased cookie sheets.  Flatten slightly.
  5. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden but still soft.
  6. Remove from the oven and cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.


  • Snickerdoodle Green Smoothie: If made ahead, the avocado may discolor, but a quick stir before eating will make it unnoticeable.


  • 1 handful spinach
  • 1 frozen banana
  • ½ small avocado
  • ¼- ½ cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon

Directions:  Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Serves 1. Adapted from

  • Make-ahead Smoothie Packs. You can package ingredients for individual smoothies in ziploc bags, then let a bag chill in the refrigerator overnight and add the liquid to blend in the morning.
  • You can also prep entire smoothies a couple of days before and store in mason jars to transport. They will require a shake/stir to remix ingredients that may have settled, but they will be all ready to go!


  • Mini-Tofu Quiches: Don’t turn up your nose so quickly at the mention of tofu for breakfast! These are delicious and packed with protein.

Happy Breakfast Eating!



Montana Crunch Time!

Your MUS Wellness Team has been on the road for the past month, but we’re breaking radio silence today to catch you up on what we’ve been up to and bring you a special announcement about a unique (and delicious!) upcoming event.

Neal and I have visited 7 MUS campuses since mid-September, and have had the opportunity to see many of you at WellChecks, workshops, and Wellness Champion meetings. We’ve gotten to hear your Wellness success stories, your questions, comments, and suggestions related to our programs. Getting out and visiting with our MUS plan members is really what keeps us going. So thank you to all of you who’ve taken time out of your busy day to speak with us or attend a workshop! We’re looking forward to upcoming WellChecks in Missoula and Bozeman, a follow-up webinar to Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Exercise but were Afraid to Ask on October 28th at 12:05pm (click here to register now), more educational workshops on several campuses and planning for 2016. Whew!

I also wanted to tell you about a cool event happening on Monday, October 26th. Mark your calendars for 2:00pm MST because it’s Montana Crunch Time! Montana Crunch Time is a statewide event marked by crunching into a locally grown apple to celebrate Food Day (October 24th) and National Farm to School Month. Take a quick break for a healthy afternoon snack of a Montana-grown apple, invite your coworkers, then share your “crunch byte” by tagging a photo or video with the hashtag #MontanaCrunchTime on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media sites. Help spread the word about the benefits of local food & healthy communities!

To tell you more about this event, I spoke with Aubree Roth, Farm to School Coordinator with Montana Team Nutrition and organizer of Montana Crunch Time. Montana Team Nutrition provides training and technical assistance for Child Nutrition Programs (i.e. the National School Lunch Program).

When and how did Montana Crunch Time start?

AR: The idea for Montana Crunch Time was born when Missoula Public Schools were looking for a way to create a fruit & veggie “flashmob”. Crunching on locally produced apples at a designated time was a way to create a state-wide event with that “flash mob” feeling. The first Montana Crunch Time was held in 2013.

How many people typically participate in Montana Crunch Time?

AR: In its first year in 2013, an estimated 11,000 adults and students participated. In 2014, over 20,000 participated. This year, we’re are aiming for 30,000!

Where can I find locally grown apples?

AR: “Regionally-grown” apples may be the more appropriate term in some cases, because not all locations in Montana have access to Montana -grown apples. However, local grocers and farmer’s markets are a good places to check. You can also ask your local Extension office for information regarding nearby orchards. And don’t forget about a neighborhood apple tree or one in your own backyard!

Why is Farm to School Month important?

AR: Farm to School month is the perfect time to celebrate and launch farm to school programs.

According to, “Farm to school enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and preschools.” That means local food incorporated into school meals and snacks, creation of school gardens, and educational opportunities for students such as farm field trips or cooking lessons to teach future generations about where food comes from.

Do many Farm to School programs currently exist in the state?

AR: In a 2011-2012 USDA Census, 38% of Montana schools had farm to school programs. Since that time, the number of programs have grown significantly. Montana is doing really well and is on par, if not ahead, of other states in the percentage of schools who have farm to school programs.

Aubree reports that many schools are holding special events and assemblies in honor of Montana Crunch Time. So if you have kids, ask them if they are celebrating the event, and join them if you can! Last year, a senior living facility participated, and organizers hope that more workplaces and organizations will begin to participate as well. So, let’s lead the way, MUS! If you plan on participating, sign up to crunch here (registering for the event is really helpful as it allows organizers to estimate the number of participants). 

And, you can follow me on Twitter @montanameals to see my “crunch byte” next Monday!


Goodbye Winter?

Spring Equinox is this Friday, so we’ll usher in Spring by taking a look at some of your February “Tracks” adventures. It wasn’t an ideal month for trekking around in the snow, but many of you went out and found it anyway! Here are some of our favorite shared pics by our COTM participants last month. In keeping with the Montana spirit, there were as many dogs represented as people. Montana probably has the healthiest dogs in the nation!

AK tracks at LT
Toby the dog tries to keep pace with Abbey K. of Bozeman as she swooshes down Lost Trail Pass.

Aubrey R., Lisa V. and crew from Bozeman head into the Tempest toward Bell Lake Yurt in the Tobacco Root Mountains.

Tina H. shows her MSUB pride showshowing outside Red Lodge.

Margo H. from Dillon, snowshoes in Polaris with pal Chevy the dog.

Lori F. from Missoula found the power while XC skiing at Lolo.

Leah T. from Helena gets a great shot near Lake Loise in BC, Canada. There was no show in Helena, so Leah went and found some elsewhere.

Kelli D. from Billings snowshoes near Red Lodge.

Josh P. from Billings captures the amazing landscape in the East Rosebud area of the Beartooths.

Dana M. from Bozeman takes Dexter the dog along for a snowshoe in Westfield Park.

Doug C. from Butte takes in a nice view of Mt. Haggin XC ski area.

Carla F. and Dionne P. made the trek down to beautiful Ousel Falls near Big Sky.

Annie W. from Missoula and dog were able to make it above the clouds in the Missoula Valley to find the sunshine.

Dinner Table Discipline

When we eat too fast, we are likely to overeat because our brains have not had the time to recognize that we’re full.

When talking about my sixth nutritional tenet, Enjoy Your Food, I often say that when it comes to good nutrition, the way we eat is sometimes more important than what we eat. While I make a concerted effort to be present and mindful at mealtimes, I’ve always been a fast eater. Then, I married into a family of fast eaters, and my speed-eating habit only got worse. Hours spent preparing a beautiful, delicious meal, and then it’s gone in minutes!

Recently, I decided to take my own advice and utilize a strategy that I often recommend for others who struggle with the same issue of eating too fast: set a kitchen timer. My husband was on board with trying to slow down our meal pace, so for the past month, we’ve been setting the timer to 10 minutes when we sit down to eat. Although 10 minutes doesn’t sound like very long, you might be surprised. At least for a speedy eater like me, it takes considerable effort to stretch out a meal to that time. My husband’s and my goal is to work up to 20 minutes per meal, and right now we are up to 12. Research has shown that it takes approximately 20 minutes for the complex hormonal response that occurs when our stomachs are stretched to fully take effect and tell our brains that we are full. When we eat too fast, we are likely to overeat because our brains have not had the time to recognize that we’re full.

I added one more piece to the timer strategy that has been very effective for me, personally. When we are finished with our meal, I set the timer again for 10-12 minutes, and if, after that time, I am still hungry or want dessert, then I can take seconds or have something sweet. Usually, I get busy with cleaning the kitchen or I’ve moved on to other things, so when the timer rings, I find that I no longer want or need more food. When I do still crave dessert, waiting 10 extra minutes makes a piece of dark chocolate even that much more satisfying. The timer strategy has put a pause in what was becoming a nearly automatic habit of reaching for dessert after dinner.

If you can relate to any of these mealtime faux pas, feel free to try these simple solutions.  And remember, sometimes the easiest and simplest solutions turn out to be the most effective!

Slow down, and enjoy your food!


Treadmill Tips

Sometimes, when it’s snowing and blowing outside, I run on a treadmill.

While the 4th Montana Moves High Five is: Play Outside, and the February COTM is Make Tracks (in the snow), it’s inevitable that in Montana the winter weather will dictate that we do some indoor training. I’m currently training for a marathon, so although it’s certainly not my favorite activity, sometimes, when it’s snowing and blowing outside, I run on a treadmill. To break the monotony of a treadmill run, and to boost fitness, I incorporate these two elements:

  • I make it an interval workout
  • I vary the incline

Today I want to focus on the second point: varying the incline.  I suspect, that when most people run on a treadmill, they mainly focus on speed, and leave the incline alone. I like to run with a slight incline for a baseline—either 0.5% or 1.0% grade.  This helps make up the fact that on a treadmill, we don’t run against any wind resistance, and the ground push-off is slightly different because of the moving belt.  The added resistance of a slight grade can simulate these added forces we face outdoors, and can help with our transition when we get back outside.

I also like to utilize various inclines if I’m running intervals.  Let’s face it, we live in Montana, we’re probably going to encounter a hill now and then.  Training on an incline is sport-specific training if you hike, trail run, snowshoe, or XC ski.  Also, as you probably realize, running (or walking) uphill adds an increased cardiovascular load, which boosts fitness and burns a ton of calories.

Here’s an example of a treadmill workout I did last week, along with some heart rate data.  I did five intervals of 5-minute runs with a 1-minute slow-jog recovery after each. Here is what the intervals consisted of:

  • 5 minutes @ marathon pace (MP) with 1% Incline
  • 5 minutes @MP with 2% Incline
  • 5 minutes @MP with 2.5% Incline
  • 5 minutes @MP with 3% Incline
  • 5 minutes @ 25 seconds faster per mile than MP with 0% Incline

HR Zone example

This is a heart rate graph of the workout. The five “peaks” in the middle were the intervals. As expected, you can see that my HR increased during each of the first four intervals, as the grade increased. Remember, the speed was held constant, and only the incline changed. What might surprise you, is that during the last interval, although I sped up (25 seconds per mile faster), my HR was actually lower than every interval except the first, because I ran that one on a flat surface! Another cool effect was that after running on a steadily increasing incline, moving the treadmill back to flat actually gave an illusion that I was running slightly downhill.

Here are some final conclusions:

  • Using intervals and incline breaks the monotony of treadmill running.
  • Using a slight incline (0.5-1.0%) simulates the resistance of outdoor running.
  • Using larger inclines (1.5-5%) greatly increases cardiovascular and metabolic demand.
  • Using incline can save pounding on your joints and legs because you can create a higher workload at a slower speed.
  • Running on a flat treadmill can simulate a downhill effect for overspeed training.

All this considered…it’s a sunny day today.  I think I’ll go run outside!


Healthy Travel Habits

Neal and I spend a considerable amount of time on the road, traveling around the state for WellChecks and workshops. While we haven’t gotten much better at packing (the amount of stuff we collectively pack for a week away from home probably rivals Lewis & Clark’s first outing), we are getting better at practicing and maintaining healthy habits while traveling. Being away from your regular schedule, your own kitchen, your own bed, and perhaps your regular fitness facility makes it tough to keep up with healthy behaviors.  Tough, but not impossible, especially if you follow some tips we’ve learned along the way that help us stay healthy while away from home:

  • Bring snacks. Snacks can help prevent you from getting overly hungry (or hangry) until you can scope out your restaurant options for a place that offers healthy entrée choices. Snacks can also save you money and even serve as a meal in a pinch.
  • Pack a cooler & stock it up with fresh foods. Some of our favorites include:
    • Cleaned and cut veggies (carrots, cucumber, celery, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower)
    • Hummus or black bean dip
    • String cheese
    • Greek yogurt
    • Hard boiled eggs
    • Sliced apple, cubed melon, or fresh berries
    • Sandwich fixings
  • It’s also a good idea to bring snacks that do not require refrigeration such as:
    • Peanut butter & jelly
    • Bread
    • Low sugar, high fiber granola bars (i.e. Lara, KIND)
    • Nuts
    • Trail mix
    • Dried fruit
  • Drink water! Fill up several water bottles before you leave home. You’ll avoid the temptation of high sugar, high calorie beverages found at convenience stores and you won’t have to spend money on bottled water.
  • Eat breakfast. Most hotels offer a continental breakfast with decent options such as fresh fruit, eggs, whole grain cereal, or oatmeal.
  • When dining out, check out the menu beforehand and make sure the restaurant offers some lighter, non-fried options. Look for entrees that are grilled, baked, roasted, steamed, or broiled.
  • Someone mentioned recently that a new trend in the hotel industry is to not have refrigerators in rooms. That’s another reason to bring a small cooler, in case you want to save leftovers from dining out or if you want to keep food on hand in your room. 

If you’re traveling by airplane, you’re probably not going to bring a cooler on-board, but it’s getting easier to eat well as airports are catching onto the fact that travelers want more healthy options. In many airports you can now find restaurants that serve fresh, local, and even organic, gluten-free, or vegan foods. You still might have to pay more, but at least the options are there! In fact, results from a survey conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine were released just this week ranking major US airports in terms of healthy eating options. The rankings were based on the percentage of eateries in an airport that serve at least one plant-based, high fiber, cholesterol free entrée. The winner? Denver International Airport, with over 90% of eateries having at least one entrée that met the criteria. That’s good news for us Montanans who often fly to Denver en route to other destinations. Second and third place was a tie between Chicago O’Hare and Detroit Metro Airport. Even airlines themselves are catching onto the healthy eating trend with snacks like these available on the flight.  Again, there is a cost involved, but $6 might be worth it for the Mediterranean snack pack. Another option while flying is to bring your own snacks and water bottle; just fill your water bottle up at a water fountain once you are past security.

Happy, healthy traveling!


Examples of some healthy in-flight options on some airline menus these days.

National Run@Work Day!

Run at work logo

Friday, September 20th is Run@Work Day.  Run@Work day is presented by the Road Runners Club of America to encourage everyone to incorporate 30-minutes of walking or running into their daily routine to improve overall health.  It looks like Friday is going to be a beautiful fall day for many of us in Montana, so plan to get out and enjoy the day by taking a walk or run break–either solo or with a group!

Share your Run@Work day experience by tweeting a photo to @montanamoves or emailing to

If you are in Missoula, there are some Run@Work events planned in your community, including a group run on the UM Campus!  Meet at the Grizzly statue in the Oval at noon.  For more information, click the link below:

Run@Work UM

Happy Running!


Surface matters.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  —Sir Isaac Newton

Newton’s Laws of motion were published about 300 years before the running/jogging boom of the 1980s, but his 3rd Law, stated above, is very applicable for those of us who like to exercise on our feet–particularly if we’re running or jogging.  When we run we exert force into the ground (a force somewhere around 2 1/2 times our body weight, for a moderate running speed!), and we know that because of Newton’s 3rd Law, that force is returned back into our bodies.  We refer to this phenomenon as IMPACT.  Because of impact, the surface we choose to run upon becomes important, because too much impact can lead to both acute and chronic injuries, particularly to the lower leg, ankle, and foot.  So, as you trek across Montana this summer, here are a list of surfaces you are likely to encounter, and the pros and cons of each.


Description:  Concrete is the most commonly used man-made construction material in the world.  Concrete is basically crushed rock and cement.  In other words, it’s hard as rock.

  • Pros:  Most sidewalks are concrete, which means they were made for pedestrian traffic.  A concrete sidewalk is a flat, sure-footed surface which is safe from the perils of automobile traffic.
  • Cons:  Concrete is one of the hardest surfaces you can run on, which means that our running impact is reflected pretty harshly back through our lower legs, joints, and connective tissues.
  • Recommendation:  Run on concrete sparingly, only when it is your only safe option to avoid heavy traffic.  Walking on concrete is fine, because there are less impact forces associated with walking.


Description:  Asphalt concrete, also known as blacktop, is commonly used in road construction.  The asphalt component is a petroleum-based, highly viscous liquid, which is mixed with particles to form asphalt concrete.  Because of this tar-like element, asphalt concrete is much less dense than normal concrete, which means more impact forces can be absorbed by the ground.

  • Pros:  Because asphalt is less dense and contains a tar-like component, it is a softer surface relative to concrete, and usually provides a flat, sure-footed surface for runners.
  • Cons:  Asphalt is most commonly found on roads, which means you must take care to watch for traffic and take appropriate precautions.  In the summer, the dark surface of asphalt can get awfully hot during the daytime.
  • Recommendations:  Not a bad surface for moderate mileage, if it is safe from traffic.  When running on the road, always run against the flow of traffic so that you can see oncoming vehicles and adjust.  Roads with wide shoulders are best.  Also, many “shared use” paths for bikers and pedestrians are often made of asphalt. Find out where these paths are in your community and incorporate them into your routes.


Description:  There are a wide variety of trails in Montana.  Trails cover natural terrain, and may be maintained to some degree.  Many trails inside city limits may be very well maintained, and some of the best may offer a cover surface such as cedar chips or some sort of mulch.

  • Pros:  Many trails offer optimal surface conditions when it comes to impact.  Dirt is more forgiving to our musculoskeletal system than either concrete or asphalt.  Trails usually offer visual stimulation, and can be more motivating or rewarding to traverse than a sidewalk or road.  If you have healthy feet and ankles, running on natural and somewhat uneven surfaces can help you interact with the ground better (proprioception) and strengthen the muscles and connective tissues of the feet and lower legs.
  • Cons:  Again, trails come in many varieties.  Some trails may prove very difficult for all but experienced trail runners, either in terms of elevation gains, or challenging terrain.  Trail running is unpredictable–watch for rocks, roots, and ruts!  Runners with foot/ankle injuries, weakness, or problems should use extreme caution, or find a more stable surface.
  • Recommendations:  For those with healthy feet, ankles, and legs, trail running usually provides a stimulating and challenging workout without the pounding of concrete or asphalt.  ExceptionTrails that have steep downhill grades.  But for the most part, go have fun and enjoy!  Also, on challenging trails, don’t pressure yourself into running the whole time.  There is nothing wrong with what I call a good run/hike.

Rubberized Track

Description:  Generally a 400-meter oval track, usually found at a high school or college.  Although there are many types of track surface, they are usually made of some sort of textured rubberized surface.

  • Pros:  A safe, relatively soft surface designed for running.  You will not be hit by a car or attacked by a bear while running on the track. (If you are, it will be one hell of a story.)  Because a track is a fixed distance, you can know exactly how much distance you’re covering.  Four laps=one mile.
  • Cons:  It’s a 400-meter oval.  If you’re going for distance, it can become a bit monotonous.  Also, if you always go in the standard counterclockwise direction, it’s possible to develop discrepancies between your “inside” and “outside” legs, which could potentially lead to injuries (but this would take many laps of running on a track almost exclusively).
  • Recommendations:  If you have access to a local track, incorporate it into your routine at least once a week.  Tracks are a great place to practice running intervals.  Interval training will break the monotony of just running lap after lap endlessly, and will absolutely help you become a better runner because you’ll be running faster than usual and developing a great sense of pacing.


Description:  You know what grass is.

  • Pros:  Very soft surface.  Easy on the legs.  It’s just fun to run on grass—makes you feel like a kid.  Sports fields can be a great place to run intervals or “strides”.
  • Cons:  Not many.  Allergies?  Some grass surfaces could be a bit uneven–watch for “potholes” or other hidden obstacles.  It might be hard to find a grass surface large enough to run distance on.
  • Recommendations:  One of my college cross-country teammates liked to say: “Want to run [uninjured] until your senior year?  Run on grass.”  Sage words.  Thinking of incorporating some barefoot running?  Choose this surface, and build up slowly.  Many top track teams practice barefoot running on grass–it builds strong feet and ankles, and often running barefoot on a soft surface “automatically” improves running mechanics because the foot interacts more efficiently with the ground because of the thousands of proprioceptive nerves located in the foot.

In reality, many runs may make up a blend of these surfaces depending on our routes, but I hope this list helps you make the best decisions about where your feet lead you.

Happy Running!