I 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.