Trail running is a world away from road running and although a challenge, it can be a lot of fun. We give you our top 5 tips for surviving your first trail race so that you can have the best time and get to the finish line in one piece!
1. Do hill training
One of the main differences between road running and trail running is that trail races tend to have a lot more elevation gain which means lots of running up and down steep hills. Rather than plodding round a flat course on smooth tarmac, you will need to be able to navigate down steep, stony tracks and get yourself up tough ascents. Doing lots of hill training will really increase your chances of making it to the finish and will condition both your cardiovascular fitness and your muscle strength so that the hills don't completely incapacitate you.
2. Don't skip leg day
Trail running is much tougher on the legs than road running due to both the elevation but also the difficult terrain. Your legs will have to work much harder to keep you stable and you will need a lot of muscular strength to help you up the hills and to jump over tree roots and duck under low branches.
Make sure you incorporate lots of strength and conditioning into your training so that not only your legs but also your back and core are strong enough to handle the strain. Do plenty of squats and deadlifts as these will target those areas but make sure you are doing endurance weight training which means light weights, high reps, instead of training for pure strength which is heavy weights and low reps.
3. Wear the right shoes
Trail running can feature challenging terrain from long grass to loose gravel to deep mud. You will need proper trail shoes which have aggressive traction and grip so that you don't slip, fall and injure yourself.
It's also worth checking for trail shoes which incorporate a rock plate to the bottom as this will protect your feet when you inevitably step on rocks and stones and will prevent injuries to your feet.
Finally, a pair of shoes that are waterproof is a big bonus but not a necessity. Chances are you will have to run through mud and especially in winter you might even need to wade through water which will make you very cold so waterproof shoes will prevent cold, painful feet.
4. Check the weather
You are far more exposed to the elements when trail running and they will affect you more, so make sure you keep an eye on the forecast so that you can be prepared. Wear plenty of sun cream if it's going to be hot and take wet weather gear if it's going to rain. The last thing you want is a DNF because of being ill-prepared for the weather!
5. Have fun and don't expect a good finish time
It's important to remember why we do trail running – to have fun! Those who run road races tend to compete purely for speed whereas trail running is more of a challenge for ourselves and to push our own limits. Most trail runs will be significantly more difficult than a traditional road race and it's highly unlikely that you'll achieve a distance PB. There may well be sections that are impossible to run and you will be forced to walk in order not to fall, or because a hill is just that steep. Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and don't go into it expecting to achieve your best time ever or even trying to be overly competitive as you will only end up disappointed.