Trail running has grown in popularity in recent years, with more people discovering the joys and benefits of running off-road. If you’re considering making the leap from road races to trail races, it’s important to prepare yourself mentally, physically, and logistically. In this article, we’ll cover how to prepare for your first trail race, including tips on training, gear, and race day strategies.
How to Prepare for Your First Trail Race: Training Tips
Whether you’re a seasoned road runner or a beginner, there are several key differences between road running and trail running that you’ll need to keep in mind as you train for your first trail race.
Focus on Time Over Distance
One of the main differences between road races and trail races is the terrain. Trail running typically involves more uneven terrain, steep hills, and varying trail conditions. As a result, your running pace will likely be a bit slower than what you can achieve on a road race.
To accommodate for these differences, focus on spending more time on your feet rather than aiming for a specific distance during your training runs. This will help your body adapt to the effort required to navigate trails and steep climbs.
Include Power Hike Training
In addition to adjusting your expectations around pace, you’ll also want to train for the inevitable power hike. Many trail runners find it more efficient to hike the steeper uphill sections, rather than attempting to run and exhausting themselves.
To improve your power hike technique, practice hiking during some of your training runs. Focus on using your arms to help propel yourself uphill and maintaining a steady rhythm while moving forward.
Include Single Leg Exercises in Your Strength Training
The uneven terrain and lateral movement involved in trail running can increase the likelihood of injury if your stabilizing muscles are weak. To prevent injury and improve your agility on the trail, include single leg exercises in your strength training routine.
Some good single leg exercises for trail runners include single leg squats, single leg step-ups, and single leg deadlifts.
Incorporate Speed Workouts
While your overall running pace may be a bit slower during a trail race, incorporating speed workouts into your training can still be beneficial. HIIT workouts and hill repeats are two options for speed work that will help improve your ability to tackle varying terrain and cope with increased elevation gain.
How to Prepare for Your First Trail Race: Gear Tips
Invest in Trail Running Shoes
One of the most important pieces of gear for trail running is a good pair of trail running shoes. These shoes are specifically designed for off-road surfaces and provide more traction, support, and protection than road running shoes.
To find the right pair of trail running shoes for your needs, visit a local running store. An expert there can help you find the right fit and style based on your foot type, stride, and the types of trails you’ll be running on.
Consider a Hydration Pack or Handheld Water Bottle
During longer races and hot conditions, staying hydrated is crucial. Trail race aid stations may be more spread out than those at road races, so carrying your own hydration solution can help ensure you have enough water between aid stations.
Hydration packs or handheld water bottles are popular options among trail runners. When shopping for a hydration solution, consider factors such as comfort, storage capacity for other mandatory gear you may need, and ease of access to water for on-the-go refuels.
Prepare for Changing Weather Conditions
Depending on the trail race course and time of year, the weather conditions can vary significantly. In addition to checking the race website for specific guidelines, it’s a good idea to have a wind jacket, extra layers, or waterproof gear on hand in case of changing weather conditions.
How to Prepare for Your First Trail Race: Race Day Tips
Arrive Early to the Starting Line
Give yourself ample time to park, use the restroom, warm up, and get familiar with the starting area. Many trail races have a more relaxed and friendly atmosphere than road races, so it’s a great opportunity to chat with other runners, ask race organizers any questions, and mentally prep for the course ahead.
It’s important to start at a comfortable effort level, especially if you’re tackling a longer race distance like a half marathon or trail marathon. The adrenaline of the starting line can make it tempting to start too fast, but keep in mind that trail races often involve steep hills and uneven terrain, both of which can be more taxing than road races.
Have a Plan for Aid Stations
During a trail race, aid stations may offer different types of food and drink compared to road races. It’s best to review the race website beforehand and know what to expect at each aid station. Have a plan in place for how often you’ll need to refuel and whether you’ll carry your own supplies or rely on the aid stations provided.
Enjoy the Experience
Lastly, remember that trail racing is about more than just crossing the finish line. Take the time to soak in the incredible views and enjoy the camaraderie of other runners and volunteers on the course. Embrace the challenge and every new experience along your journey to your first trail race.
By keeping these training, gear, and race day tips in mind, you’ll be well-prepared for your first trail race. As an RRCA certified running coach with over a decade of experience, I’ve seen firsthand the transformative impact of trail racing on countless runners. Embrace the journey, celebrate your accomplishments, and welcome to the world of trail running!