running in the summer

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.