I remember when I started trail racing and how intimidated I was -and there didn’t seem to be a lot of information/stories/anecdotes out there (at least that I’d found at that point) from and for mid-packers like me. Lots of the info I found were stories from the lead pack or advice for those that wanted to be part of the lead pack and realistically, that is info is not that relevant to me.
And now that I’ve had several trail races of varying lengths under my belt, I’d like to share what I’ve learned and found important for anyone who isn’t quite at this point and isn’t sure where to get started.
Some of the points are sure to change/evolve as I change/evolve in running, some of the points are things I have to remind myself of almost constantly. I assume the list will grow the more I do this because I want to always be learning and refining and discovering. And, of course, all points are my opinion based on my experiences and may not be relevant to you personally.
(blah, blah, blah let’s get started)
1. Prepare for what you can.
If I had to impart only one piece of advice to someone new to trail racing, this would be it. In other words, get to know your race as much as humanly possible. Most race websites will provide course maps, info on aid stations and a course profile, among other things. LEARN THEM.
Rough Creek course elevation profile
If your race looks like this, it is in your best interest to run some freaking stairs. And maybe cry. But seriously, if you are a new trail runner or a road runner moving into trails, you will be experiencing a much different environment and it is probably steeper, more rocky, more technical and hotter than you are used to. Know what you are getting into and prepare accordingly.
You may also find it useful to know how often you are going to hit an aid station and what goodies they provide, what weather conditions are expected to be like and if there are bathrooms along the course (VERY important info IMO).
But no matter how much you prepare, there will be stuff you can’t prepare for which leads me to my next point:
2. Know what you can’t prepare for.
When we did a race in Arizona, I knew it would basically straight up a hill (and then straight back down) so I prepared for that as much as I could. What I couldn’t really prepare for was the difference in humidity between the swamp of north Texas where I live and the arid conditions of Arizona and I knew it. I think it can be just as important to know what you can’t prepare for because if you know, you can accept it, compensate for it if possible and most importantly, not stress about the unknown.
3. Read the pre race document.
One of the best ways to ensure points #1 and #2 is to read the pre-race document that the RD (race director) sends out, usually about a week before the race. I have never run a race (and so far, I’ve run them in 3 different states) where the doc wasn’t super detailed and helpful, not only for specific race info but also the ancillary stuff-parking details, bathroom availability, etc.
4. Carry plenty of water.
Unless you don’t live in the hottest place on earth, then this may not be relevant information. Or you are naturally camel like and can store water in pockets in your body. But a lot of times, races are held in very warm conditions and in my opinion, the last thing you want to do is stress about running out of water between aid stations. It’s cliche but it’s true-it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
In my experience most trail runners and aid station workers (who are usually also trail runners) are friendly people who are more than happy to help you if you need it. And getting cramps/tired/hurt/disoriented is something most trail runners have had to deal with at some point in their life and will go out of their way to lend some support to someone else going through it.
6. Pay attention to your surroundings.
This isn’t some flat road race with police barriers and volunteers guiding you through turns. If you are running a trail race, you are probably in the middle of nowhere with no cell service and aid stations 3 miles apart and that’s it. Now I personally have never been on a course that I didn’t think was well marked with signs/orange tape/etc but you know, runner brain sometimes makes you a little less cognizant of these things and it’s not unheard of for someone to get off course. Just don’t let yourself zone out too much is my advice so you don’t end up 3 miles in the wrong direction and have to hoof it back.
7. Keep going.
You may have the most fun, upbeat races ever and never experience low points, painful points or dreary points. But if you do, my advice is just to keep going, even if it is at the slowest walking pace ever. Just don’t stop. Because unless it is a serious injury, my experience is that if you keep moving, the low points will turn themselves around.
But even during the crappy points, don’t forget to…
7. Have Fun.
The most important point of all, of course. I find what works for me is to prepare as much as possible leading up to the race and then once I get to the start line, I don’t think about it anymore. Because at that point, you can’t change anything, you can’t get any more conditioned and worrying won’t get you to the first aid station any quicker. When you let go of expectation, you leave space for joy and isn’t that the point? So you might as well stop stressing and just take the experience as it comes because no matter what, it will teach you something about yourself and you’ll come away stronger and a better person for it.
So that’s my advice. Any experienced trail runners out there that have any to share? I’d love to hear it!
p.s. I didn’t forget One Thing Wednesday-I talked about it on IG if you are interested…