Last year I embarked on a ‘trail running project’ – to run the length of the South Coast Track in remote South-West Tasmania. I knew it would be long, rugged, muddy and exposed to the weather. If I am being completely honest, all of these things scared me. However, what scared me the most was that I had never done this adventure before. But isn’t anything new scary? When I came to accept this simple fact, somehow I was more capable of embracing the process of adventure rather than fretting over the outcome.
Here are some of the key things that I focus on when preparing for trail running adventures. I hope they help you find inner confidence too!
Intention not goals
I am slowly learning to switch off from the outcome (goal) and focus on the process (intention). I reached the end of the South Coast Track weary and muddy, but also euphoric. I was not celebrating getting to the end but rather was joyous in the strength & knowledge I gained from the whole experience. There is a difference between goals and intentions. I urge you all to try the intention hat on. I think you will find it suits you too.
Confidence is in the preparation: Three Key Elements
When I lean in to a new challenge, there are always 3 key elements that help me to feel more prepared and therefore, more confident.
1. Consistency of your training
This simply involves being active as frequently and as consistently as possible. Building up a solid aerobic base is critical so start your training early, conservatively with the intention that you can grow into the process. Avoid ‘one-hit-wonder’ training. That is, avoid big efforts followed by large bouts of very little. Your body will respond much better to smaller bursts of frequent exercise. If all you have is 30 minutes, then take a jog for 30 minutes. Not sure what intensity to go? If you can chat with a friend with a little puffing then you are training at the right intensity. If trail running is your main intention, then preferably prioritise the running & running-related activities. Where possible, include some trails or softer surfaces. Finally, remember that you are only as strong as your recovery! When we train we degrade our muscle fibres. When we recover they repair. Therefore, for every harder day of exercise you do, you must allow for one day of recovery. Every 2-3 weeks I love to include a quiet ‘catchup’ week. This is essential for proper physical and mental recoup.
2. Knowledge & execution of Nutrition & Hydration
Nutrition can be your powerful weapon on the trails! Everything happening in your body when you exercise relies on your brain – positive moods, conscious thought, muscle activity, coordination… I learnt the hard way that an under-fuelled brain leads to negativity and below average performances. Therefore, fuel your brain with simple glucose so that it can then drive fat metabolism to fuel your muscles.
What I use: Shotz Sports Nutrition
Glucose Jelly Beans
Electrolyte (low magnesium concentration)
It is important to note that you can never replace all the energy and fluids that you loose during endurance running. Instead we aim to minimise the deficits.
3. Knowledge of the course
It really helps to know what you are preparing for. It is obviously best if you can see the course with your own eyes. However, if this is not possible, try to do some research on the course. Break it down section by section, knowing what the key elements are that you need to train for. For the South Coast Track I focussed on the length, hills, trail conditions and other random challenges to expect. However, I avoid over-analysis as this just heightens my anxiety which, in turn, hampers my preparations.
Get stronger on the hills
Shhhhh…. this is my secret! But hills are the BEST way to get fit and strong. When I started running I had a rule – try to run anything that is uphill but I can walk anything that is flat or downhill. Don’t fear or avoid the hills, embrace them!
There are a few items that I never skimp on. These are my trail running shoes, running pack, rain jacket & head torch. Everything else you can ‘make do’.
1. Trail Running Shoes
When choosing your shoes, make sure that you have plenty of space around your toes as your feet will swell around half a size during an endurance run. Also, ensure that the shoe’s tread is appropriate for the trail you will be mostly running on. If the trail is wet and ‘mushy’, opt for an aggressive gripping shoe with big lugs (rubber spikes). If the trail is mostly smooth or rocky, opt for a less aggressive shoe.
2. Vest Pack
The best running packs are ones that do not have a waste strap and tighten strongly around your chest. We call these a vest pack. They contain lots of pockets for your nutrition and water on the front, then a larger space on the back for clothing and other essential items. Most athletes today are moving to the use of soft water bottles over bladders. These are bottles made of softer materials that do not slosh when you are running and they compress as you drink from them. As a general rule, for races up to 50km I can use a pack with around 3-7 litres of capacity for all my gear. Races over this distance will normally require 10-12 litres of capacity.
3. Rain Jacket
If it is wet you may need to run in this jacket all day so make sure you find a jacket that is comfortable! In order for your rain jacket to pass any mandatory gear inspections in a race it must: have a hood; be made from breathable, waterproof fabrics; and have all the seams of the jacket sealed by clear tape.
4. Head Torch
If you are participating in an event which involves running at night, then do not skimp on your head torch. I know my torch is bright enough when I don’t have to slow down on a trail. I would select a head torch with a minimum of 190 lumens of brightness. Make sure it is also comfortable. I like to use a headband under my torch for extra comfort.
Avoid anti-inflammatories: Try caffeine!
There sometimes comes a time on the trails when we need some help to overcome pain and discomfort. To avoid damaging our kidneys, it is really important to avoid anti-inflammatory products when there is a risk of dehydration. Whilst a product like Panadol is far better than anti-inflammatories, I utilise caffeine. Believe it or not, caffeine is a great mask of pain! A caffeinated gel is always my first line of defence.
In conclusion, I hope that we can all embark on our trail running adventures with our intentions founded in our preparations rather than a fixation on the end goal. Let us find confidence in the consistency of our training, the quality of our gear, our knowledge of the course, and a thorough understanding of how nutrition and hydration can help us. If you need a further hand, do not hesitate to make contact with me.