When you go from trail running rookie to full-blown trail runner over 4 short months, the learning curve is as steep as your first mountain! Simone discovers a new level of exhaustion, some trail wisdom, and most importantly, a new weekend activity to sink her teeth into.
My interest in trail running was piqued by a mountaineering guide who shared her experience of the UTA100 with our tour group. Her description of the event immediately made me think “Yeah I reckon I could do half of that. That sounds like fun.”
A few months later I stumbled across the Australian Alpine Ascent 50k, a trail race that takes you along the main range trail to the summit of Mount Kosciusko and loops back through Charlotte’s Pass village. Keen as a bean I signed up immediately and started training a mere 4 months before the event. Those months were jam-packed with mistakes, blisters and sore calves. Here are a few rookie mistakes I made and learnt from.
1. Train Consistently & Often
Ease into the distance, all your training doesn’t have to be on the trails. Swimming laps helps overworked muscles relax and takes the strain off your joints. Don’t forget you can train in the gym as well. Use the treadmill sparsely (if at all) and balance weight training with bike or cross trainer cardio workouts.
Find the line of pushing your body but not overdoing it. It will only do more damage if you try to run through an injury.
2. Feet First
Starting from the ground up, your feet are arguably the most important part so you’ve got to look after them, but it can be truly overwhelming the amount of information covering the “right” footwear.
Many articles ask you to take into consideration your stride (which part of your foot strikes the ground first), the amount of ascent/descent of the trail and of course terrain. This is frustrating for a beginner (why can’t you just tell me what shoe is right for me Internet?!).
What I’ve learnt is this: you’ll need toe room, around 1 finger’s width space from the tip of your biggest toe to the front of the toe box, you should be able to wiggle your toes without restrictions, waterproof lining is a no go, it overheats your feet quicker than popping them in an oven. Research, research, research. Try on different pairs in the late afternoon when your feet are at their most swollen (and smelliest). Look for an aggressive tread, breathability, comfort and of course, snazzy colours (you have to be fashion forward after all).
3. Invest In The Right Gear (For You)
When you first start running trails you’ll have advice coming left, right and centre. Just keep your kit simple and light. You may need to invest some coin into the big essentials like shoes, rainwear and a hydration pack or vest but don’t get sucked in by all the gear and gadgets.
Research the trail and environment first, adjust your kit accordingly and find what works for you. The key pieces that should always stay in your bag are; compression bandage, blister pack, spare socks, head torch, water filtration tablets, electrolytes, spare snack, extra layer (merino top or hoodie) and waterproof jacket and/or pants. Remember your kit will be with as your kilometres stack up and will be unique to you, so customise as you see fit.
4. Hydration And Nutrition
You can’t expect your car to run on an empty tank and your body is no different. Food is fuel and is sometimes the only motivation to keep going to the next aid station, especially when you hear they have your favourite nibbles waiting for you.
Nutrition for every runner is always going to be different, but what is always a staple in every runner’s lunch box is fruit, bananas especially. They’re packed full of nutrients and good quality natural energy to keep you going. Another staple that I always pack is muesli bars and vegemite sandwiches which give me a sugar boost and replace some of the salt lost through sweating profusely. On day-long stints a chocolate or 2 does find its way into my pack ’cause hey, a girl’s gotta have a treat.
As for water, sip frequently along the trail and if you find you’re getting thirsty you’ve waited too long. Don’t gulp it down like Bob Hawke does beers, you’ll more than likely make yourself sick.
Pack a separate bottle of electrolytes (the brand Tail Wind has plenty of flavours to choose from and is gentle on your stomach). These will replace electrolytes and give you the boost you sometimes need to keep powering on to the end. It might be best to leave the sports gels to the professionals as they are overly sweet and don’t settle well in the stomach.
5. Enjoy Yourself
Trail running isn’t a me versus them sport. For most it’s a great way to get out and enjoy what nature showcases, for others it clears the mind and is a great weekend activity. You don’t have to run 50+kms every week to be considered a trail runner, you just have to run on trails. Simple as that. Joining a club or simply lacing up your favourite runners and taking them off-road can be all it takes for you to fall in love with this sport. We are so blessed here in Australia to have some of the most beautiful national parks available to us, so come and join us on the trails.
I’d just like to take this time to say a special thank you to everyone who is a part of the trail running community. From the volunteers, to the event organisers, the spectators, photographers and fellow runners, you’ve all made myself and other trail running rookies feel more than welcome in the running community. Thank you very much and I hope to see you all on the trails soon.
Photography by Chris Ord