An Introduction to Trail Running Part 1: Pre-Run Preparation – iRunFar

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Welcome to this month’s edition of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, where we help you plan your first trail run!

“Where the Road Ends” is the name of this column and the book Meghan Hicks and Bryon Powell of iRunFar published in 2016. The book Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running is a practical guide for trail running. We worked with publisher Human Kinetics to develop a book so anyone can get started, stay safe, and feel inspired on the trail.

The book teaches you how to negotiate technical trails, how to read a map, create your own training plan, understand the basics of what to drink and eat when running, and much more. This column aims to do the same by posting sections of the book, as well as encouraging conversation in the comments section of each article.

In this article, we bring you an excerpt from Chapter 12 about trail running and how to prepare for it. Trail running can be one of the most enjoyable expressions of our sport. Proper preparation can seriously up the fun factor, so use this article to prepare for the race! Next month, we’ll be sharing some race day tips to help you have the best day.

Departure from L'Olla de Nuria 2022

Start of the Olla de Núria 2022 trail race. Photo: Diego Winitzky/Photodiegowini

Choose a race

Trail running comes in many shapes and sizes. Races of any distance exist, from a few miles to 100 miles (160 kilometers) or more. Many trail events also host races of multiple distances, such as a 5 km (3.1 miles), half marathon, and marathon, all offered from the same starting line. You’ll also find that trail races are held on a variety of surfaces, from the grass of a local high school’s cross-country course to up, down and around some of the most towering mountains in the world.

You will also need to choose the size of race you want to participate in, from a small one with 40 or 60 participants to ones with thousands of runners.

Due to other life commitments, some trail runners desire races close to home. Others like to use a trail run as a getaway or a reason to go on vacation. A trail run can be a great reason to explore new places near and far.

Some communities hold trail races frequently, as often as every weekend, while other areas with less developed trail running communities may only have trail races a few times a year. If you live in a place that gets snowy in the winter, you’ll notice the trail running scene thins out when the snow flies in.

To find trail races, check your local running store, ask other runners, search one of the many online trail race calendars, or search online for trail races in a particular geographic area.

Zegama 2022 - Supporters at the Zegama 2022 race

The Zegama Marathon 2022, a race well known for its fantastic supporters. Photo: Tono Miranda

Familiarization with the course

The course – the ups, downs, curves, climbs, rocks and views – is perhaps the best part of a trail race. Knowledge is power in just about everything in life, and the same goes for trail running. If you know what awaits you on the course, you’ll probably find it a little easier to manage.

Almost all trail races have websites where you can learn more about the course, including the actual course, ascents and descents, aid stations (places where you can restock water and food) , as well as crucial intersections. For longer runs with too much crucial information to remember, you can create a little cheat sheet to take with you as a reference tool.

Marathon Trans Atlas 2016 - ©K.Kortebein-8832

Competitors compare notes before the start of Stage 1 of the 2016 Trans Atlas Marathon. Photo: iRunFar/Kirsten Kortebein

Climate and Weather

Knowing the climate – the typical weather in terms of temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, visibility and wind – for the area where you are running will help you plan all your needs such as water and fuel, gear, clothing choices, race strategy, and more. For example, knowing when and how hot it will be on race day will tell you when and how hard you decide to push during the race.

Refueling plan

Whatever your running goals, your water and nutrition intake is important.

The first thing you need to do is decide how much water and fuel you will need for your trail run using the estimated time it will take you to complete the course, your level of effort and the likely weather conditions. Some races are short enough that you don’t need water or fuel during the event, while races that last several hours require careful planning to ensure you have the water and fuel you need. you need. Apply the knowledge you learned during the training to develop your fuel plan.

A trail run longer than a few miles will usually have at least one aid station where you can get water, at a minimum. Some aid stations, especially those for longer races, offer additional drinks and food. Generally, refuelings are spaced 45 to 90 minutes apart.

Runners and volunteers converge on the aid station during the 2018 Running Up for Air event at Grandeur Peak in Utah

Runners and volunteers converge on the aid station during the 2018 Running Up for Air trail race at Grandeur Peak in Utah. Photo: Andrew Burr

For half marathon 10k (6.2 mile) runs, you can get your proper fuel and fluid intake by carrying one or two gels in a pocket of shorts and drinking water or a beverage to athletes at the aid stations along the way. On longer races, if the weather or terrain is extreme or the pit stops are far away, you will need to carry and consume water and food between pit stops. In that case, use your trail running gear to carry what you need – a handheld water bottle or hydration pack.

To learn more, read our introductory article on hydration for running as well as our introductory article on fueling for running.

Choice of shoes

If you’re the type of runner who has a pair of versatile trail shoes that you wear in all conditions, you don’t have to worry about shoe choice on race day. If you have multiple pairs of shoes, choose the one that best suits your personal needs and trail conditions. Running the fastest can inspire you to wear your lightest pair of shoes.

Rocky terrain may mean you need shoes with a good rock plate to protect the bottom of your feet. Mud or snow indicate wearing shoes with aggressive lugs for increased traction. This article covers trail running shoes in detail, so be sure to look back when deciding which shoes to wear for your trail run.

Hoka Tecton X review

Running in trail-specific shoes in Colorado. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Other equipment

For some races, you will need to bring additional equipment such as a mandatory kit or additional clothing. Mandatory kits are a type of safety equipment that a race requires you to wear in case of an emergency on the course. Examples of mandatory equipment include a whistle, emergency blanket and waterproof jacket.

The weather may require you to wear extra layers of clothing to help you stay warm and dry, such as a windbreaker to protect you from the breeze, a rain jacket to stay dry, or a hat and gloves to warm you up. When deciding what gear you need for race day, be sure to check out this article for a full discussion of trail running gear.

Race strategy

Even if you don’t plan on doing the hardest race or even if your race plan is to have no plan, you can still benefit from at least a brief review of your race strategy. The race strategy is, very simply, a plan of how you would like your race to go from start to finish. Call it a visualization and implementation exercise.

If, for example, you want no other plan than to adapt to whatever the event throws at you, spend a few minutes remembering your intention to run with flexibility and adaptability, and imagine what that will be like. If you want a more elaborate race strategy, think about it before your race, remember the particular skills you will need, and visualize yourself implementing that strategy. Among the many strategies for trail running, here are a few to consider:

  • Start slow, accelerate halfway and push hard at the end of the race.
  • Negatively split the run by running the second half faster than the first.
  • Run and walk at regular, alternating intervals, especially on flat courses.
  • On the hillier courses, ride the flats and the descents and power up the climbs.
  • Keep the conversational pace from start to finish.
  • Run at a certain heart rate or exertion level for the entire race.

Ryan Smith climbing Hope Pass at the 2019 Leadville Trail 100 Mile. Hiking uphill can be a smart strategy, especially for longer trail runs. Photo: Leadville Race Series

Crew plan

Longer trail races, like a marathon or ultramarathon, can allow you to have a crew of family and friends who come to designated aid stations to deliver drinks, food, and gear. If you’re running a race that allows a crew, plan where and how you’ll use them, such as what aid stations they’ll help you with and what gear they’ll provide at each location. Be sure to give them directions to fueling stations and a complete list of tasks ahead of time. Scheduling your crew’s tasks will make their experience easier and more fun.

Extract of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, by Meghan Hicks and Bryon Powell. Human Kinetics © 2016.

Call for comments

  • What questions do you have about getting into trail running that aren’t answered in this article?
  • If you’ve ever participated in trail running, what do you know now that you wish you had known when you got into the sport?
  • What other tips do you have for preparing for your first trail run?

About Ethel Partin

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