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Trail Running K.I.S. Series Part 2: Five Trail Running Race Tips

Superior Trail 50 Mile Finish

Superior Trail 50 Mile Finish

Part two of the Trail Running K.I.S. (Keep It Simple) series will provide five core tips to help you finish your first trail running race. If you missed part one of the series, take a look atΒ Five Beginner Trail Running Tips.

The following tips are ones that I have used to assist in completing 50 km and 50 mile ultramarathon events.

1. Break the Race into Small Manageable Chunks

Marathon, 50 km, 50 mile, 100 km, 100 mile

These distances can often seem daunting or nearly impossible. Then place the mileage on the trail and you have yourself a significant challenge.

Breaking a race into smaller segments can often provide some psychological cushion by placing your focus into an perceived manageable distance or amount of time.

Depending on the race you could break up a race by:

  • Laps – For multi-lap courses, this is a convenient way to break up the race.
  • Aid-station to Aid-station – In trail running, aid stations may be five or more miles apart so this can be a manageable distance to focus on.
  • Specific amount of time – 15 min, 30 min, 1 hr, etc – I usually consume fluids every 15 minutes. I could focus on each 15 minute increment and not worry about the rest.
  • Shorter incremental distances – This could include getting to a specific aid-stations or distinguishable points along the course.

2. Be Honest With Self

You can’t fake ultra distance events so don’t even try. Be honest with your fitness and current abilities. Burning out your candle very early in a race can make for a very long day or DNF.

Become familiar with what Easy, Moderate, and Hard efforts (explained in part 1) feel like for you so you can use it to throttle your efforts early in the race. Until you gain some experience, save going after it until the final 25% of the race.

Your long runs are a great way to help get a feel for your current fitness but be willing to adapt to race day conditions (internal and the environment).

3. Nutrition and Hydration

Get to understand your nutrition and hydration needs during your long training runs. Don’t save this for race day!

Many runners will consume 100-350 calories per hour during long running efforts. Some will consume more and some less. Some can consume only liquid calories, some only solid food, others can eat anything put in front of their face. Get familiar with what works for you. Then be willing to adapt if the body says “no more of that” on race day.

Hydration needs is also very individual and can be heavily influenced by the environment (hot, humid, dry, etc).

Hammer Nutrition’s Fueling Handbook provides some very useful information on both nutrition and hydration and is worth checking out. (and their are a variety of viewpoints out there)

4. Walking is OK

Road runners may be shocked or confused at the amount of walking/hiking that takes place in trail running events. Depending on the course, many athletes will walk/hike the steeper hills to save energy and strength for later in the race. In fact, it may be necessary to help you finish the darn race.

If you feel like you are red-lining or pushing the effort too high early in the race, walk, it does the body good and it will thank you later in the race.

5. Have Fun!

This may be the most important tip of all. Enjoy yourself. Soak up the experience and be grateful for the opportunity.

Chat with your fellow runners. There will be more conversations going at the start than you have seen during all your road running events combined. The long nature of the events and the aerobic effort level required by many, allows this to naturally happen.

Thank all the volunteers. They are out there giving up there time for you.

Every event will likely have a tough patch that doesn’t seem to be going as planned. This is almost a law in the ultra world. Focus on the things you can control and often times the bad patch will eventually pass. Then get back to having fun!

What other tips have helped you during your first trail running race?

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

5 Responses to “Trail Running K.I.S. Series Part 2: Five Trail Running Race Tips”

  1. on 03 Sep 2009 at 10:27 am Blaine Moore

    I definitely recommend the tip on taking walking breaks…The fun part of trails is that inclines aren’t limited by what a motor vehicle can climb, and it’s not uncommon to go almost the same pace walking as running with far less effort.

  2. on 04 Sep 2009 at 9:14 am David Hanenburg

    Very true!

  3. on 08 Dec 2009 at 3:01 pm Jay Hall

    I should have read this article before posting my advice in Part 1 about walking the uphills.

  4. on 08 Jul 2013 at 10:54 am Brian

    These 2 articles have been great. I am just getting started on trail running as cross training for iron distance triathlons. Looking forward to my first trail 50k at Isle Du Bois this December. Thanks for the pointers.

  5. on 09 Jul 2013 at 9:26 am David Hanenburg

    Hey Brian – Welcome to the sport! I think playing on the trails can be a great way to build fitness, wake up those little stabilizer muscles that will be there for you at the end of the IM, and simply add some additional fun.

    The trail running community is a very welcoming and often laid back group. If nobody steps up to the start line until about 10 seconds before someone says “Go!”, don’t be surprised. πŸ™‚

    See you at IDB and enjoy the journey!