9 Simple Trail Running Tips

long run

Every once in a while it’s good to reflect on some of the basic things in our sport. The inspiration for this post came after the recently held Six Foot Track Trail race here in Australia recently and over a few beers at the finish with some friends. All of us had stories to tell and words of wisdom to impart, so I thought we’d collate a few of them together, as well as add a few more to come up with nine simple, yet highly important tips for those relatively new to the sport. Again, not an exhaustive list, but what do you think – any that we should include? I’m sure there are!

#1 Be accountable, be responsible

As trail running gets more and more popular, the chances are that there will be an increasing amount of people heading out into the bush or onto the trail for the first time. The thing you soon realise when entering the world of trail and ultra running isn’t that it isn’t the buffet car experience you get from racing a road marathon or popping out for a jog around your local town. There aren’t aid stations every 3kms. There’s isn’t petrol station or servo 2kms up the road to shelter in from the rain.

You can be out there on your own and you have to be prepared for anything and everything. It’s why race directors and alike take safety so seriously, regardless of cost or whom they might annoy in the process. The rules are there for a reason, and if we don’t like them, then we can’t play the game.

#2 Be prepared… for anything

While the weather forecast may have said it would be bright and sunny, you never know if a freak storm’s going to hit. There’s no need to take the kitchen sink with you when you run, but you need to know… “If I got trapped out here for a night, would I be OK?”

So what does that mean? A waterproof jacket and emergency blanket to keep you warm and sheltered. Enough food to last you through the night – usually a couple of bars is enough.

Similarly, if it’s going to be hot, whack some sunscreen on and plan your fluid intake.

Be prepared for anything... even the pros like Kilian have been caught out before.
Be prepared for anything… even the pros like Kilian have been caught out before. races such as this at Northburn in NZ can literally experience four seasons in one day

#3 Respect your surroundings

As trail runners I think we’re exceptionally privileged to be able to run in some beautiful places in the world. We should keep them that way so that they can be used for future generations. Trail erosion is a real issue in some parts of the world and protecting those trails is more important than our run.

Likewise, don’t be an idiot and litter. The vast majority of us have enough common sense to realise that gel wrappers aren’t degradable. It doesn’t belong in our sport or in any walk of life for that matter.

#4 Know where to resupply and restock – mark and map

If you’re unfamiliar with a section of trail or route, make sure you look up and map out your run, knowing landmarks or resupply areas if you’re going to be out there for a number of hours. Break the run down into different sections and work out approximate distances. This is where GPS watches are worth their own value in salt – you can see how far you’ve gone and how far you might need to go to certain points along the way. It might not be 100% accurate, but it will be good enough to help you manage your run.

These things can be of use when you're out for a while to help you understand your surroundings better
These things can be of use when you’re out for a while to help you understand your surroundings better

Many of us training for 100km or 100 mile races for the first time will be doing training runs that could be up to anything around 10 hours in length. You’d be hard-pressed to carry enough water and maybe food for that period of time. Either find a place to resupply yourself, or have a friend meet you at a certain point if the trail comes to or crosses a road along your way.

#5 Let someone else know where you are

Really simple, but if you’re heading out to a new piece of trail, tell someone where you’re headed and give them your number, along with how long you expect to be out there. Many trails have logbooks where you can record your name, number, route and expected time. It’s there for a reason, so sign it!

Even if you know your way around the trail, anything can happen (see above). You could fall, break a leg or get bitten by a snake even. If that’s the case and you’re gone for longer than expected, someone can be there to raise the alarm.

Here in Australia, the Blue Mountains are notorious for inexperienced runners and walkers heading off into the abyss. People have been gone for days, only to have been found wandering the bush and tens of thousands of dollars later in tax payer money spent trying to find them. A simple act such as this can help save a lot of time and effort.

#6 Have the right gear

While trail and ultra runners like to run light and be ‘minimal’ with their gear, there are a few essentials you should take if you plan on being out there for a number of hours:

  • Backpack
  • Water
  • Jacket
  • Snake bandage (particularly here in Australia)
  • Food
  • Hat/Buff
  • Mobile phone

Those are what I’d regard as the barest minimum for a four-hour plus run. There are of course many other items you may choose to take, depending upon your terrain and the weather, but it comes down ultimately again to being responsible and accountable.

#7 Have a decent pair of shoes

There’s nothing worse than having a pair of running shoes on that don’t match the terrain you’re running. Whether they’re minimal or maximal, know that if you’re running in technical terrain you’re going to need something pretty robust with plenty of grip and enough to keep your tootsies from getting all busted up.

Similarly, running on loose leaf terrain will need you to have something with a bit of grip on it too – the same goes for if it’s wet. There’s no fun sliding around in a pair of Asics Kayano’s on some rough and wet trail – it will make your entire run a bit of a nightmare. Trust me, I know what it’s like wading ankle-deep in mud with a pair of Nike Free 3.0s on!

#8 Watch out for wildlife

This probably applies more to some of the ‘wilder’ countries out there, including our own here in Australia. The fact is that we’re venturing into territory inhabited by the likes of snakes, spiders, bears and mountain lions (if you’re lucky!).

The basic rule I use when I’m running on my own particularly is that I should expect to see certain creatures, even if I know it’s highly unlikely as is the case of seeing snakes on the trail here in Australia. If I go into my runs with this attitude then it’s not a huge surprise if I do see one, plus I’m expecting it too.

Carrying simple first aid, plus a snake bite bandage is a must here in Australia. If you can, run with a buddy, but always make sure you have the basics to get you through the first few hours, should anything untoward happen. You don’t want to end up like this idiot on the trail here at Western States!

#9 Have fun

If you’re not having fun, then what’s the point? Putting a simple smile on your face even helps to keep you positive throughout, so make sure you enjoy it.

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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