Trail Running Tips for Your First Trail Race

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In July I’ll be trying something completely new to me: I’ll be running my first half marathon trail race.

Because I’ve never run a trail rae before,  I asked around for advice on some trail running tips so that I can get the most enjoyment out of the my first trail race.

I’ve always wanted to run a trail race.  My friend Emma ran with a team for a 50k trail race relay last year and I really loved her recap of it.  It made me even more excited to try one myself.  The mud, the hills, and the obstacles like rocks and tree roots are sure to beat the monotony of any road race!  Besides, I love a good challenge:  I’ve done road races of all kinds of distances, triathlons both short and mid-distance, and even an overnight relay… so what’s next???  A trail race of course!!!

Collage of four photos of men and women running on trails with text overlay in the middle that says: 16 Trail Running Tips for your First Trail Race.

Trail Running Tips for Your First Trail Race

When I asked around, these were the 16 trail running tips that were shared with me:

Trail Running Tips From Abby:

  • Modify and Adjust your goals.
  • I do one trail half here that has me running over roots and tree limbs – my goal goes from time based to:
    1. Have fun
    2. Don’t fall and hurt yourself (easier said than done)

Trail Running Tips From Liana:

  • I’m not sure what your course is like, I know the NY north face was a tough one but train for similar trail conditions whether your trail is technical or just high elevation
  • And remember the hilliest road race is considered flat in trail terms, so don’t skimp on hills
  • Don’t be afraid to get muddy and dirty, it’s part of the fun.
  • And don’t worry about pace, depending on the trail your pace can be twice as slow or more as road pace

Trail Running Tips From Betsy:

  • Definitely train on trails if you have some near you. Very different from road racing!

Trail Running Tips From Heather:

  • Ok this isn’t necessarily a trail running tip, but I did the North Face Challenge a couple years ago and my biggest challenge was not appropriately hydrating for an afternoon race in hot weather- I’m so used to early am races! Just thought I’d toss that out there.

Trail Running Tips From Axel:

Trail Running Tips From Lisa:

  • I ran NFEC 50K in Washington DC in 2012- I have the recap: here.  My advice would be to run part the course during your  training, and that trail races are very relaxed, so walk when you need to and take some time at each aid station to eat and hydrate.
  • Make sure you have plenty of Aquaphor or Vaseline- you will chafe.
  • During your training, concentrate not so much on miles but rather time on your legs- depending on what distance you’re doing, you will be out there, and on your legs for the better part of the day.
  • You will be so grateful if you do plenty of strength training before this race.
  • If it’s hot, you will need salt tablets or Nuun.

Trail Running Tips From Morgan:

  • Hills are better with friends 🙂

And finally Trail Running Tips from Heather G:

Training for this will be really fun! My conditioning coach will have to help me with unique strength exercises to help me build the power I need for the hills, and I’ll need to do a bunch of my long runs on the trails near my house.  I’m excited that this will break up my training between the half marathon in May and starting my training for the full marathon in the fall. Long training runs on the roads for weeks on end can sure get boring.  The long trail runs will give me the much needed mental break while the challenge of trail running will give me the motivation me to keep building my running endurance for the fall marathon season.  I’m so excited about this, I’ve never ran a trail race before, nevermind a half marathon on a trail!

I’m really looking forward to this new challenge, and as it was mentioned in the tips above, hills, mud and trail running are much better with friends.

Now it’s your turn…

  • Have you ever done a trail race?  
  • Trail runners: Do you have any other advice or tips to share with this trail running newbie?
  • Will you be joining me at The North Face Endurance Challenge?

Additional blog posts about The North Face Endurance Challenge:

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  1. Jonas Mercado - gear-uptofitness says:

    Finally a blog post about trail running. I ‘ve been searching for this. I wanna ask something though, does it sore so much on the feet due to unbalanced terrain? If so would you then prefer running on flat surfaces such as roads?

  2. A trail run sounds like so much fun to race!! Good luck! Thank you for compiling these tips!

  3. Sandra Laflamme says:

    The Ontario race sounds great! I just won an entry into the Series so I think I am going to go for the Park City Race. Not sure which distance though. I can’t wait to hear all about your experience and hope your ankle recovers soon! Love the tips shared by other awesome bloggers!

    1. Thanks Sandra! Good luck in the Park City TNFECS race, when is it?

  4. rachel @RunningRachel says:

    You are going to ROCK this race!! I know it! 🙂

    1. Oh I hope so, thanks for your confidence in me!

  5. Axel (@ Iron Rogue) says:

    “…cruises along the Niagara Escarpment…” this must be some new use of the word ‘cruises’ that I’m not familiar with 😉

    I may see you there, depending on schedule and accommodation possibilities. You should check out the 5Peaks series for a tune-up event near you (also great for kids).

    1. I hope to see you there! I looked at 5 peaks but the one at Terra Cotta is at the exact same time that I’m supposed to be at field hockey in Burlington and soccer in Milton. I need a clone!

  6. Looks like an awesome challenge! If it were closer I would definitely join you!

    1. In the grand scheme of things, you really don’t live that far from me & your running pace is similar. Perhaps one day we can meet up at a race that’s halfway between us?

  7. Abby @ BackAtSquareZero says:

    Wow. Thanks so much for including me.

    1. No problem! Thanks for sharing your tips with me 🙂

  8. Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat says:

    Great post Janice! Like you, I’m open to all the tips I can get because I’m a TOTAL trail running newbie. I’m so happy to have you training for the same race because I’m sure we’ll share the same pre-race jitters. I love the tip about adjusting goals – the two Abby mentioned are mine exactly: Try to have fun and try not to fall over!

    1. I think me doing a face plant is a given – I’m not exactly known for my grace either 🙂

  9. Jillian @ Baby Doodah! says:

    congrats on getting the opportunity to run this challenge!! It sounds so awesome. I haven’t done it in awhile, but I really love trail running. Time flies because you’re looking out for everything.

    I also love all the tips!!!

    1. Thanks Jillian, I’m really excited about this (yet kinda nervous too).

  10. Ha, you make it sound like I ran 50k – I did a 12.5k relay leg! My main advice is to not set ANY sort of pacing goals. Until you know how tough the course is, there’s basically no way to tell how fast you are likely to be able to cover it. I’m running the Sulphur Springs 25k race at the end of May, I might have more advice after that.

    You should come and visit me one weekend soon, there’s an entrance to the Bruce Trail 2k from my house with some GREAT trails for running. Lots of up and down, it’s super fun. Not overly technical, but there’s enough rocky bits to get a feel for things.

    1. You guys kicked butt & had a lot of fun by the sounds of things. Good look at the end of May, I can’t wait to read that race report! And yes, we need to get together to run some trails.

  11. Lisa @ RunWiki says:

    Reading this makes me want to run another NFEC- by far the best trail race I’ve ever done! Ontario sounds incredible– this is a race I’d love to do in the near future. Thank you so much for posting my tips! Good luck to you and your readers joining you- it will be a day you never forget!