Congrats, you signed up for a trail race, a mountain race to be exact, now what? Maybe you want a challenge and to push your limits, maybe you want to put your hard earned training miles to the test, maybe your friends talked you into it, or maybe you just love the idea of gathering with good company to take a stroll up and down the mountain. Motivations will always be different, yet the pre race day tips will always be the same.
I may not be a professional trail runner, and I am definitely not an expert, but I will go ahead and say I have learned a thing or two over the years spent running in the woods. Trial and error is a pretty good teacher.
So here are my top five tips for a successful trail racing day:
KNOW YOUR ABILITY
You are capable of hard things. But, some things may be too hard. Pick the distance that is right for you. Remember, this is a mountain race — it’s comprised of dirt and vert. A 5K may be harder than you think— in almost all cases, that distance gets you to the top of the mountain. It’s also usually a manageable distance, even for the first-time runner. So know your ability, believe you can do it, and then sign up for the right race. It should challenge you; it shouldn’t break you. Race day should be fun.
When you sign up in advance, you have plenty of time to train. Trail running is demanding, you are going to move in all directions, climb or hike, watch out for roots, rocks and other obstacles and face some steep downhill. In addition to including some race day simulation, it is important to become a well-rounded runner and include goal-conducive mileage and strength training (Think: total body, with emphasis on hip and core work). Team up with friends or a local run club for accountability, make a plan and utilize your resources. Many online resources are available to you. If you are running the Under Armour Mountain Running series, check out the training programs.
KNOW THE RACE AND WEATHER
You may already be comfortable with trails or maybe you are venturing out of the city for the weekend — either way, know the race. Check out the course map and elevation profile. This gives you a good idea of what to expect. When there are multiple distances happening on the same day, it’s important to have an idea of where you should go. You will be following a colored flag, but it’s nice to have a general idea of the course layout ahead of time. (On a side note: Never follow the person in front of you. You can’t trust that they know where they are going.) Lastly, check out the weather. Mountain weather can be fast changing, you don’t want to be overdressed and you definitely don’t want to be underdressed. So check the weather, trust the weatherman and be aware of changing elements on race day.
In addition to knowing the race course, look for a few other details in preparation for race day. Is the trail race supported or unsupported? If it is supported, know how many aid stations there will be? This will help determine if you need to bring additional gear/hydration/fuel like a hydration pack or water bottles. You will also know the weather because you know the race (rule number 3). That means you can lay out your clothes and shoes ahead of time. Just like you don’t want to wear new shoes on race day, you don’t want to be under or overdressed either. Have a plan. Then lay out your gear and name it, Flat “Crystal.” Your first Square World photo is covered and you haven’t even run the race yet. Check.
EAT, DRINK, SMILE
The best way to keep your energy up during the race: eat, drink, smile. Don’t arrive hungry, know what works for you and eat 1–2 hours ahead of the race’s start. If you chose a longer distance race, bring your fuel for the trails or check out the aid station options. Hydrate. Please remember to drink (water and electrolytes) on the trails. This is especially important at higher elevations. Determine if you need to carry a water source or if you will rely soley on the aid stations. Last and most important, smile! Race day is fun. Chat with the runners, cheer them on, remind yourself why you signed up for the race and make sure to follow race etiquette. If you are going to pass someone, make sure to tell them your intentions and smile as you run by.
Sign up for the race. Be prepared. Then, go out there and have the best time ever. The views will be spectacular, the hype will calm any nerves, and the crowd will be at the finish line for support. There may even be a good beer waiting, too.
Register now for a summer you won’t forget.