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.
The newest kid on the multi-sport block is the crazy sport of Swimrun. There are many elements to this event that make it stand out from the crowd. My name is Alex Hemsley, English National Aquathlon Champion, and it’s my job to introduce you to this unique sport and how to train for such an event.
What is swimrun?
You might be thinking, "well that’s obvious, it’s swimming and running". Well yes, but maybe not as you think. Swimrun is an endurance event with distances often equalling that of a marathon or more. But oh no, you won’t just be running those miles on a road! The swim and run are broken up into multiple small runs/swims of varying distances, alternating between the two sports. Often, swimming in multiple lakes or around a shoreline and running across fells, through rivers, and over mountains. Swimrun events take place in the most beautiful locations in both the UK and abroad and you just have to remember to appreciate it while you're racing!
If you're a triathlete or multi-sport athlete, you will be familiar with transitioning from one discipline to another. In swimrun, there are no transitions: you swim in your running shoes and run in your wetsuit. Because of this, there is some specialist equipment you will want to invest in before your race.
A specific swimrun wetsuit is a must if you don’t want to get too hot on the run. There are plenty available online and more are becoming available in stores. My top tip is to make sure you follow the size guide if you don’t want horrific chafing from running in a wetsuit! Specialist Swimrun wetsuits have a built-in whistle which can be an essential item and clever pockets so you can carry gels.
Due to the uneven terrains on the run, a good trail shoe is well worth investing in as you will also be running with wet feet from the start. It is crucial that your shoes are clean before a race due to the unique biodiversity of the areas you are racing in. So no trail shoes that have lingered in a cupboard for months since last winter!
Swimrun events have pioneered plastic-free racing which, in these times of environmental decline, is so important. This means you need a container that you can use for water/electrolytes at the feed stations. My preference is a soft flask that can be folded up and put in a pocket on my swimrun suit. You can often buy them at events.
Hand paddles and pull buoys
Another aspect that makes swimrun unique is you can use whatever equipment you want... but before you think of taking your fins, everything you start the race with you have to finish the race with. So you need to be cunning with your swimming aids! Many people use paddles and pull buoys as swimming in shoes creates a lot of drag.
Pull buoys can either be altered to make some ties so you can attach it to the outside of your leg for the run or you can buy specific swimrun ones. With hand paddles, make sure you can quickly get them on and off otherwise you’ll be running with your goggles on as your hands won’t be free to take them off.
One final aspect of this is that swimrun is a team event and you can only compete in pairs. You can’t be more than 10 meters apart from each other at any one time. Some teams tether themselves together with a piece of rope cut to the specific length of 10m.
How do you train for swimrun?
You'll need to do lots of endurance swim sets both in the pool and outdoors. Make sure you follow your swim sets with a run as it feels very alien at first and feels different to running after cycling, which is the more traditional transition.
Get out on the trails and hit the hills in all weathers as it might not be a nice day when you are racing so don’t dodge the weather in training!
Train as much as you can with your partner as you need to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and work out what works best for you as a team. Is one person going to lead on the swim and the other on the run? Or one person does one swim and run and the other does the next. You might not follow it on race day but it’s worth having a strategy. Training together also helps you know each other’s natural cadence in swim and run so you can try to match this.
Before the race, go and do a recce where you swim in your swimrun suit and running shoes and run in your suit and wet shoes. This will help you work out what might happen on race day. Here's a recce checklist:
- Do you want to wear socks or not?
- Do you want to undo your swimrun suit?
- Will you get blisters from running in wet shoes?
- Which gels do you want and how many?
- Will you run with your hat and goggles on and if not where will you put them?
How do swimrun races work?
Prior to race day, there will be a map and details of the number of swims/runs and their distance and elevation. Study these carefully as you want to know how many you’ve got on race day and when you’ve finished the hills it’s good to know this!
Registration and race briefing will either be the day of the event or the day before. Make sure you attend and pay attention as they will tell you what the markers look like as the whole course isn’t marked so you need to pay attention! They will often inspect your trainers, so make sure they are clean.
Lay all your kit out so you know you have what you need. You will be given number bibs and these must be on you and visible at all times.
On race day, make sure you eat a good breakfast no sooner than 2 hours before otherwise running in your tight suit will make you feel very sick!
The meeting point is often close to the finish of the race so it’s all aboard a coach to take you to the start, often driving along some of the route you will be running and swimming.
And then the fun begins – you swim and run your way back to the finish! There will be feed stations along the route; these are well stocked with everything you could need including new potatoes! But remember not to get carried away or stop for too long or you might seize up or get a stitch.
At the finish, bask in the glory of completing one of the toughest but most fun multi-sports around.
This is by far my favourite event as you get to swim and run in the most beautiful locations with one of your friends. What’s not to love?
About the author: Alex Hemsley is a Team GB Age Group athlete and National Aquathlon Champion.
We asked our athlete ambassadors which races they think are the best in the world – from marathons to Ironman races, our list could help you find your next race!
Voted for by: professional triathlete Pablo Marcos
Next race: 23rd May 2020
Location: Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Europe
Out of all the races I’ve done, very few can compare to the “European Big Island”. This triathlon is the most similar to what Kona may be: an entire island that lives for the race and in which everything stops for that week. The atmosphere is something I haven’t experienced anywhere else.
In terms of course and race conditions, you can have a day with strong currents and choppy water, and with a mass start it's really challenging even for experienced swimmers. To put it into context, I was going for a 51-52 minute swim and ended up doing 58 despite starting at the front and avoiding the chaos with people.
The bike course is one of the most stunning I’ve seen. It's true that either you love it or you hate it though! There are constant climbs with the famous winds that seem to always be against you no matter which direction you are heading and those climbs towards Mirador...
When it comes to the run, if an Ironman marathon is hard anyway, Lanzarote takes it to another level. It's hot, windy, and constantly going up and down on a road by the sea that seems to never give you a break. Not to mention the fact of running through all the bars and restaurants with terraces full of people eating and drinking. Celebrating that they are with the cold beers you’d love to down by that time of the day.
With all that said, I absolutely love the battle with the island! I’m going back next year even though I promised myself I'd never do the same Ironman twice, simply because I love it so much.
Marathon Du Médoc
Voted for by: personal trainer Vikki Roberts-Caiger
Next race: September 2020
Location: Médoc (near Bordeaux), Gironde, France
If you like wine and French delicacies, this is the race for you. There is wine-tasting, oyster-tasting, steak, music, dancing, and partying all along the course.
The Marathon Du Médoc follows a beautiful course through the French countryside and vineyards near Bordeaux with wine and snacks all along the route. Everyone wears fancy dress for that year's theme and it’s got a wonderful friendly party atmosphere.
I made some great friends during the race 4 years ago that I’m still in touch with. Lots of people aim not to cross the finish line before the six hour cut-off in order to get the most from their entry fee. All finishers get a bottle of wine and the ladies get a rose.
The Great North Run
Voted for by: triathlete Calum Johnson
Next race: September 2020
Location: Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, United Kingdom
Being from Newcastle, the GNR has a special place in my heart and a lot of other hearts too. I’ve watched it every year since I was a child as it goes along roads I live close to.
I’ve seen the event progress year on year to become the biggest half marathon in the world. Everyone who has run it will tell you how special the atmosphere is and how friendly everyone is. Everybody supports everybody. So many people run for many incredible causes and charities. Each person has a unique story as to why they are running and it’s brilliant to listen to everyone tell their story!
It’s also a unique course starting and finishing at different points which makes it a bit different to a lot of road races.
Challenge Peguera Mallorca
Voted for by: triathlete Harrison Rolls-King
Next race: 19th October 2019
Location: Peguera, Mallorca, Balearic Islands
Challenge Peguera Mallorca was my first 70.3 last year. It's the Challenge Europe season finale in a fantastic location with a great beach, clean and clear sea water, stunning and challenging bike course and the run is lined with bars and restaurants the whole way and all are packed with locals and spectators!
The buzz you get hitting the run course is amazing. The finish/lap zone has massive stands packed with people, super loud live DJ (my body could feel the vibrations of the sound from the stands and the DJ at the end of every run lap and finish!) and of course the famous red carpet!
After the race there’s a great recovery zone with buffet, benches, massages, bag drop, and so many helpful volunteers. I couldn’t recommend a better place to finish the season!
Voted for by: triathlete Marc Went
Next race: 5th July 2020
Location: Roth, Bavaria, Germany
For me it's got to be Challenge Roth in Germany (formerly Ironman Germany). The crowds are huge as some 260,000 spectators line the streets. There are 30,000 at the swim start and over 7,000 volunteers make it a very special day.
The world famous 'Solar Hill' sees thousands of spectators ten-deep line the road and part in the last seconds to create a Tour de France style single-file route up the hill as well as the final run into the stadium for the finish line where you're greeted by 10,000 spectators, which is truly amazing.
All of this is topped off by an event-ending firework display which, for me, makes Challenge Roth my race of choice and I can see why so many pro triathletes have this on their bucket list.
If you're tempted, the only downside is that it's so popular the general entry sells out in less than 60 seconds, so you've got to be quick!
From forgetting something to going the wrong way, we've all been there. Sundried asked our ambassadors "what is the dumbest thing you've ever done at a race?" and these were their answers! Have you ever made any of these racing mistakes?
Helene Wright - Triathlete
I was once on the bike leg of a duathlon and knew I was second lady so was chasing down the leader. I saw a cyclist in the distance so pushed on to catch them. As I got closer I soon came to realise they weren't wearing a number so they weren't even in my race... But worse still I'd followed them off course and down to the bottom of a hill! Fortunately, after getting back into the race, I hadn't lost a place but didn't track down the leader in time to win first place.
John Wood - Team GB Triathlete and Coach
A client of mine raced Cardiff Triathlon as part of training and forgot his wetsuit.
Dominic Garnham - Triathlete
I trained hard throughout all of last winter for a race early this year. I felt very confident and very excited for the race and I was in the best shape I've ever been. I turned up to sign in at registration on the day only to find I had forgotten to actually enter the race!
Nick Lower - Celebrity Trainer
I fractured my ankle 7 miles into ‘Man v Mountain’ (a 20 mile race up and down Mount Snowdon). I stupidly just strapped it up and completed it!
Alice Tourell North - Team GB Triathlete
At a recent race I forgot to put my race belt on! I had the best swim I’ve had this season, flew into T1, got to my bike... and then had to stand there for over 3 minutes whilst the race officials tried to find my husband who had the race belt in my bag. Total nightmare!
Steve Sayer - Triathlete and Coach
My swim hat pinged off and I lost my goggles at Ironman 70.3 Wimbleball, but I had the fastest swim stroke ever!
Martin Owen - Team GB Triathlete
I had an issue until recently of not being able to pedal and drink at the same time. I used to have to coast very slowly to drink. In a standard distance Duathlon, my bottle wouldn’t go back into the holder and it dropped out on the first lap. 35 more miles on 1 gel and no water...not nice!
Anne Iarchy - Personal Trainer
I hadn't ridden my bike for a couple of years due to injury. I had entered a triathlon last year, hoping I would have the time to get back on beforehand. Unfortunately that didn't happen. As I got onto the bike leg, I had totally forgotten how to change the gears on the bike. I managed to take them up, but not down. So when pedalling into the wind, it was really hard work. Thankfully I managed to figure something out on the 3rd lap!
As summer fast approaches and the weather warms up, it's time to start adjusting your training and racing tactics for the heat. Follow these top tips so that you can perform at your best in hot, humid weather and finish safely in good health.
Don't drink only water
This is possibly the most important point on this list. We all know that we need to drink plenty of water when it's hot, however an increasingly common mistake seems to be drinking only water and potentially over-hydrating. Didn't realise that over-hydrating was a thing? It can be potentially deadly. News broke last year of a woman who was left in a coma after over-hydrating at the London Marathon. The mistake this woman made was that she only drank water and caused her body to enter a state called hyponatraemia. This is when your body's sodium levels are dangerously low and in this context is caused by replenishing water but not electrolytes or salts.
The best way to stay safe and healthy when running in the heat, especially if it is a long endurance event like a marathon, is to top up your sodium before you run and then keep it topped up by drinking a sports drink or taking electrolyte tablets. Team GB duathlete and Sundried ambassador Louise Douglass says, "practise in training with different brands until you find the best one that works for you." This is important as the race you do may not have the sports drinks or gels that you're used to, so sometimes it's best to take your own, especially if your race is in a foreign country.
Of course, you need to keep a safe balance between water and salts, so try to work out how much of each you need before you start. You could do this by doing a sweat test, such as the one offered by sweat experts Precision Hydration, to see how much salt you personally lose when you sweat and go from there.
Adjust your hydration and nutrition from winter training
If you live in the UK and have signed up for a spring or summer race, chances are you've done most of your training in very cold, windy, and miserable conditions. What this means is you will need to adjust your hydration and nutrition for the actual race and it may differ from your training as the amount of water your body required in December will be vastly different to what it requires in July and August.
Make sure you are flexible with your hydration and take extra water and sports drinks with you to the race just in case so that it doesn't come as a surprise on the day. Most, if not all, races will have water available so stay topped up but as highlighted above, don't be tempted to over-hydrate!
Wear a hat or cap
Wearing a hat or cap is a great idea whenever you're in the sun as it protects your head from the heat and can reduce the risk of developing heat and sun stroke. Not only this, wearing a white, fabric cap when you run can mean you can keep a wet sponge under it to keep your head cool and keep soaking it with water to keep your basal temperature down.
"I would recommend wearing a white hat for sure, I’ve found wearing it backwards with sunglasses on actually is best." says Team GB age group triathlete and Sundried ambassador Sam Mileham.
Reduce your pace and listen to your body
You may have been able to push your body hard during training throughout the winter, but race day might be a different story. Especially if you're not expecting a hot race or race day is unseasonably hot (something that can often happen during the big April marathons) you may need to reduce your pace. Even if this means missing out on a potential PB, it's far better to get to the finish line with a smile on your face than being carted off on a stretcher!
Team GB triathlete and Sundried ambassador Paul Suett says "listen to your body and slow your pace down if it’s feeling too hard. London Marathon last year was my toughest race to date, the heat was insane and took a lot out of my body. Throughout the race I constantly listened to my body to make sure I was running sensibly."
Ironman athlete and Sundried ambassador Jon Dixon says "If you know in advance that the weather for a target race is going to be hot, then acclimatise by running in conditions similar in the lead up, preferably start at least 2 weeks out." Team GB age group triathlete Ali Trauttmansdorff adds to this by saying "I trained a few weeks before racing in Mexico by training in similarly hot and humid conditions in Florida to try and replicate the conditions as much as I could. I deliberately went out for my runs at 10am instead of early in the morning so that it wasn't cooler."
It may be difficult mentally to take yourself out for a training run when conditions seem tough, but this is how to train smart and will certainly pay off on race day!