Preparing well for a trail race can be the difference between an awesome day out running and a really long day of suffering.
Know the Course
This may well be the most crucial component of preparing for a trail race, particularly once you have done a few. Almost certainly when selecting a race, the distance is the primary component for selection. Once this is established, the next component that needs serious consideration is elevation, this is such an important component, it should be considered in conjunction with the distance when choosing races.
The next component of the course to consider is the terrain, there is a significant difference between wide fire roads and technical ridgelines and single tracks. Make sure you know what you are getting into.
Once you know all this, try to mimic this in training to better prepare for it. If the race has significant elevation and descent, make sure you are ready for this!
Know the Rules
There are often a few little technicalities that you need to consider in a trail race.
The first and most important is mandatory gear, without this, you will not be safe to race and may not be allowed to race! Mandatory gear will usually include nutrition and hydration components and safety gear such as bandages and weather provisions. Make sure you do some training carrying this gear, depending on the race, this gear can be significant and you need to be prepared to run with it.
Cutoff times are the next component of the rules to familiarise yourself with. For some, this will never ben an issue but for others, this will be the race they run (against the cutoff times). These are usually safety-related times at which they will not allow you to progress beyond a certain point. Being prepared for these and knowing them is crucial to your ability to enjoy your day out.
It’s hard to say you wouldn’t be better off without more if these in general, let alone in preparation for your first trail race. This is one of the biggest differences in training between the road and trail races, a relatively normal trail race is considered exceptionally hilly in the world of road running, so make sure you are prepared for this.
Once you know the course, practice the technique you need to use on the course. See this article “Basics of Trailrunning technique” to learn a little more about what this may mean for you. Ensuring you know the course and can utilize the most efficient technique on it, will aid in enjoying it more and performing better. Hiking a steep hill requires specific preparation, as does running fast down one, you will not prepare for these adequately by running mild up and downhills.
Nutrition and Hydration
Once you know the above and are well into your training, remember that your performance will be impacted significantly by nutrition and hydration (see trail running considerations article). It is crucial to devise and practice a nutrition and hydration strategy for race day. Do not try anything new on race day!
Aid stations are usually a part of most trail races and are a great source of encouragement, good vibes, hydration, and nutrition. Make sure you familiarise yourself with what is available at these aid stations if you want to use them and not be self-sufficient. Again, make sure you practice using this strategy. Generally, filling up water at aid stations is a must, otherwise, you could be carrying a large amount of water, so ensure you have enough carrying capacity to make it between aid stations, with some extra for safety or other runners in need.
Ultimately the bulk of this article suggests; mimic race conditions and prepare for the specific course as much as possible. If this is the goal, you will be much more comfortable on race day. Clearly, the best way to do this is to spend time on the actual course if possible, but if not, do you best to mimic this.
Written by: Dr. David Lipman, Podiatrist and Exercise Physiologist