Trail Running Racing
There's more to transitioning from pounding pavement to racing on dirt than you might thinkby Adam W. Chase
Have you run a 5k and 10k, even a half marathon or marathon? Then you are
probably ready to convert from road racing to trail racing. Perhaps you’ve
been running trails for years to get in shape and want to step up to racing
on them? Nothing should hold you back. Preparation begins by acknowledging the
many distinctions between trail and road racing.
Trail Running Pacing
Spontaneous combustion is one of the biggest problems suffered by first-time trail racers, especially if they are long-time road or track runners. They typically go out way too fast and blow up, which is why it is a good idea to wear your sunglasses around rookie trail racers. Such incendiary starts are embarrassing, wreak havoc on one’s confidence, and can lead some runners to quit trail racing before they have given the sport a real chance. Think negative split, especially if the second half of the course is easier than the first.
Energy gels like Carb Boom will boost performance on the course when energy is waning. Just be sure to stuff the used packets in your shirt pocket!
Trail races are almost always slower than road races and pace is crucial to
enjoying—much less finishing—your first trail event. Never try to
set a time goal in a trail race that correlates directly to a road or track
race of equivalent distance. Some trail races are rough enough that they demand
almost double the time it takes for a road race of the same distance. Even comparing
the same trail race from year to year is not a fair measure of your performance,
because trail conditions can change dramatically due to weather, wildlife, trail
maintenance, and other exogenous factors.
All-inclusive trail running packages for men and women will get you out on the trail with confidence.
Trail Running Races: The Course
Trail races are often run on hilly terrain and many events are held at high altitude. They are also run on rough, challenging terrain that slows runners down as a cautionary, injury prevention reflex for those who seek to avoid ankle twists, blown knees, or major falls. Lateral stability in trail racing is a key skill, so practice using your hands and arms for balance as you descend rocky trails, leaping from footstep to footstep. Weather and trail conditions also play a role in the game. You may be bogged down by mud, ice, snow, or all three. Route finding can also cause you to greatly reduce your pace, especially at high altitude when marmots are wont to eat flagging and other trail marking materials. And don’t forget the chance encounter with moose, bears, wildcats, and other wildlife.
Trail Running Hill Climbing
Unlike roads, which are often graded and winding in order to avoid steep ascents, trails frequently run straight up mountain faces. Maintaining a consistent rhythm is crucial to powering up a big climb. If the trail is extremely steep and the race is long enough to warrant energy conservation, then it is often best to power hike some of the ascents. Some people are more efficient if they climb uphill leaning forward a bit at the hips and swinging their arms to match an equivalent leg stride. Other runners find it best to trudge along in a running motion, taking baby steps in order to keep up their cadence as they make it to the top of the ascents. Practice both and try to determine what is ideal for your running style, body type, the course on which you will be racing, and the length of the race.
Proper hydration and training are vital to a successful race. Gear up with a heart rate monitor and a hydration pack for the best of both worlds in one simple, discounted package.
Some other things to consider when you contemplate your first trail race is the potential difficulty associated with passing people on single track. There is a certain etiquette involved in gracefully telling the bozo in front of you to shove over so you can sneak on by. Practice makes perfect, so go out on your local trails and try zipping by people without starting any fights.
Speaking of fights, keep in mind that most trail runners are pretty laid back
and that the prevailing attitude in most trail events is that of: “We
are all out here together to have a groovy time with nature, dude.” Trail
races tend to be less ‘competitive’ than road races, and racers
will often help each other along and coordinate finishing in unison.
If hydration packs aren't your gig, try our the Ultimate Direction FastDraw Plus hand water bottle carrier.
Finally, if you are used to drinking from cups and tossing them on the pavement in your road races, or leaving gel or energy bar wrappers on the course, you should be immediately disavowed of that habit. Trail races are conducted with a strict “leave no trace” ethic and many race directors will disqualify those who litter. Public stoning is probably a more suitable punishment!
Adam W. Chase, co-author of the Ultimate Guide to Trail Running, continues to grow up in Boulder, CO, where he is the President of the All American Trail Running Association. When he is not on his best behavior as a tax lawyer and Trail Editor for Running Times, he is out on the trails testing gear, training, or racing as a professional adventure racer and snowshoe racer.