Why trail run and what should I know before a trail race?

 

Guest Blogger: Marc Henn

 

Most runners don’t normally  start off as trail runners.  In fact, there are a lot of road runners that are actually kind of scared to try trail running because they insist that they are more likely to hurt themselves on the trail.  Sure there are roots, rocks, and other obstacles but the reality is people don’t fall or twist their ankles all that often and you are more likely to sustain injury road running vs trail running.  How can that be?  The answer is the repetitive motion of road running is far more likely to causes an overuse injury.  Even worse, statistically, you are more likely to get injured on a treadmill or track because of overuse injury.

 

Our bodies were made to walk and run on the uneven surface.  There are lots of different stabilizer muscles that often don’t get used or atrophy when you run in a straight line on even surfaces which then make you prone to imbalances and then injury.  So don’t be afraid to unlock your inner primal beast and go for a trail run. 

 

OK…so now you are running trails and maybe you want to try your hand at a trail run or even an ultra?  Awesome!  You will find the trail racing experience different than the road racing experience.  Sure trail runners can be just as competitive as road runners but on the trail, you’ll find that it’s also about the overall experience of being in nature and seeing the beautiful surroundings. 

 

So what should you know really?  Well first off, don’t be intimidated at all.  Trail runners are like one big family and really look out for each other.  So ask lots of questions…I’ve never found a trail runner….or runner in general for that matter that doesn’t like talking about running and if you ask them a question they will be more than happy to talk to you.  Here are some other tips:

 

·         Do your research before a race. Yes…you know all those emails and race documents that the race director takes the time to put together, list on their websites, and email you…yeah go ahead and read all of it.  Look at the course map…figure out where the aid stations will be and what will be on them.  Also, keep in mind trails are not like roads so weather can have an impact causing an RD to change the route or other details of the race so stay informed and watch for updates.  You spend hours and hours training spend an hour researching the race you want to run.

·         Bring your own hydration system.  Depending on the race you may want to use a handheld, hydration pack, or a belt of some sort.  What you use is a personal choice.  Unlike road races where you might have an aid station or water stop every mile, mile and a half or so in trail races it’s pretty common to go 4 or 5 miles between aid stations….sometimes shorter and sometimes much longer depending on many factors.  Some races are held in remote areas where it’s very difficult to set up aid stations.  In addition, some like all Trail Racing Over Texas races are cupless so you have to have your own water container.

·         Don’t litter!  In a road race, runners will run by aid stations, grab a cup, take a drink, and throw it on the side of the road.  No…not so in trail races, in fact, littering can be grounds for getting a DQ in many trail races and in my opinion rightly so.  If you see something on the ground it’s also not a bad idea to pick it up even if you didn’t drop it. 

·         Don’t complain!  Every race will have it’s adversities and that challenge is actually what you seek.   As they say….Embrace the suck!  Races where really bad weather or conditions make for better stories.

·         Take care of yourself and your fellow trail runners.  Not everything always goes right for a runner in a race.  Remember on the trail you could be in a spot that is remote so if you are not feeling well, in bad shape, injured, etc….let someone know.  No race is worth long term injury much less getting into a life threating situation.  Scared…don’t be it’s unlikely to happen but so is getting into a car wreck but we still wear seat belts.  If you’re running along and find someone else who is in bad shape offer aid…again your race isn’t more important than the overall wellbeing of another person.   Most of the time people don’t need much and just need to take a breather but, if appropriate, you may need to go ahead to the next aid station and alert a volunteer.  Get the runners name and bib number so the volunteer can alert the RD in able for them to help the runner.

·         Volunteer!  To me when I run a race it’s my day…it’s about reaching my own goal and facing my own challenge.  Clearly that is very rewarding but it’s taking.  There is nothing wrong with taking but every now and then try to give back by volunteering.  The reward of volunteering and helping others reach their goals is also very gratifying and fulfilling but obviously in a different way.   Some RDs offer nice rewards to volunteers like t-shirts and discount to future races which is a very nice perk.

Clearly these tips are not exhausted, I could go on and on, but hopefully it’s a starting point.  If you’d like to dip your toe in and run a trail race then just do it.  You’ll soon find yourself hooked on trails!