Combine your hard-earned off-road skills with these goal-setting tips for a rewarding race day experience.
Racing and goals go together like race bibs and safety pins, pre-race jitters and AC/DC, finish line sprints and finishers’ medals — you get the point. Training and racing on the road makes it easier to translate training into realistic race day objectives. With trail racing, the training/goal setting/racing transition isn’t as linear. Most trail races post course profile and elevation maps online, giving runners the ability to train on the course or replicate some of the terrain elements. But elevation changes, variable route conditions due to weather and lots of people in a tight space add unknowns to the equation. Success on the trail comes with a toolbox of skills: how to run up and down hills, knowing when when to walk, mental perseverance and an appreciation for adventure just to name a few. Combine your hard-earned skills with some of the following pro, goal-setting tips, for a rewarding race day experience.
RELATED: Trail Racing vs. Road Racing
Tactics vs. Pace
Average pace on the trail can be deceiving. Thinking, “I’ll be a little slower going uphill, but I can make up the time,” may have you looking at your watch with alarm. Given the influences of high elevation oxygen deprivation or the one step forward, two steps back, speed-sucking brutality of a muddy hill, having a plan — like power hiking the uphills, maintaining on the flats and bombing downhill — is wise.
Vermont native Kasie Enman, who was the 2011 U.S. & World Mountain Running champion and in 2012 was the first Vermont woman to win the Vermont City Marathon, zeroes in on her tactics during training by visualizing the course and focusing on details like mastering the transition between a down and up hill.
RELATED: Taking Your Workouts To Trails
“I try to study the course and pick places where I can make a move on the competition using my strengths,” Enman says. “For a trail race, my goals are more about tactics than pace.”
Brian Tinder, an Arizona adiUltra Team runner with 69 marathon and 19 ultra finishes to his name, also considers it imperative to know the course and how to best use his strengths during a race.
“I know I most likely don’t have the same speed as the front of the pack, so my goal in running a smart race is not to redline early,” Tinder says. “I save a little in the tank to catch people in the second half of a race.”
Keep Goals Attainable
Trail races are often slower than their road counterparts and a 1:45 road half-marathon PB doesn’t mean much when it comes to running 13.1, roughly, twisting, rock-filled miles on the trail.
“I think that if you aim for the stars you’ll end up getting frustrated and start looking for other goals,” says Rickey Gates, a Salomon Running Team member who runs and races around the world. “ I say aim for the mountain tops instead.”
RELATED: How To Train For Your First 50K
As an alternative to setting a goal time, especially on an unfamiliar course, focus on keeping a steady pace on the biggest climb of the course, letting go of your fear on a downhill or simply being sure to thank all the volunteers giving you water and bananas.
Plan With A Purpose
Given the greater incidence of unknowns in trail racing, being prepared — with nutrition, hydration, location of aid stations and the appropriate gear — is a relevant goal. Knowing aid station placement lets you break a long race into shorter sections for easier to grasp “splits.” Even if you aren’t running for a specific time, you need to be aware of the clock to stay ahead of course cut-off times and for an indication of how much you need to be refueling.
“Aid station location lets me know how to fuel up or what to carry with me when I run,” Tinder says. “And, since you can’t always see your competition on the trail, it’s helpful when the volunteers let you know where the next runner is.”
Enjoy the View
It’s a race, but it’s on a gorgeous trail. What’s a racer to do?
“I do my best to take a moment, even if it’s just in thought, to appreciate the amazing scenery around me,” says Tinder. “No matter my finish time or how I placed, If I don’t have a recollection of things I saw along the way, I lost.”
So, yes, race, run hard and watch your footing, but enjoy the views — that’s part of the reason you’re running a trail race!
“With every race, a goal is that they take me to beautiful and interesting places, even if that beautiful, interesting place is in my backyard,” Gates says.
Recovering From A Bad Race
Bad races happen to everyone. The trick is realizing what went wrong and how to improve.
Enman had a steep learning curve when she first started trail racing in Europe. Instead of saying, “I’m not good at this,” she watched race footage of winning European trail runners to study their technique as compared to hers. She picked up pointers on everything from when and how to speed hike to how quickly to get up when she fell. Within three weeks, she went from “getting completely schooled” to winning a course record at Giir di Mont.
Even in the midst of a less-than-stellar race, Tinder knows its possible to bounce back.
“Trail running events are often longer than road races, giving plenty of time to ‘unbonk’ when feeling rough, plus regret is worse than the pain I induce on myself during a race,” Tinder says. “A bad race will happen, its just taking the time to figure out why and fixing it.”