I recently lost my trail running virginity and thoroughly loved both the thrill and beauty of the trail. It is exhilarating but also dangerous. This is why I wanted to write some safety tips for rookies like me for when they too join a trail run. My next trail run will be on January 11th 2015 for the Final Leg of the NTDR III TRILOGY organized by Pimco Sporting Events. Join me!
Preparation is the Key – Pick the Right Race and Distance
It all starts with picking the right race and run category for you. My last race was a 21km trail where we were pre-warned by the organizers that “THIS IS TRAIL RUNNING! THIS IS EXTREME SPORT!” Indeed, it was so tough that only 23 out of 150 starters made it within the 7 hour cut-off time! Perhaps I should have started with the 10km category or even try a 21km with a trail that is not so demanding.
We all know that regular running is about your legs. Well, trail running is also about upper body strength so I recommend that you try some gym routines to build upper body strength. I love using my kettle ball at the gym and this helped me on the trail as I climbed up and down the rocks, held onto vines and trees and even when I slipped and had to brace my fall.
Make sure you arrive at the race venue prepared and bring the following:
(1) Gloves to save your hands from rock cuts, plants stings etc.;
(2) Head-lamp and/or flash light as the races start in the dark of morning;
(3) Home-made energy gel for your trail fuel;
(4) A good sized water bottle with your water bottle holder (don’t make the rookie mistake I did of only bringing 2 small bottles);
(5) Your cell phone just in case you get into trouble on the trail and need to ring a friend (have a bum bag with plastic zip lock bag if it is wet);
(6) Bring a hat and use sun block because once the sun rises it can get very hot;
(7) A good breakfast like 3 boiled eggs or even a nice Omelette before the race;
(8) Some post-race snacks like bananas, nuts and even an iced coffee made with coconut milk;
(9) Some people use trail running poles but I think it depends on the trail and how many rock climbs are included.
No Music On The Trail
For safety reasons you need all your senses about you on the trail. So, you should be listening to what other trail runners are saying as they often give advice on where is safest path to go as well as other hints. The trail run is a social and fun occasion so it is great to greet your fellow thrill seekers. Also, the sounds of nature are so soothing to your spirit that you should be fully appreciative of that.
The Trail Run Shuffle
Because of overnight rain our trail route was upgraded from extremely difficult to finish to let’s just survive this thing! I observed other experienced trail runners not lifting their feet high off the ground and also keeping their arms more at their sides.
This made sense to me so they could keep their footing more and also then have their arms ready to brace themselves should they slip. So, instead of lifting my feet high like in a normal run I adopted the shuffle for my walk and jog and only fell 5 times! I saw al lot of people with muddy bums who said they fell up to 10 times on the muddy and slippery terrain. Alvin Balderama, an experienced trail runner, since explained to me that you need to keep your center of balance at all times and the shuffle helps.
Check the race route and see if and where the hydration stations are. If there are none then you need to compensate by bringing more water. I made the rookie mistake of only having 2 small bottles and that was not enough. If you get dehydrated your mind and body do not function as well as they should, and on a difficult trail that can be deadly. Also, bring cash with you so you can buy buko juice from the locals if you need to.
Another mistake I made was to have no food on me. I should have followed Chad’s lead and brought some home-made gel for the route. Because you are expending so much energy on the trail it helps to re-fuel properly along the way.
Not cheap fuel like sugary gels and energy bars, but proper fuel for your mind and body like nuts, beef jerky, dried apricots, banana or even dark chocolate (assuming it wont melt).
The Right Clothing
For sure you need to pick out a shirt that you will look good in for the photos but it is actually of critical importance for a trail run that you have protective clothing. You need long socks for trails with high grass, you need full fingered gloves for trails where you need to grab rocks, trees and vines and you need a hat for when the sun rises and beats down on you or for when it rains heavily. Chad loves his beanie which he also uses to keep him cool by putting water on it. Don’t forget your towel and a change of clothes for after the race once you have washed all the mud off your aching body.
Use Your Arms
The winner of the 30km category, Adolfo Eberlein from Chile, also gave me some cool advice. He stressed the importance of using your arms to pull yourself up the rocks. This then takes a little pressure off your tired legs. It also gives you greater safety as you are lower to the ground and climbing monkey style!
Love The Water Crossing
Use your water crossings as a refreshing pitt stop. The trail is tough so whenever you get the chance to recharge then just do it! Don’t worry if someone overtakes you as you will probably catch them up anyway.
My favorite part of the whole trail run I did was the waterfall. I bathed in there and loved the feeling of the cool and refreshing water.
Last But Not Least – Recovery
Whilst not officially part of your trail run how you recover might just make the difference on whether you sign up for another one. After you snack on your banana and rehydrate at the finish line you need to think of your recovery already. Maybe ice for a sore limb (Chad slipped hard on his bum and asked the nurses to ice his – they refused!) and maybe alcohol and anticeptic for cuts on your hands and legs (a good race organizer like Pimco Sporting Events will have an ambulance and aid station).
Maybe put on compression socks to aid muscle recovery once you have showered.
Make sure you eat a meal high in protein (nuts, eggs, seafood and meats) before bed that night. Your body needs to repair and recover and this is the fuel to best help that process. My Primed Braised Lamb Shoulder on a bed of Ratatouille would be a perfect recovery dinner.
If you don’t have time to cook then why not try some great Ceviche at Patricio’s Cevicheria in Taguig.
Lastly, don’t try and run again for at least 3 to 4 days. Walking more would be suitable but no running. A light swim or even recovery gym session using your upper body would also be fine, but let your legs have some time off.
See You On The Trail
There you go, some safety hints I hope you find useful. Do you have any others that could help make my next trail run more enjoyable and safer? Please share with us. I am looking forward to seeing you on the trail.