5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Trail Race

Hilary Spires believes anyone can run farther or faster than they thought possible with the right training. She operates Rugged Conditioning (https://ruggedconditioning.com/), instagram: @hilsport55 where she helps runners with race coaching, athletic training programs, and mindset training.  

When she's not helping athletes she's usually out on the trails. Here are some of her top tips for your first trail race.

trail running mountains

I had been an avid runner for years. I’d run countless road races, from 5kms to marathons, hilly courses to flat ones. So, when one Saturday morning I drove up to the mountains to toe the line of my first ever trail race I was thinking no problem, it can’t be that different.

That was my first mistake.

I managed to pull off 3rd, but let’s just say this race slapped me in the face and taught me a thing or two about the trails.

Now, let me first say there are a TON of things you can do to feel confident in the trails (think practicing descents or strategic climbing), but there are also few very simple things you can do to make your first experience an awesome one.

Here are the top five things I wish I knew before jumping into the trails.

Get Used to a Slower Pace aka. Stop Staring at Your Watch 

Get used to the slower pace and don’t stare at your watch every 10 seconds. As a road runner, you get used to your various paces for different distances. The trails are different. You’ll find yourself in sections where you’re strictly climbing and may look down and see a pace that makes your heart sink. Try not to let that get to you - just keep moving and remember what goes up must come down. You’ll eventually get to make up time on the descent.

Power Hike the Climbs

trail running power hike

One of the biggest mental adjustments that most trail newbies need to make is that a significant portion of your run may be spent walking/power hiking. When you're faced with a climb on the trails resist the urge to try and run up it, that takes a TON of energy. Walking, or power hiking up the uphills (even if they're only a few meters long) will help keep your legs fresh for the more runnables sections of the race. Trust me, your legs will thank you for it later!

Know Your Flags 

Double check that you know the colour of the flag you’re following, and how often you should see them. I never suspected that I would legit get lost. During a road race, you’re following a crowd of people and there are obvious pylons and signs. It’s nearly impossible to make a wrong turn. In the forest, you might end up with no one around you while you search for small flags. It’s surprisingly easy to blow past a marker and deep into the wrong direction.

Get the Shoes

Think Bambie. If there was one thing that changed my trail game for good, it was definitely the kicks. I use Salomon Speedcross trail shoes and they are fantastic. They’re comfortable, light, and provide just enough traction to help you get up steep climbs and down technical descents without slipping around like the baby deer. Take some time to try on a few different types of shoes, and you'll find a pair that works for you. Even if you never race again, you’ll have hiking shoes for years.

Don’t Wear Headphones

There I was, stepping down the rocks and holding on to trees, blissfully listening to T Swift, “are we out of the woods yet” thinking I was as fast as lightning. Suddenly the long course runners met up with our course again and came screaming by me. WOW. I had NO idea that people could run down a mountain that fast. They were full out sprinting and leaping with no fear and perfect footing. Take my word for it, when they come flying behind you, you’re going to want a bit of warning.

Finally.... Don’t Forget to Enjoy Yourself!

There is no question trail running is tough. It uses different muscles, different systems, and a different mental game. Your quads take a beating on the up and the down. You’ll need agility and strength to go along with your running speed. It’s easy to get in your head and wonder if you’re the runner you thought you were. Stop, take a deep breath, and look around. Everyone is pushing through the climbs together. This is what makes trail running a community. You’re in some of the most beautiful places, struggling through mother nature with likeminded people.

It’s as close as some of us get to a real adventure, so enjoy it!

About the Author

I'm Hilary, and I believe anyone can run farther or faster than they thought possible with the right training. With over a decade of experience combined with multiple certifications, I'll teach you everything you need to toe the line with confidence, learn more about what I do at https://ruggedconditioning.com/

Published on Mar 28, 2018
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