Trail running and especially trail races are entirely different than training for a road race, but don’t let that intimidate you. Once you head out into the beauty of nature you’ll be hooked. These trail running tips will help you to explore an entirely new side of your running and see a whole new world of possibilities!
In order to get ready for your first trail race or for a longer distance on the trails you may need to make some adjustments to how you train, which is what we’re going to dive in to day!
When I’m training for a trail race I train by preparing my body and my mind and also by making sure that I have the proper gear to make my trail race an experience to be remember.
12 Trail Running Tips For First Trail Race
1. Choose trail shoes.
Depending on how technical the trail is that you’re running, you can get away with road shoes for awhile…but as I quickly learned those trail shoes add a level of stability and comfort that make them worth the investment.
I mean, did you really need an excuse to buy more shoes?? These shoes will help give you more traction around the downhills and have rock plates which will help protect your toes.
2. Train with a hydration pack and food for refueling.
Depending on the length of trail race you’ll be running aid stations are sometimes few and far between and of course if you head out solo on the trails, you just want to be prepared in case you go a bit long or take a little wrong turn.
Oddly, I can run for hours on the road without needing fuel. However, on the trails you’re often moving a bit slower and the body can indeed get hungry!! Pack snacks!!
I find that it is easiest to carry your own hydration and fueling supplies so that you don’t get stuck on the trail feeling like you might bonk. (checkout hydration pack options)
3. Leave no trace.
Be prepared to carry out what you bring in. This is another reason training with your hydration pack on will come in handy or be sure to wear clothes with pockets for carrying your energy gels or stuffing away those squares of paper after you tackle your first squat and pee.
4. Trail racing requires balance.
During a trail race you’ll encounter rocks, roots, sticks, tree branches, holes and more.
This varying terrain will require that you include strengthening exercises in your training that will improve your overall balance and ankle stability (i.e. step ups and walking lunges with weights).
Improving your core strength will also help you to nimbly navigate over challenging trail terrain without missing a beat.
5. Throw your road racing pace out the window.
When you begin training for your first trail race do not be discouraged if your pace is slower than on the road. This is normal!
Your times will be slower because you’re navigating more difficult terrain. You will often need to spend time working your way around obstacles or trying not to lose your footing on slippery leaves or rocks. AND you may just notice that in trail races, smart runners actually power hike the steep uphills, so that they have enough energy for the full race.
6. Do speed workouts on the track or on the road.
In order be fast on the trails continuing your normal speed workouts (fartleks and intervals) will keep your overall speed up when you head out on the trail.
It’s definitely okay to do these workouts where you feel comfortable and not feel like you must spend every single run on the trails. The combination of longer slower trail runs and short speed sessions will make you a better overall runner.
7. Pick up your feet!
In distance running, we often keep our feet low to the ground as a means of conserving energy. But on the trails this could lead to disaster as you need to truly step up and over all the little things in your path.
As your body becomes fatigued it’s easy to think less about this, which can cause unexpected tripping and falling down on the trails. I’m guilty of this on sidewalks, ha! So I have practiced paying more attention on the trails and looking a few feet ahead to know what may need to be traversed.Trail running vs road running, what you need to know for your first race! from @organicrunnermom Click To Tweet
8. Hills! Hills! Hills!
Just like in road racing, hill repeats will help you to build leg strength and will be necessary to help improve your aerobic capacity.
This is also a good opportunity to practice using strong arm swing to help you climb each hill using not only the power of your legs but also your core and upper body too! Many trail races venture into mountainous territory so you will be glad you tackled those hills during training.
9. Find a friend to train with.
I admit that my general preference is to go solo so that I can enjoy the surroundings and not feel any pressure on my pace. But the truth is that any training with friends is going to make you stronger and can help the time fly.
If you’re nervous about trails or getting lost, then it’s time to embrace the power of group running or just find a single friend to go with you!!
10. Bring a map.
If you are unfamiliar with a trail system bring along a map so that you are able to navigate your way back to the end of the trail. Luckily there are now some amazing apps like Trail Runner Project which work based solely on GPS, so no worries about not having a cell signal.
11. Vary the conditions in which you train.
Weather can have an impact on trail conditions making them muddy and slick so be sure to hit the trails during your training even if they are a total mud pit. During my Costa Rica running retreat, I realized how little time I’d spent on trails that were slick due to wet leaves and it was a game changer.
First I realized, that running poles were my new best friend. The slight addition of stability allowed me to continue moving quicker.
Second, this road runner finally embraced the mud and dirt of trail running. Have fun getting dirty and be a kid! Might as well enjoy the conditions whatever they may be, as you’re in some pretty cool places.12. Relish the adventure.
One of the best parts of training for a trail race is the training because you will get to soak up the nature that surrounds you including unexpected vistas and hidden waterfalls. There’s nothing better than discovering a new trail with an incredible scenic overlook!
Good luck training for your trail race and enjoy everything that comes along with venturing off the roads. You may discover that you are truly a trail runner at heart.
Have you ever done a trail race?
Why or why not?
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