Hello newbie trail runner. I am not a trail run expert and if you’re after incredibly technical advice, then navigate elsewhere. As of January 2018 I had never even set foot at a trail event. However, after a few months, here are a few things I wish I had known from the get-go.
Long before the day
DO YOU NEED ALL THE TRAIL RUN GEAR?
No. You are just starting out. Some items will help (see below) but you don’t have to rush off and buy a Garmin, running vest, hydration pack and compression socks just this minute. First see if you enjoy it, before bankrupting yourself. I noticed there are all kinds of people on these runs. Some look like they’ve just stepped out of a Salomon catalogue, others like they just got out of bed.
BUY A RUNNING BELT
On nearly every trail run, women have stopped and asked where I got my belt. It’s a slim one that can hold a phone, a card, some cash and car keys. And if your packing game is strong, you can fit in some date balls as well. Personally, I like the slimmer belt for shorter routes, or where water tables are supplied. Running with stuff in my hands is really frustrating and I didn’t enjoy running with a larger belt. If the fit isn’t perfect it bounces up and is very uncomfortable. This is the one I use -> a good, slim belt from Takealot. At the time of writing this, it was even on sale!
INVEST IN TRAIL SHOES
As a newcomer, I took a while to invest in a pair of trail shoes. They’re expensive (it seems all trail-related gear is) and I wanted to make sure this wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan thing. If you’re uhmming and ahhing over getting a pair, it’s definitely worth it. Trust me. You’ll need grip for the more technical downhills and it helps to have extra support on sandier bits of singletrack sections. They make a big difference and if I could go back, I would have gotten them on day one.
WHEN YOU ENTER
IF IN DOUBT, PICK THE SHORTER ROUTE
I barreled straight into long routes thinking, how hard could they be? It turns out quite a bit.
DON’T PICK THE LAST BATCH
If you’re not intending to walk most of the thing, don’t pick the last batch. Not knowing my capability, I picked the last batch and got stuck behind masses and masses of walkers on the Kirstenbosch steps. This was pretty frustrating. That said, don’t pick the first batch either.
DOUBLE-CHECK IF YOU NEED TO RENT A TAG
I once presented myself at the registration desk, only to discover that there was no pre-ordered tag linked to my entry. The event coordinator didn’t care that there hadn’t been an option to rent one when I purchased the ticket. She also didn’t care that I didn’t have R20 in cash to rent one. She point-blank didn’t care about much really, which I get, but wasn’t helpful. It was a pretty lousy experience, and I was grateful when her colleague relented and let me participate in the event. It happened to several people that day, so it seemed like a glitch in their ticketing system. Always check if you need to rent a tag, and bring cash in case you need to rent one on the day.
DON’T RUSH TO BUY A TAG
It might seem more cost-effective to purchase a timing tag, but different trail run events tend to use different timing systems. If you’re just starting out, rather rent.
The night before the trail run
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR TICKET
It seems like every race has a different registration method. Some need an SMS, some an ID number, some a smiling face and others a printed ticket. The thought of getting up very early, being denied entry and it all being for nought is not my idea of a good idea. To avoid this, I simply take everything they’ve ever sent me.
PIN YOUR NUMBER TO YOUR SHIRT
Some of my best moments in life are when trying to shove safety pins through a bit of paper and then through my shirt, whilst wearing said shirt. It’s usually very early in the morning (read cold) and my fingers don’t want to cooperate. If you can, do this the night before.
LEARN SOME JARGON
There’s a fair amount of jargon flying about at your average trail run. Elevation gain, singletrack, jeep track and switchbacks are all worth a google. Didn’t have a clue what these things were. Learn them, throw them around with glee and sound like a total pro.
On the Day
DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE LOO QUEUE
Ladies, make peace with the fact that there are never enough bathrooms for us. Be prepared to queue and budget time for this little excursion. I once spent 10-15 mins in the queue, missed out on the loo and almost missed the start of the race. And don’t be shy to use the men’s bathroom. Loudly announce your imminent entry, throw open the door and go pee. If you’re the first to do so, don’t worry about going into uncharted territory alone. Once you break this barrier, you’ll have a group of grateful women eagerly following your lead.
DO NOT RUN IN ALL-BLACK EVERYTHING
Lawd was this a mistake. For one of the first runs, I chose style over common sense and wore an entirely black ensemble. Folks, I nearly died. Once the sun got up, it was hot. There I was dragging my trail-run-fashion-week-self up a steep hill, surrounded by smooth rockface in a 300-degree inferno of my very own clothing.
DON’T WEAR YOUR FINEST THREADS
Peeps, this is a trail run and you are going to get covered in dirt. There are no two ways about it.
NOT THE TIME FOR BEATS
I have never done this, but have seen people running in big and bulky headphones. This seems like a disaster because they get a) dusty, b) full of sweat and c) doesn’t your neck get tired?
BRING CASH MONEY
See the harrowing timing tag tale above. That aside, it’s a good idea to bring cash, as some of the vendors don’t have card facilities or services like Snapscan.
THINK ABOUT PARKING
Uber if you can. If it’s too far, go earlier than you need to. There can be some superb parking stuff-ups at these events. To be fair, it usually goes pear-shaped because people don’t listen to marshalls. Always listen to the parking marshall. It would be a real shame to get up early and go all that way just to get stuck looking for parking.
After the trail run
TAKE A PIC WITH YOUR MEDAL
There are people who think this is lame. It seems these people either feel guilty because they’re still in bed, or they’re elite athletes who, fair enough, are a bit beyond this. Go for it. I certainly do and it helps me stay motivated.
COMMIT CARBICIDE AT BREAKFAST
You earned it. Eat it all! Bacon, maple syrup, waffles, eggs benedict, the works. It’s pretty great looking at a menu and feeling absolutely zero guilt about what to eat.
THE PHOTOS DON’T DO YOU JUSTICE
Unless you spotted the cameraman and popped a pose, no one looks good in these candid action shots. Don’t be dismayed, you’re not alone. Everyone looks slightly disconnected from their bodies with a very awkward expression on their face.
TAKE SOME MAGNESIUM
This helps aid with muscle recovery and is a life-saver. Your legs are going to be sore and stiff. If you take one thing away from this post, this is probably the most useful. I take it just before bed. Obviously, I am not a Doctor, so please check you can take it with someone more qualified.
If you’d like to read more about how I got into trail running click here. You can also check out the post on the CMIYC trail run at Groot Constantia. If you’ve always wanted to start but never gotten round to it, just do it.