After I got the green light to go back to training from my doctor, my mind went into over-drive as I started planning out what race I was going to do next. Now I had to take into account that getting back to my previous fitness level would take some time so I had to look for races that were later in the fall so I could build up my distance. When it comes to choosing races, I’m very picky. As much as I enjoy running on the trails (there’s nothing else like it), the race needs to challenge me not just physically but mentally. I think this is one of the reasons why I love trail running so much.
When you’re running on the trails, specifically on a single track on challenging terrain, you need to think ahead and keep your eyes ahead. You never know what is around the next corner. Even if you have walked or run the same trail several times, a storm or even a heavy rain can change the terrain for you. Newly formed rivers, exposed roots, rocks, and branches can suddenly appear out of nowhere. While you’re running uphill on a steep cliff, you have to be aware that there could be people approaching you from behind that want to pass so you need to find a safe spot to not only get off the path to let them pass but keep it safe for them as well.
If you’re not use to running downhill, you better prepare for it. Try running some downhills during your training where you are doing repeats (5-10) down the hill at race pace instead of running uphill. You need to experience the feeling of running downhill fast so that you have some control and get your muscles use to the demand of running fast downhill. You will discover muscles you’ve never felt before. It’s best to feel the sensation of rubbery legs during a training run rather than during a race. Now imagine running downhill but on a single track, constant turning, and not knowing what to expect what is under the leaves? You are constantly thinking while you are running. Here are five tips you should consider before running your first trail race.
Running a 5km on a road and a 5km on a trail is not the same. You have to factor in the terrain. If you’re doing your first trail race, it’s important to keep in mind that your body is not use to running on certain terrain. Keep the distance small and build it up as you become more familiar with the terrain and your condition your body to run up steep hills on uneven surface. Train your body to adapt to avoid risking an injury.
Most races will have course maps on their web site showing the route. Check out the elevation of the course and if the race is within your area, try walking the course first to see if it’s a right fit for you. If you’re using to running on the road, don’t think that running a ½ marathon on the road is the same thing as running that distance on the trails. Drop the distance down to a 10 or 15km trail race as your first and then build from there. Not all trail races are considered the same. Some trails have only rolling hills with groomed trails while others are running up ski hills, through mud, over creeks, on cliff edges, with very little room to run. Each trail race is different, so don’t expect the same type of terrain when you sign up for it. Do your reseach.
I can’t emphasize enough about buying the appropriate trail shoes for your race. Knowing the type of terrain is essential before you purchase. Road shoes and trail shoes differ significantly and provide different options. There is also different types of trail shoes depending on the type of course you are running, so make sure that you visit a specialty running store so they can provide you with the best options.
Start by going local. Do a search for local races in your area and go to the race website. Many races offer a series of runs to try, so start with something that is local, easy terrain, and a short distance. Your body will thank you for it in the long run.
So how do I choose my races? First of all, I don’t like to travel too far a distance to race. If it’s within a couple of hours, I don’t mind getting up early but to each their own. Secondly, I look the at the distances along with the terrain. I’m not a big fan of running 5km trail races. I’m more of a middle distance runner so anywhere between 15-25km is in my wheelhouse for trail racing. I like to try new terrains all the time but the more challenging, the better. However, if I don’t feel my body is ready to take on a new challenge, I don’t do it. The most important piece of advice I can give you, is to ensure that you check the course first for the terrain. If your body is not using to running up hills (I’m talking over 500m +), on single tracks on a cliff, over water or through it, then you will risk an injury.
So my next tail race is coming up in the end of September. On a new course (I haven’t raced there yet) but I have walked the course and will run it several times before race day to not only get a feel for the terrain but prepare mentally.
See you on the trails.
Eat Clean & Live Green!
Your Compassionate Coach,