What to expect when you’re trail-ing..

Thanks for your lovely comments about Saturday’s trail race! To follow up, I wanted to pull together a quick blog post about the things I wish I’d known beforehand about trail racing!

Happiest ever race-photos.  Also free to download from the race organisers. Thanks!
Happiest ever race-photos.
Also free to download from the race organisers. Thanks!

Before you think ‘The girl’s done two trail races, does she think she’s some kind of expert?’….no, I don’t! So this post is in conjunction with my blogging friend Jen who has done many more trail races than I have. Check out her post here for more experienced hints and tips…and read on for the things that struck me on Saturday and some things I wish I’d known beforehand.

What to expect when you’re Trailing…

1) It’s very informal. Before the race, there were people simply milling round a field. There was no start line – just a clock and some cones on the grass to show where to start. We lined up, had a briefing from the race director, he counted us down and we were off. No hype, no music, no drama!

Low-key start-line
Low-key start-line

2) Having said that, the field on Saturday looked very serious about their running. Everyone looked fit and strong. No-one wore tutus or rhino outfits. (No disrespect to rhino-outfit runners, I was passed by a rhino in the London Marathon so I take my hat off to you rhino-runners). I found my fellow runners to be a slightly intimidating bunch – they looked much fitter than I felt!

2) Packet pick-up takes seconds. It’s not like road races with giant expos and hour-long queues. I took about a minute to get my number! So you don’t need to allow half an hour!

3) The course is marked out with ribbons! Each race distance had its own colour, so know the colour of YOUR race! The ribbons are tied on trees at frequent intervals so you know you’re on the right trail. If you haven’t seen your colour ribbon for a few minutes, you’re probably lost so backtrack to the last one! At junctions, every change of direction was adorned with ribbons – it turned out to be easy to find my way! Having said that, I would recommend carrying a park/trail map if it comforted you. I had a map, all marked out with the route…but I left it in the car.

You can see the pink ribbons on the trees in this photo
You can see the pink ribbons on the trees in this photo

4) I would totally recommend running your first race somewhere you know, in a park you know. I found it really reassuring that I knew my way more or less round Huddart Park – that if I got lost, I was confident that I could find my way downhill to the finish line!

5) I would also recommend NOT choosing a first/second race with crazy elevation changes like Saturday’s race. I may have bitten off more than I could chew…an easier race would have been a smoother introduction to trail racing!

6) I had heard that people walk up hills and it proved to be both common and accepted. There was no stigma to walking on Saturday – it felt like everyone did it except the whippets! And according to a couple of blog reviews I’ve read, even the whippets walked a couple of steep sections.

7) The aid stations are less frequent than on road races but they are spectacular. Saturday’s aid station held M&Ms, pretzels, bagels and PNB, crisps, salted boiled potatoes, water and electrolyte drink.

8) Having said that, I would recommend carrying water – and that you’re used to carrying it beforehand if this isn’t your usual habit! I refilled mine at an aid table – and I drank it all. Plan to use more water than you would on the road!

Water Dog Trail

9) There were no loos/bathrooms on the route. Clearly you can duck behind a tree etc but   if you think you may need something more serious, maybe carry some loo roll and a little nappy/diaper/dog-poo bag so you can pack your waste out with you.

10) The whole passing thing could be a source of stress. On single-track, I was very conscious of trying to stick to the right so people could pass me on the left but it wasn’t always possible. I guess, do what you can to allow people to pass but try not to stress about it. After about 4 miles, the crowd had thinned out and it rarely became an issue once people got moving at their own speed.

11) There were no mile-markers on either course! This didn’t bother me but if you don’t wear a Garmin then wear a watch and have an idea of your expected time so you can guess how much longer you’ll be running. I actually found the lack of mile-markers to be quite soothing.

12) Lots of people wore headphones on Saturday. The guidelines said that music was only allowed on fire roads, not single track…I don’t know if people had their music on. I chose not to have music – I wanted to be able to hear people around me and also I wanted to hear the sounds of the forest.

13) I stressed about what to wear – I didn’t want to look like a total road-runner newbie. My worries were totally unnecessary – people wore the same for trail races as they did for road races, with the addition of hydration vests/belts sometimes. Wear whatever you feel good in. I wore a bright pink top so that if I fell and needed air-lifting out the forest (!), they would find me easily. So did pretty much every other lady!

Attack of the Pink! My new running buddy hurtles past me to the finish line..
Attack of the Pink!
My new running buddy hurtles past me to the finish line..

14) Having said that…loads of the other runners wore race t-shirts from other trail races. Kind of like badges of honor. ‘This isn’t my first race, I’m gnarly‘ kind of thing! Next time I’ll be wearing a race t-shirt too. I can be gnarly too.

15) I found the runners to be friendlier on trails than on roads. On the out-and-back, the speedy runners were flying past me in the opposite direction and most either said something encouraging or gave me a big grin. I liked that.

16) I didn’t wear trail shoes…just my usual shoes. They were fine on these particular trails and there hasn’t been rain for months. So unless the trails are particularly challenging or it’s wet, I think road shoes would be fine for your first race!

17) Be prepared to be humbled. Apparently you should expect to run 20% slower on trails than on roads…and then add on extra for hills. Jen advised that for every 1,000 ft you climb, you should add on the equivalent of a mile for time expectations.

18) Be prepared to love it!

Thank you to Aron, Jen, Yo Momma and Bean for the hints they sent me, which have been incorporated into this blog post!

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Jen says:

    Great tips! Glad to see we had a lot of overlap — hopefully that means we’ve covered the important things. It was interesting to see the ones that you mentioned but I didn’t. I forgot the one about walking the hills — Amy also mentioned it in her post. It’s a important one! I’ll have to update my post. 🙂

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yeah, it was fun to compare them this morning…you got a couple of things I didn’t (like carrying your own fuel). I feel like, between us, we’ve covered all the basics!

  2. Kristen says:

    I 100% agree with all of these!! I remember one of my first trail races and as we were waiting to move to the start many were talking about the ultras they had just completed or were in the plan for the year. Trail runners are a humble bunch – they are good runners, fast, experienced runners but you wouldn’t know it because they are so nice. I got so many “hi’s” and “good jobs” during that run. It was such a different experience than a road race – neither better or worse than the other – just different. So glad you had a great experience!

    1. Cathryn says:

      I really liked all the encouragement on the out-and-back! I found myself encouraging those I passed as well! I really want to do another one now 😉

  3. Amy says:

    Hi Cathryn! Great post! Love that you are seem so happy in all of your pictures. I’m doing my first trail race in September, and I’m definitely a bit worried about it! I think no matter what I do, I’ll look like the mountain newbie, so maybe I should just dress like a rhino and not even pretend?

    1. Cathryn says:

      Hey, thanks for your comment! I did smile a lot in the photos…but wasn’t smiling so much up the hill 🙂 Hope your race goes really well – I felt very much like the newbie but it was a lot of fun! Your current trails post is great – you’re so tough. How lovely to be able to run with your husband – I get to do that every now and again, but not as much as I’d like.

  4. Cheryl says:

    These are great tips — really helpful post (s). I signed up for my first trail race in October! Woo!

    I’ve never seen a rhino at a race but it seems like, in SF at least, there’s always a guy dressed in a banana costume. Always a banana! One passed me at the Giant Race a few weeks ago.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yay for your first trail race – what are you doing? SF runners do love fancy dress, don’t they!! Maybe a bit too hot for full-on rhino gear!

      1. Cheryl says:

        This race: http://www.sasquatchracing.com/the-honey-badger-half/ — I have never driven to a race before so that’s also a first. Hopefully it’s worth it! Definitely gonna take y’alls “hike up the hills at your own pace” advice!

      2. Cathryn says:

        It looks fab! Good luck! You doing the half?

        Sent from my iPhone

  5. Cheryl says:

    Yes! Looking forward to the views from atop the hills (but not the hills themselves)…

  6. Bean says:

    Love this post. Especially the expect to be humbled one. When I first checked out trails that used to bug me but whatever it is so much fun who cares how fast you are going- okay I kind of care if I am racing;)

    1. Cathryn says:

      I agree when I’m running, but racing was a bit frustrating. I’m over it now 😉

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