The Ultimate Guide to Running your First Trail Race

The Ultimate Guide to Running your First Trail Race

Context.

One of the most beautiful things about trail running is, in my opinion, its simplicity. There aren’t any huge barriers to entry (it doesn’t require any über-expensive, specific equipment, for example.) As I like to say: “Trail running is the most simple, easy way to move through the mountains. Somehow it’s in our bones–our ancestors had to hunt for their food, and were basically designed to run long distances. Not necessarily to run fast, but to run for hours and move consistently through the mountains, valleys, and meadows.” 

In some (more modern) ways, trail running might seem like the hybrid between road running and hiking. It does share many similarities with both of the aforementioned sports–but even so, trail running is a different ball game, and we need to look at it as such. 

In this guide, I’ll walk you through how to run your first trail race. We’ll cover everything from how to choose the right race for you, to how to rest properly before race day and how to finish your race feeling strong. I’ll tell you about my own experiences and first time running on the trails; in the past 9 years, I went from being a non-runner to being a professional trail runner. I had no guidance at all when I first started, which is why I founded Vert.run, and why I’ve written this guide. 

Running your first trail race will be a challenge (that’s why we do it, right?) But if you choose, train for and run your race thoughtfully, you’ll finish feeling strong. 

So, first, let’s break down the three main elements that make up trail races: distance, elevation gain and terrain.

Distance.

A trail race’s distance will define its difficulty–and also, potentially, how long it will take you to run the race. It’s important to remember that the time it takes to run a particular distance (say, 10 miles) on the trails is almost definitely going to be longer than it would take to run those 10 miles on flat asphalt. That being said, a trail race’s distance will still give you a good indication of both how hard the race will be, and about how long it will take you. Since trail running is a sport where we so frequently see people running 100 miles (or even 200 miles) in one go, it’s really easy to lose perspective. The danger here is that many people lose respect for shorter trail running distances: and this is the most classic and most common error that new trail runners make. Each distance has its own challenges. It doesn’t matter if you’re an expert hiker or a speedy marathon runner–the smartest way to choose your first trail race is to pick a short distance. 

We can divide trail race distances into a couple different categories. Firstly, we have the shortest categories: the “shortest” races are between 5 and 10 miles, and then there are “medium” races between 11 and 20 miles. The “long” category of trail races are those from 21 to 26 miles. Then, we get into “ultramarathon” distances: these start at distances between 27 to 30 miles, and then climb up to distances like 50, 70, and 100 miles. We should focus here on races in the “shortest” and “medium” categories–i.e. race up to 20 miles. Choosing anything longer than 20 miles as your first trail running race is not something that we recommend under any circumstances, even if you’ve run longer than that on the road. (A note for those of you who do have some trail experience: if you want to read our Ultimate Guide to Running Your First 50k, just click here to check it out.) 

My first-ever trail running race was a 6 mile race. And let me tell you: I suffered. Even though 6 miles is a “short” distance, it was really hard and felt so long. Then, after feeling comfortable at the 6-mile distance, I tried out a 13 mile trail race–and it felt even harder. I couldn’t understand how someone could run 13 miles through the mountains and feel alive afterwards. Looking back, it’s amazing to see how much things have changed: this year, I finished my first ever UTMB in 16th place. UTMB is the most competitive 100 mile race in the world (technically, it’s 105 miles.) The race is a long, mountainous loop around the Mont Blanc–it starts and ends in Chamonix, France, and passes through Italy and Switzerland, too. But looking back to my first trail half marathon, I remember how hard it was to finish those first 13 miles, and how I felt afterwards–and it was far from easy. I’m so glad that I started building my trail running distance slowly and consistently over time; maybe this is why it took me seven years to run my first 100 miles, but maybe it’s also why I’ve only ever had one injury throughout my eight years of running, racing and training. 

So: back to choosing the distance for your first trail race. Considering that you should choose a distance between 5 and 20 miles, there’s still a lot to cover–and there’s quite a difference between running a 5-mile race, 10-mile race or even a 20-mile race. 

To break this down even further, now we’ll get into talking about elevation gain and terrain. These two elements will help you figure out how long you estimate your first race will take you, which is the key to helping define your training and to correctly preparing your body and mind. Just like road runners do, trail runners also use our estimated race time to “work backwards” to train correctly (e.g. determining intensity and duration of workouts, etc.)

Elevation gain. 

This might be the first time that you’ve heard this term. The quickest way to explain it is: elevation gain is how many vertical feet of uphill running you do during a race or training. Elevation gain is really important in this sport, and there are people that actually train by focusing on it as the main “measuring unit” of their training. For example,  the ultrarunning star Kilian Jornet grew up skiing and measuring most of his training in hours and meters of elevation gain. 

First of all, we need to understand that elevation gain plays a big role in the difficulty of a race.. For example, a 13 mile race with 2,000 feet of elevation gain (or less) could be considered to be a “runnable” trail race. Saying that the course is “runnable” means that there aren’t really any long climbs that keep racers from running (yes, even elite trail runners do a lot of power-hiking in long, steep races.) So, if a race is “runnable,” the time it takes to complete it shouldn’t be wildly long. But take, for example, a race with the same number of miles–13 miles–but this time, let’s imagine that there are 4,000 feet (or more) of elevation gain.  This race, even though it’s the same length as the first example race, is a whole other ball game. Seeing an elevation gain of 4,000 feet tells us that there’s probably at least one big climb–and this means that everyone’s pace (yes, everyone) will be slower on that climb than it will during the rest of the race. Having to do 4,000 feet of uphill during the race instead of just 2,000 feet can easily increase the total amount of time it will take you by 20-50%. 

So, I explain all of that to explain this: a race’s distance is important, but even more important to understanding how difficult a race will be is to look at the distance and elevation gain together. 

Here’s a good example of a race that “sounds” short (because of the distance) but is actually really long (because of the elevation gain.) There’s a type of race called Vertical Kilometer (VK) races. For VK races, the rules are simple: the maximum distance that the race can be is 3 miles (5 km)…and the goal is to climb the equivalent of a “vertical kilometer” (1,000 meters, or 3,300 feet) of elevation in those miles. So to put it simply, the goal is basically to run up a mountain in the shortest, steepest way possible. It sounds “short” and straightforward–which it is–but it’s also really, really hard.  When I ran my first VK race two years ago, I did it as a “training race” to test myself. It wasn’t easy at all, and the intensity (and the suffering that I did on the climb) was totally new for me. It was also a great way to challenge myself and to learn. The point: even a race that sounds short can be very, very difficult if it has a lot of elevation gain. For an average trail runner in good shape, running a VK–”just” three miles long–can take over an hour. 

Finally, in this section about distance, it’s important for us to talk about one final, important concept: what goes up must come down. Most people think that running uphill is hard, and that going downhill is easy. But the reality is that it’s crucial to train and to be prepared for running downhill in a trail race. Almost everybody can make it uphill, even if hiking at a slow pace. Going uphill definitely causes fatigue, but the surprise is that it’s the downhills that can actually cause the most exhaustion in your legs and muscles. If your legs aren’t ready to run downhill after having run or hiked uphill, you’ll likely have a long, painful trail race; because if you’re not able to run the downhills, you’ll end up walking them. It’s probably not what you would expect, but when people have a race time that’s significantly longer than expected, it’s not because of the hard uphills–it’s because they weren’t prepared for or able to run the downhills. This is what we want to avoid, and throughout this guide, we’ll give you concrete steps to take to help prepare your body, mind and legs for your race’s elevation gain. You can and will be able to run and finish your first trail race; you just need to prepare correctly, and that’s why we’re both here. Even if you live in a flat area or city, we’ll show you how to train correctly for the impact of the downhills with our jumps routine and strength exercises–but we’ll talk about that later.

The terrain.

Distance and elevation are two big things which define how difficult a particular race is–but another big difference between road running and trail running is the terrain. We recommend that you start by choosing a non-technical race. To do this, let’s first define what a technical race looks like. When a race is technical, it means that it’s less “runnable” because the trails are filled with lots of rocks, roots, steep climbs and/or tricky descents. A technical race is one in which the complicated terrain makes its racing time longer. To run races like this, it’s necessary to build a set of skills to feel comfortable and to run safely.  

So to enjoy your first trail race, try to pick one that you’ll be able to run. Don’t go for a technical (or dangerous) race if you don’t yet have the skills–even if you’ve been running for a long time. For example: throughout my years getting to know trail running, I always wanted to run a race called Els2900. Basically, Els2900 is an adventure trail race where you run in teams of two…and tag all the 7 highest peaks in Andorra. (Andorra is a small country between France and Spain.) The route isn’t marked–you get to design your own route, you just have to hit all 7 peaks. But the thing is that on the last 3 summits, things get…serious. You have to be able to move through steep seas of rocks (without rope, and without support) and then still make it to the finish. 

Even though we were experienced climbers and both professional trail runners, my running partner (and Vert.run co-founder) Max and I took about three years to finally decide that we were ready to give Els2900 a try. We finally gave it a go in 2018 and had an awesome experience–but this is because we were both confident that we could complete the race safely. My point is: you’re probably not looking at anything extreme for your first trail race, but I just wanted to show that no matter what level of trail runner you are, that we all have to be responsible in our race choices.  

Now, the most important question: are you ready to start training for your first trail race? It’s important to respect the distance, and this means respecting your body by preparing it correctly for such a big challenge. It’s a great journey, and we can tell you that your training and subsequent race will be two things: firstly, training for your first trail running race is fun; and secondly, it’s also incredibly satisfying. Finishing the race is also great for self-confidence: you’ll feel awesome once you touch that finish line.

Motivation.

What’s driving you to run your first trail race? You might be an experienced runner; maybe you’ve run a road or cross country race before–maybe even a marathon. Or maybe you’re a hiker, swimmer, or mountain biker. At the end of the day, no matter what’s brought you to try out your first trail race: welcome. The trail running community is notoriously open and welcoming, and we’re so happy that you’re looking to run your first trail race. 

Everyone’s motivation is different. For me, I started by playing lots of team sports in childhood. When I was eight, my family and I moved from tropical Venezuela to the wild mountains of the Chilean Patagonia. So, I grew up surrounded by amazing mountains, full of limitless trails and things to explore. Even with that, though, I hadn’t the slightest idea that trail running existed, or that it was even something that I would like. Every day at school I’d look at the mountains through the windows and wonder what was on the other side–but it never occurred to me that a person could run up to the top, and be back home by lunch. 

I tried all kinds of team sports, but I wasn’t good at any of them. All I was good at was running the whole time without getting tired, so my coaches called me “Roadrunner,” like the cartoon. It wasn’t until my first year of college when I read an article about “running in the mountains” that I even tried running just for the sake of it. 

The next day, I took my running shoes, a water bottle, and headed up the closest mountain. I didn’t make it to the top, and it was the hardest exercise I’d ever done. I arrived home hungry, thirsty, full of dust and barely walking. Oddly enough, it was then that I fell in love with this sport. I couldn’t stop trying until I made it to the top of that mountain…and then the next one, and the one after that. 

When I first started, I would just go out and run for as long as I could. I didn’t have any guidance or structure, and didn’t know how to train safely or consistently. There wasn’t much information out there in Spanish when I started trail running, so I ended up taking some risks and making a lot of mistakes. Now, after having worked with my own coach for years and after my professional experience in the sport, I feel it’s time to give back to beginners and give the guidance that I myself didn’t have. I want to make your introduction process to trail running as safe and smooth as possible–that’s the main reason that Vert.run exists. 

So the main point, here, is that we all start from zero. Nobody’s born ready to run up a mountain; the only way to improve is with safe, consistent training. Having a training structure allows us to enjoy the best part of trail running: that giddiness that hits when you’re running down a trail, that kind of joy you felt when you were a kid playing outside. If you haven’t already, we’re willing to bet you’ll fall in love with the trails.

Which race should you choose?

Now it’s important to choose which race to run. There are so many types of races and options out there that it’s easy to feel confused. My advice is always to choose a simple, straightforward race so you don’t worry much about the race itself. This way, you can focus instead on enjoying the terrain, having fun and testing your body.  

Flat races vs. really mountainous races are two totally different ball games. When it comes to choosing between these two things, I would actually advise you instead to make your “first filter” that you choose a race close to home. This is because it will eliminate complicated travel logistics, and also because it’ll afford you the opportunity to train on the terrain that you’ll be racing on…which will give you a confidence boost on race day. 

Keep in mind that depending on a race’s terrain or elevation gain, running a trail race can take you 20% to 100% longer than a road race of the same distance (or even a different trail race of the same distance.) For example, I’ve run 50 miles in 7 hours, but I’ve also run a 50 mile race that took me 16 hours–so, the race terrain really makes a huge difference.

Here you can find some good search tools for finding a race that’s close to you/best fits your schedule:

-Ahotu

-Itra

-Ultra signup

-The Endurance Challenge series

Terrain – again.

Like we talked about before, the terrain plays an important role in every trail running race. Depending on which race you choose, you’ll have to study its terrain and elevation profile. What does that mean? Simple: it’s a profile of the up-and-down climbs and descents of the race. So basically, you can have races with lots of small climbs…or, races with one big, even huge climb…or, an elevation profile that’s totally flat. So, of course you can’t prepare yourself for a race with 10,000 feet of elevation gain packed all into one giant climb in the same way you would for a race with the same elevation gain spread out throughout the whole trail race (like, 10 climbs of 1,000 feet each.) They’re all great adventures; whichever race you choose, you’ll have a blast running.

The key to preparing yourself for race’s terrain is to train in similar conditions and to train for the race’s elevation profile: if you’ve picked a race that’s close to home, this part will be easy. So, for example, let’s say that you’ve chosen a race with one main climb of 3.000 ft. To train correctly for the race’s big climb, you’ll have to train so that by the time the race arrives, you’ve started with smaller climbs and worked your way up to being able to go uphill for all 3,000 feet feeling comfortable. Another key thing to remember: you’ve also got to be able to go back down with consistency and strength. This is key, because while everybody might think that going down is the easy part, it takes dedicated training, work and preparation to be able to run downhill–especially in a long race.

Let’s look at another example. Let’s say that you’ve picked a hilly trail race with four, five or six medium-sized climbs. For this example, the preparation is a little different. You need to prepare yourself to be able to tolerate multiple inclination changes during the race so that your muscles and mind get adjusted to going up-and-down-and-up-and-down over and over again. You see? In the first example,  you have to prepare yourself to go up for a while, and then down for a while; in the second, it’s more like a roller coaster. 

Finally, what if the trail race is mostly flat? Well, in this case, cadence will be the key. Your goal will be to keep a consistent pace throughout, and ideally to finish stronger than you started. Yeah, sounds a little backwards, right? Is that possible, to be running faster and stronger at the end of the race? It’s possible, and it’s called “negative splits.” The idea with negative splits is to improve your speed throughout the race; for this, training, pacing and a strong mind are key. But don’t worry. You can absolutely do it if you put in the work.

How demanding is the training?

I believe that on the training process for a trail running race, there are four workouts per week which are “key,” i.e. they can’t be skipped. Plus, when you’re training, your plan should be designed to bring you slowly and steadily to be able to handle the race itself. This means that when you complete one week’s training, that gives you the “go ahead” to move forward to the next week’s training safely.  

I consider the minimum acceptable training block for a 5 to 20 mile trail running race to be between 8 to 10 weeks. So, that means that to run your first trail race, you need to train (more or less) for two to three months. Might sound like a lot, right? Well, if we break it down, it’s not that much. First, it’s about one to two weeks of introduction and activation–this means prepping your body for the full training block. Then, we move on to two weeks of more specific training, but during which we still train our body to be ready to take on the “real training” that’s coming. Next, there are around four to six weeks of specific training. What does specific mean? Well, basically it means doing hill repeats; training specific elements of the race you’ve chosen; working on your jumps routine if you live in a flat place, or don’t have access to the hills every day; and building your core, strength and endurance for the race. 

So for example, each step you take towards race day (by doing long runs; core, strength and jumps work; intensity, speed and fartlek trainings, etc.) is part of the 8 to 10 week process. Like we talked about before, each week builds on the previous week’s training, all the way up until that good ol’ taper time. The taper is the moment when you can look back and see all the work that you’ve done: all those miles; early morning runs; mountain days with friends, or by yourself;  all those intensity trainings when the time went really, really slow during every repeat; those mornings or nights doing loops in your neighborhood, or running up and down the only hill around, feeling like the only person in the city spending their free time running like a hamster…the taper is your time to look back, reflect, and be proud of yourself for your whole training process. It’s all worth it. 

So. After those 8 to 10 weeks of training, you’ll finally hit the moment when it’s time to taper. During your taper, you’ll reduce your training to: 70-75% of your normal volume two weeks before the race, and to about 20-40 % during race week. Sometimes, it’s even better just to rest and go for a couple of easy jogs during race week, so that you can arrive completely fresh and motivated.

Training structure?

In the previous section, I already talked a little bit about how to structure your training.  In general, the longer the race, the longer that the training period should be. So for example: for a 5 to 10 mile race, an 8-week training period should be sufficient (outlined in the following infographic.)

For an 11 to 20 mile race, the necessary volume of training and number of weeks may be a little longer, and should be structured as follows: 

Block 1: the “introduction” period. This block should last for at least two weeks. If you’ve never run on trails before, or if you’re relatively new to running, this block can be up to four weeks. The goal is to prepare yourself to enjoy and complete the training that’s coming ahead. This block is meant to be simple; for example, maybe you’ll run two to four times per week at an easy pace; your runs can range from 30 minutes to one hour during the week. On the weekend, your runs can be longer, but taken equally as easy.  This period shouldn’t be extreme; even going for a long hike on the weekends is good training. The important thing is to be consistent. Keep yourself moving, keep getting out even on those days when it feels hard. This consistency will set your attitude and spirit for the rest of the training process. 

Block 2: the “basic” period. Block 2 is the complement to the introduction period; it also lasts two to four weeks, and brings with it the introduction of strength, core and jumps routines. During this block, you’re building the base of your fitness for your trail race, and believe it or not, building this base isn’t done only by running. Having a strong core will give you stability, and will protect your back from getting injured. All the pounding our bodies take when we run impacts each person different, and this is also why having a strong core is crucial. Strength is also a key part of your trail running  training. If your body isn’t used to the load of training that you’ll undertake throughout your race prep, you have to prepare it. The most efficient way to do this is by completing a strength routine one to two times a week–every week. Here, you can check the strength routine we schedule in our Explore Training Plan. During this block, your runs will be similar to those you did during the introduction period, but you should also be adding some key “activation” workouts. Strides, for example, are the best way to get your body to feel active and sharp, and to test yourself under some speed and intensity for short periods of time. 

Block 3: the “specific” period. Now it’s time to do all those workouts that will build your preparation for the race itself. In this period, hill repeats are key. To give a small example: you could start by doing three sets of three 15-second hill repeats on a hill with a 15% gradient. Then, week by week, you build yourself until you’re doing three, then four, then ten minutes of hill repeats–and, sometimes mixing the repeats with flat speedwork. 

There are so many options; the combinations of training possibilities, especially for this block, are so numerous that to write just one “guide” for this phase of your training is almost impossible for us. That’s why we have our Explore Plan, where each training plan is designed to fit your specific athlete profile. Depending on your needs, we create a training plan for you from about 500 different combinations of workouts. Our training platform gives you a training plan based on your needs for 4 different distances (from 10k up to 50k) so that you as an athlete get a training plan that best fits your profile. 

In general, this third block–the “specific” phase–is the core of your trail race  prep. So, be aware that it can feel like it lasts forever, and that you’ll feel tired sometimes. That’s why it’s important to have a recovery protocol in place. I recommend adopting a 3×1 or 2×1 recovery week protocol. This means that you train for 2-3 weeks (doing the key workouts, long runs, strength training, core work, etc.) and then take one week where you reduce your training to 60-70%. You’ll do this by cutting down on intensity trainings and long runs, which will allow your body to recover and heal before the next set of weeks. Recovering is as important as training, so take it seriously. 

Block 4: the “taper” period. This is the time to look back, see all the work you’ve done and to feel confident for your race. If you’re reading this, you’re probably still far enough out from your race that you’ve got a good amount of time; this means that all you’ve got to do is to follow your training consistently.  To tell you the truth, the only secret to running and enjoying a trail race is to complete your trainings consistently, day in and day out. Personally, I don’t know another or faster way to do it. During your taper, you’ll focus on resting, sleeping, stretching, and eating. Be sure to listen to your body during your taper; if you feel like sleeping in an extra 30 minutes or an hour instead of training, DO IT! Yeah, you’re allowed–but only because you’ve already done all the work. There’s nothing worse than arriving to the taper without having done the work and feeling unprepared, and if you’ve done the work, you’ll feel the opposite.

Set your race goal.

Setting a clear, reasonable goal for your race will form the foundation of your training and give you a base to work from. Why? It’s pretty simple. I recommend that you set an achievable goal for the race–and that you set it in terms of how long, in hours and minutes, you want to run the race. Never set “finishing in x place” as your goal, because you can’t control how the rest of the runners will run that day–why would you set a goal for yourself that depends on how other people perform? On the other hand, your own race time is something that you can control and train for. To do this, ask yourself how long you think that it should take you to run the whole course. This will depend on the race’s profile, terrain, and race-day conditions–but you can always estimate. Let’s say you set your goal as being to finish a half marathon in less than 3 hours. This is totally achievable and it’s a good goal. Now that we’ve picked this goal, we know that your training needs to correctly prepare you to be able to run and enjoy those three hours of racing.

With the 3 hours mark in mind, now you can do some math and define your training based on that goal. One important key for a trail race  is that if your goal is to run the whole race in 3 hours, you should train between 20-30% more than that number of hours per week. This means that if you’re aiming to finish your trail race  in 3 hours, you should train between 4 and 5 hours per week in order to feel comfortable running 3 hours in one push during the race itself.

Measure in time–not in miles.

Throughout the years, I’ve realized that so many people measure their training in miles. I’m not about this; I think that it’s best to measure in time, instead. For me, measuring my training in miles ends up being so stressful. Like in my case, during the last couple weeks, I was training for a 100 mile race. So imagine that for my race prep, I have a long training of 50k on a particular Saturday. Waking up on Saturday morning and thinking “…I have to go run 50k today” won’t feel motivating. Or do-able. At all. That’s why I recommend measuring your training in time (hours and minutes) instead of in distance. Instead of focusing on the miles or kilometers, I just focus on the time and on what I can get done and the great views I’ll have during my time out. 

Why do I recommend this? First of all, you’re the one who’s in charge of your time–so this way, you can put your training into your schedule wherever it fits best. By knowing how long you have to train, you can fit your workout into your lunch hour, or before work, or between eating dinner and putting your kids to bed, etc.  Measuring in time instead of in miles allows you to better manage your schedule. For example, let’s imagine that today, you have to do a “6 mile run.” But today, for whatever reason, you don’t feel good. Let’s say than running 6 miles in the hills usually takes you 1 and a half hours, but today, it takes you 2. This means one of two things: either you end up cutting the training short and feel bad about “not finishing,” or you’re late for whatever you have scheduled after the run. 

But instead, if you don’t think about the miles and instead approach your training as being a “1.5 hour run,” awesome things can happen. You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction in completing the run time. Sometimes, if you feel amazing, maybe you run even farther than 6 miles that day. You get the point. 

By focusing on time instead of distance, you’ll have more freedom. You’ll be able to complete your training blocks and feel the resulting confidence, and won’t leave workouts half-done. 

So, you know your distance (13 miles)  and your goal (to finish the race in under 3 hours.) Now, you can define the duration of your workouts and the average number of hours that you’ll train each week in preparation for the race. 

Here’s what I recommend as a general training program–in hours–for the 8 to 10 weeks of prep. Without thinking yet about each workout, we already know how much we’ll be running each week…and thus, how much we’ll be running each day.

It’s not all about running.

You’re going to run a 50k. So, you might think that the only thing you need to do in order to arrive to the race in good fitness is…to run. That’s not the case. You have to–and this is important, so I repeat–you have to designate about 15 to 20% of your training time to build the strength in your core, legs and back. The main reason for this is to prevent injury throughout your training and the race, but there are countless other benefits. These exercises will make you stronger, faster, more stable and give you consistency in your training. 

  • Core Routine: Even though at-home exercises aren’t as fun as running down a mountain, you can’t do the latter without first dedicating yourself to the former. 

A good core routine builds strength in our upper body (our “core.”) This strength keeps our bodies aligned, which helps us maintain good posture while running. Good running posture = more control = safely cruising those downhills we talked about. 

A core routine is a vital component of your training routine as a trail runner. Running higher, running farther, running faster: these are all great things, but if you want to get there, you have to put in the off-trail work. It’s important to prepare our bodies to safely withstand the impact they take while running downhill; to move uphill with power during long trainings and races; and to keep us strong during all distances. 

When you do these core exercises—not rushed, but with effort and focus—you’re building a longer athletic life and preventing common trail running injuries. 

At Vert.run, we designed a series of routines for each type of exercise. So, for example, here you can find our core routine

  • Strength routine: The point of doing strength exercises isn’t to look good: it’s to prepare ourselves to run efficiently and reduce our risk of injury.

A strength routine plays a key role in your development as a trail runner. We need to prepare our bodies to withstand the impact of running long downhills; to avoid fatigue (and thus avoid falling) in technical sections; and to be a strong, compact ally to our minds during climbs.

Our strength routine gives you resistance and endurance during your races and long trainings, no matter the distance. That’s why we schedule it into all of our trail running training plans. 

Here you can find our strength routine. 

  • Jumps routine: A jumps routine is a vital part of trail running training—especially if you don’t have daily access to the mountains. Jumps exercises aren’t a replacement for training in the mountains, but they sure are a good way to prepare ourselves for them.

When done correctly and methodically, this routine will help you feel stronger and more prepared when heading to the mountains to train or race. 

Our routine aims to train two things: your strength and your competence in different types of terrain. These skills safely enable you to run farther and more consistently in the mountains.

Here you can find our Jumps routine.

The keys to executing these routines:

    • Always do your core, strength or jumps routine on a day with a moderate to easy run. (Before or after your run is fine, whichever you prefer.) Don’t mix core exercises with an intense training or long run. If you’re too tired, you won’t have the strength to do the exercises correctly. 
    • Quality > quantity. Don’t be shy about cutting the number of repetitions. It’s way better to do fewer repeats, but to do them with control. Then, you can keep building from there.  
    • You should do these exercises at least once a week (but don’t exceed three times per week.) In order to build strength, consistency is key. You need to have weekly contact with your routines—that’s why we always put them in our Vert.run trail running training plans.

Feelings throughout your training. 

During your training, you’ll of course feel tired at times–but there are certain things that are not ok. So when you feel something weird or unfamiliar in your body, it’s always better to put on the brakes and rest a little more. 

Feeling training fatigue is pretty common. This includes things like tired legs going up and down the stairs (always take the stairs, it’s part of your training now), or feeling sore legs when you wake up in the morning. These feelings are okay and normal to feel; just remember to do your foam rolling and stretching exercises a few times per week

Now, let’s say that you start to lose your appetite. This, for example, is not normal or okay. You should feel hunger in proportion to your training volume; when you have a big training, you’ll probably feel more hungry, and vice versa. But it’s important to note and monitor your hunger levels on a weekly basis. Everybody’s body is different–for me, for example, I know that my “big” hunger levels actually hit on my rest days, not on the day of my long runs themselves. But, I’m familiar with my body and hunger levels, and I make sure to eat during the day until I’m no longer hungry. The key is to eat well, balanced, and healthy. 

Another feeling to watch out for is for sharp pain in specific places in your legs, especially when the pain appears in tandem with specific movements. This is no bueno. Sharp pain is never a good thing (e.g. pain that feels like a needle in a ligament or joint) because it’s often a sign that injury is either on its way or has already arrived…so, make sure to pay attention to your feelings, and identify if you’re feeling this type of pain. 

The most common pain that we as runners feel is knee pain. This is because the knee receives a big part of the impact when we run–but when we feel knee pain, the reason is not the knee, and the problem almost never originates in the knee itself. That’s why it’s so important to do the core and strength exercises. If you have pain in your knee, first: stop running. Then, it’s safe to assume that that the problem or weakness is probably is in your glutes, quadriceps or IT band, so stop running and go to a specialist to find the source of pain and fix the problem. 

Remember that you must enjoy the training so if you’re losing motivation and not enjoying the process, take a week off, no worries, give yourself time to recover your body and mind and you will be back stronger and motivated to continue the training for your next 50 km. You’re doing this for yourself and for your own reasons so if you’re not enjoin it, what’s the point? of course this doesn’t mean that if one day you don’t want to do your training the best is to stay at home, but if you find yourself 2 weeks in to a  “not having fun” mood, then you can take some time off.

Taper and recovery.

When all the work is done, it’s time to recover and to respect yourself for all the prep work you’ve done. Always keep in mind that even if the race day goes horribly or differently than you’d hoped, that you’ve done all of this incredibly tough physical and mental work and had all those adventurous days out. Nobody can take away from you, so make sure that you enjoy the preparation process, because that’s what matters in the end. 

For tapering, I recommend doing so for two weeks. You won’t lose fitness, and you’ll gain both energy and time. 

The first week of tapering should be at a volume of about 70 to 75% of your normal training. So, if you train for 9 hours per week, feel free to train between 6 and 7 hours during your first taper week. If you feel really tired, you can go down to 4 hours–this might also help you to recover better if it’s what your body is asking for. Different people need different tapers, but it’s really important to keep in mind that rest and recovery is part of the training. It’s way better to arrive to your race 20% under trained than to arrive 1% over-trained. Believe me, in the latter case, you’ll definitely feel the brunt of that 1% on race day. 

Your second week of tapering should be between 20-40% of your normal training, so using the example of a 9-hour training week, you’d cut down to 2-3 hours max. And, remember to divide these hours into short runs. 

An ideal taper week for a Saturday race day would be:

  • Monday: rest day
  • Tuesday: 30 to 45 minutes easy run + 4-6 strides of 20 seconds each at 80% of your max speed
  • Wednesday: rest day
  • Thursday: 30 to 45 minutes easy run
  • Friday: 20 to 40 minutes easy run + 3 strides of 10 seconds each, or full rest
  • Saturday: Race day

Tapering is not a magic wand, but it is important.  Plus, now that you’re training less, you’ll find yourself with so much free time. What will you do with all this time on your hands, if you don’t plan in advance? You’ll probably feel worried about the race, so it’s good to take advantage of all this free time to deal with race logistics, enjoy your extra time with family and friends, and–most importantly–sleep, sleep and more sleep. Sleep in, sleep early, sleep as much as you can.

Race Day

It’s time to toe the starting line: but don’t worry, you’ve done all the work, and now it’s time to enjoy it. 

It’s normal to feel nervous before the race–no matter how many times we’ve raced, almost all of us feel some type of anxiety beforehand. That’s why we wrote a specific article about this.

“We’ve all been there: it’s the night before a race, and your brain will. Not. Let. You. Sleep. Maybe it’s your first race (or your fiftieth) and you’re feeling wired–but not in the good way. Your nerves just won’t let you sleep. I myself have had so many of these nights before important races: my body (or, my anxious brain, I guess) wakes me up at 2:00 am, or maybe 4:00 am, and refuses to let me get any more precious shut-eye. So, I toe the starting line with just a couple of hours of sleep under my belt. 

This is completely normal: our brains kick into high-gear the night before a race because they recognize how much effort we’ve put into preparing for the race. The closer that we get to the race start, the more neurotic our brains become. 

While this is common, it doesn’t have to be normal. Throughout my years of racing, I’ve nailed down some ways of reducing my own nervousness before a race, and am here to share the anxiety-reducing wealth.”

Checkout our “how to calm race-day nerves” article for some more in-depth discussion about keeping cool before your race. 

I have to be honest, it’s not easy to put all my advice about your first trail race into one article. There are so many more things that we could keep digging into–we didn’t even touch anything about nutrition, race fueling, stretching or foam rolling…so, I’m sure there will be more to come in a future article. For now, I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions or suggestions, please don’t be shy. Write us at team@vert.run; we’re always happy to chat. 

We wish you the best of luck on your first trail race, and who knows? Maybe we’ll run into each other, either at this race or the next.

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