long run

tips for running your first trail half marathonI ran 13.1 miles through the woods at the Two Hearted Trail Half in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and didn’t die, so I’m now sharing tips on how you, too, can survive — and thrive during — your first trail half.


  • Tip #1: Pick your race carefully. Two Hearted was the perfect first race for me. It was well organized, had gorgeous scenery, a well-marked route and made my first experience memorable. I read about this particular race from the Detroit Runner’s race review and it didn’t disappoint.
T-shirt and bib.

Race shirt and bib.


Some of the beautiful scenery.

Some of the beautiful scenery.


twohearted medal

Two Hearted Trail Half medal.

  • Tip #2: Train properly. Even if you’re an experienced road racer, make sure you put in a lot of trail miles before your first race. I’m fortunate to both have lots of runner friends with extensive trail experience and have a familia that camps, so I have lots of access to places to running trails. One of the best tips my friends gave me was to get used to running on tired legs. That meant a three- to five-mile run most Sunday mornings after Saturday’s long run. It also meant that I was ready for the terrain, even though it was much more difficult than anything I had experienced before.
The course was no joke.

The course was no joke.


More of the terrain on the trail.

More of the terrain on the trail.

  • Tip #3: Plan ahead. In addition to training for the type of trails you’ll be experiencing, think ahead about things you may need with you that day. While you don’t need a drop bag like you would for an ultra, I certainly was glad to have many of the necessities I pack in my luggage for my long runs, including bandages for a blister that was forming on my right foot, bug repellent wipes and my favorite Chap Stick. My friend Shannon and I were particularly glad we had bought new Nathan hydration packs for the occasion and we were all glad that we had either sunglasses or a hat on this very sunny day. You’ll also want to know where the race starts and ends so you can make arrangements for meeting up with family and friends. In our case, that was particularly helpful because we didn’t have cell coverage. At all.
I was able to bring my usual long-run items in my hydration pack, including bandages for a foot blister.

I was able to bring my usual long-run items in my hydration pack, including bandages for a foot blister.

  • Tip #4: Bring personal pacers. When I started talking about this trail race, I never imagined that two of my favorite running buddies would sign up to run it with me. It. Was. Awesome. While I know I would have finished by myself, having their company and experience (watch out for that tree stump, here’s how you run/walk through these logs) made the difference between a good experience and a fantastic one. If you don’t have running buddies who are willing to travel six hours to run a race with you, then make friends that morning.
With Shannon and Brandess, whose support was invaluable during my first trail race.

With Shannon and Brandess, whose support was invaluable during my first trail race.

  • Tip #5: Pay attention. The race organizers had very clear instructions both on the race website and in person just before the race about how the trail was marked (with blue flags to our right plus mile markers). There were a couple of spots where we didn’t see the blue flags for a while, but were relieved to see them clearly marking our directions. That said, we kept looking for those little flags because no one wants to get lost in the middle of nowhere, especially with no cell reception.

I hope these tips help you not only survive your first trail half-marathon race experience but make it the best it possibly can be. I certainly am hooked even more than I was before and have a lot more confidence as I look to doing my first trail 50K come September.

If you’re an experienced trail runner, please share your tips in the comments below. And if you’re a runner blogger who’s written about this before, feel free to share your link.

You know you’ve found your running tribe when you suggest you head out at 6:30 on a Saturday morning for a 14-mile run to avoid the heat and half a dozen women show up. Even more joined us later on the Lansing River Trail.

Team Playmakers at the Lansing River Trail rock.

Team Playmakers at the Lansing River Trail rock.

So continues our ultra marathon training, which has us ramping up mileage for the foreseeable future. I plugged in the mileage into my online calendar and am following it throughout the week, but not having a print-out on my fridge means that I don’t look ahead, so every weekend long run is a bit of a surprise.

In light of the day’s hot temperatures, here are some tips for running in the heat:

  1. Start early or go late. With the forecast including temperatures in the 80s, we settled on 6:30 a.m. With 14 miles on deck, however, it wasn’t nearly early enough. We may be meeting up even earlier in the coming weeks. Or go at 8 or 9 at night, when the temperatures are dropping again. Worst case, run on the ‘mill inside.
  2. Hydrate. Because we run with a formal team, we have water stations with Gatorade and ice water every two miles. But our trail runs have left me water-less with miles to go. I just ordered a Nathan water belt and can’t wait to try it out. Some runner friends stash water in hidden spots along their route; others plan to stop by their local convenience store.
  3. Dress appropriately. I have some really cute cotton tanks that I just love, but on days like today, it’s tech fabric from head to toe. The wicking properties make a huge difference in making me feel more comfortable. And I always wear my SmartWool socks to avoid blisters.
  4. Wear sunscreen. Yes, even those of us with dark skin should slather the stuff on. We’re already bound to get weird tan lines; no sense in also getting skin cancer in the process.
  5. Consider bug spray. Warmer temps also mean more bugs and in our case that means mosquitoes. In previous years, I’ve found individually wrapped Off towelettes. Still looking for them this season.
  6. Wear a hat or visor. Those of us with little hair should especially cover our heads (or remember to wear sunscreen), while the rest of us can benefit from a brimmed hat to avoid squinting eyes and burnt noses.
  7. Bring sunglasses. Once again, glasses can provide eye protection and prevent wrinkles. Plus, you’ll look better in your selfies when you’re not squinting into the sun.
  8. Fuel properly. No matter the temperature, your body still needs those calories, electrolytes and salt. Consider also using salt tablets. I just tried some today and couldn’t tell the difference, but I don’t know if I could have survived the hottest part of our run if I hadn’t been fueling and hydrating properly.

The weather here in Michigan is just going to keep getting hotter into July and August, so I’ll be sure to follow my own advice about running in the heat in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, here’s the week’s meal plan (and here’s how I make my meal plan in the first place.):

Did you do a long run today? What are your tips for running in the summer heat? If you’ve written about this topic, feel free to share a link to your post below.

Uff. I barely made it here today, but I chose to take my own advice and use a menu from a previous week.

Today was great, really.

Started out my day with my runner friends, including Jessi, who is also a Skirt Sports ambassador captain so we had to show off our duds.

Skirt power!

Skirt power!

I didn’t have a plan (bad idea), so I ended up running 11 miles with my Team Playmakers pace group, including a newer runner named Jen who was running her first 11 miler. My running mentors Janet and Brandess each helped us reach that goal, but I am beat.

Brandess, who coaches for Team P, was our entertainment at our first (and therefore also last) water station, featuring karaoke and some dance moves I hadn’t seen since 1997.

The always-cheerful Brandess.

The always-cheerful Brandess.

Janet kept Jen and I on task, reminding us to fuel, drink Gatorade and water, and chatting away to distract us. Some pearls of wisdom were handed down, I’m sure, but I was a bit delirious and the memories are vague. (Drama queen, much?)

The weather was great for a Saturday morning long run and Team Playmakers’ up-to-20-mile community run was well-attended with about 300 runners. I am very glad that I got to participate and that I didn’t have to run 20 miles today.

Lots of family stuff going on the rest of the day and I’m now settling down for the night (is it socially acceptable to go to bed at 8:30?), so here’s a menu I shared about a month ago, something I turn to when I don’t have a lot of time but also want to make sure I plan the week’s meals:

  • Burgers on the grill, baked fries, corn
  • Tacos, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, guacamole, salsa
  • Bowtie pasta, meat sauce, green salad, rolls
  • Enchiladas, shredded lettuce, tomatoes
  • Cranberry chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans

RECIPE (Source: www.workingmom.com):

6 boneless chicken breast halves

1 can (16 oz.) whole-berry cranberry sauce

1 large tart apple, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup raisins

1 tsp. curry powder

Optional: 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Place chicken in 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish coated with spray. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine other ingredients. Spoon over chicken. Bake uncovered, 20-25 minutes.

Did you do your long run today? What do you feed your familia on weeks when you don’t have time to plan ahead very well?

Spent the morning with my runner friends for what I thought would be a four- or five-mile run.

Our usual route is pretty flat with a few small hills, including a pedestrian bridge near Potter Park Zoo.

Our usual route is pretty flat with a few small hills, including a pedestrian bridge near Potter Park Zoo.

We, of course, went out that far, added another mile-and-a-half of hills at the local cemetery and ran back for about 9.5 miles total.

Did I mention there were hills?

Did I mention there were hills?

Thankfully, we also got to go down hills.

Thankfully, we also got to go down hills.

When we got back, my friends insisted on heading up the local sledding hill. Notice I’m not in the pictures I shot from afar.

Because they apparently had not done enough hill work.

Because they apparently had not done enough hill work.

In related news, I’m in search for new running friends.

Despite my best intentions, I’ve not napped yet today but instead am headed out soon to go clothes-shopping with my favorite 16-year-old. I may give her my credit card and take a nap in the car instead.

I did, however, plan out our meals for this coming week. And here’s how I make my meal plan in the first place.

How’s your training going? What’s your goal race? Do your friends “make” you run father than you had planned or rope you into hill work or is it just mine?

Had another productive week, logging the miles on my training plan and doing most of my cross training. I even used the foam roller and stretched. Yes, that big of a good doobie.

The trend continued this morning when my runner friends and I headed out for four, five, eight, 10 miles on a snowy, windy day with a 19-degree windchill.

Brr doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The sidewalks were mostly covered in ice, making the run even more fun.

There was a lot of ice on our run this morning.

There was a lot of ice on our run this morning.

We soldiered on through the Michigan State University campus and eventually reaching semi-plowed paved trails.

lachicaruns msu river

On the banks of the Red Cedar…

With our favorite statue.

With our favorite statue.

I should admit that we almost turned around at the two-mile mark but we were feeling pretty good and kept going. Good thing, too, because the schedule called for 10 and we did catch up to — and run with — some of our favorite Team Playmakers runners. The rest of the week is taper.

And this is why we went 10 miles today.

And this is why we went 10 miles today.

Now here I sit, still trying to thaw out but glad we got our long run in before next week’s Gazelle Girl Half Marathon. In the meantime, I’m trying to adopt this attitude:

different kinds of good weather

I did plan next week’s meals, so I have that going for me. If you’re new, here’s how I make my list.

  • Spanish rice (with tomatoes, green peppers and onions), garlic toast. Here’s a similar recipe.
  • Goulash, green salad. Here’s a similar recipe.
  • Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn
  • Pizza (yes, again)
  • Chicken fajitas (I thaw frozen chicken in a zip-top baggie with Zesty Italian dressing, grill it and cut it up for the fajitas. I also cut up onions with red and green peppers, wrap them up in foil and grill them. Serve with cheese, salsa, guacamole and tortillas.)

What’s on tap for next week? Have you tried any new recipes recently?