Help me avoid Trail Fail.
September 16, 2010 12:45 PM   Subscribe

First trail race in a couple months! Yay! (Now what do I need to know?)

My husband and I are moderately-experienced road runners and have participated (I won't say "competed") in races from 5k to half-marathon distance. We also have some hiking and backpacking experience, more (me) or less (him).

Recently we've been trail running a couple times a week and decided to register for a 10-mile trail race, just for some excitement. There isn't a course map up yet, but given the topography of the race location compared to our local topography, and given the fact that we run fairly technical trails, I think that we will be able to train appropriately for this race. But what else do I need to know before showing up at the starting line?

Things I already know: Don't litter, bring water bottles instead of expecting little Dixie cups at aid stations, be careful when trying to pass or when being passed, don't burn yourself out trying to run up unrunnable inclines, how to run downhill on a rocky trail without falling on my face (need to practice this a bit more though).

Gear I already have: Proper running clothing, trail running shoes, and I'm contemplating getting some kind of water bottle that affixes to my body and possibly a headlamp for early-morning runs when it's still dark in the woods (which I could use anyway, since it's pretty dark on the roads too).

If you were me, what would you do differently when training for a trail race besides running on trails? How would your trail race strategy differ from your road race strategy besides expecting to run much slower than usual? What would you bring to the race that you wouldn't bring to a road race? (The race has aid stations and medical support if necessary). (Also, if anyone has any super-awesome recommendations for headlamps, or other useful gear, bring 'em on.)
posted by kataclysm to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I really enjoyed this video by Scott Jurek.

The biggest thing that helped me was really focusing on a higher cadenece/shorter stride.
posted by Quack at 1:08 PM on September 16, 2010

For a 10 mile race with aid stations, you probably don't need any special equipment. But Camelbaks can be truly great for long training runs -- you can carry food & a first aid kit as well as your water.

Race advice: Just run and have a good time! You don't sound like you're planning to *win* the thing. And don't worry about minutes per mile -- it makes no sense, especially if you are scrambling up rocky steep bits.

Definitely take in calories while running, not just liquids: gels, bars, candy, whatever you can manage. and do this even though you don't think you're hungry.

Don't wear headphones. Announce "on your left" (or whatever) when passing on single track.

Be especially careful when you are a) tired and/or b) on an apparently easy bit. The couple of times I've fallen in races have been on, like, the wide flat part. Once it was an honest to god dirt road. You fall when you get complacent, and you get complacent when you think the footing is easy!
posted by kestrel251 at 1:09 PM on September 16, 2010

How would your trail race strategy differ from your road race strategy besides expecting to run much slower than usual?

A small increase in speed on the hills will allow you to pass many runners. But you can't power up the hills.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:15 PM on September 16, 2010

I think you actually have just about everything covered. Just a couple of things I'll mention.

Hydration: at ten miles, the organizers will almost certainly have aid stations with dixie cups, so that may be enough for you, unless you have something special you want to drink. If you carry your own, my advice is a hydration belt over a bottle with a handstrap. My reasoning is that I trip at least once in every trail race I've ever done, so I want both hands free to catch myself. YMMV, of course -- I may be clumsier than average. Whichever you choose, be sure to practice a bit with it in advance.

Headlamps: I use a Black Diamond LED headlamp I picked up at REI. If you have an REI in your area, they will have a good selection of headlamps designed for backpackers and climbers that are perfectly suitable for running.

During the race: Kestrel251 mentioned the "on your left" thing. If the race is on true single track, you'll see a "conga line" effect, where ten or twenty runners will get stacked up. If you aren't competitive, it is polite to step off if you find yourself at the front of one of these conga lines. Also, assuming aid stations with dixie cups, it is also polite to drink immediately and ditch the cup near the aid table. Don't run down the trail with it and toss it in fifty or a hundred yards, the volunteers will have to clean all that stuff up. Expect your trail race pace to be maybe one to two minutes a mile slower than your road pace, depending on how technical the course is. Don't hesitate to power walk the steep parts, on a steep enough grade it is almost as fast as running and more efficient.

Post race: depending on the weather, you've got a chance to end up really muddy (e.g. wet course, rain, falls on muddy patches), so you might bring a complete change of clothes and shoes, a second towel, and a bag for wet/muddy stuff. Depends on how far away the race is and how you feel about the interior of your car, I guess.

Good luck in your race!
posted by kovacs at 5:55 PM on September 16, 2010

Yeah... pretty good advice here so far. The important thing is to get out and have fun -- if you have questions, feel free to ask the race director / organizers. I think you'll find people are extremely helpful and cool in the trailrunning scene....

Anyway, for what it's worth, I love running with a headlamp. I have one of the Petzls I grabbed at REI -- pretty much all the LEDs are awesome...

As far as hydration goes, I usually do runs like that with an Ultimate Direction water bottle and a pocket full of Gu. You probably won't need it, but for longer runs, I'll almost always grab some salt tablets as well... I've also got one of the UD fanny pack / single bottle holders that I kind of love.

A lot of folks really dig the Nathan Hydration Packs, since they've got cool webbed harnesses instead of the camelbak's more traditional backpack straps.

In the end, though, it all comes down to experimentation. Try this one out, see how it goes, and adjust accordingly...
posted by ph00dz at 11:51 PM on September 16, 2010

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone!
posted by kataclysm at 8:31 AM on September 17, 2010

Figured I'd update this since it's been a while. We had an awesome time, the race was great, and I finished a couple minutes faster than I had hoped to. It turns out that not only do I like trailrunning way more than running on the roads, I'm way better at it than I am at road running. So now a trail marathon is on the agenda for 2011 :)
posted by kataclysm at 2:09 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

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