Nutritionally, it is important to make sure you fuel adequately for the time you will be running, not for the distance. Trail races can be significantly slower than road races. If possible, run the course before you race it. If you don’t have an opportunity to run it, look on-line for any course elevation profiles, photos, or descriptions that are available. Also look at race times from previous years to determine a realistic pace that you can expect to run. Race duration will determine whether a pre-race meal is sufficient to meet your energy needs, or if you need to bring something along for mid-race refueling. Refer to Debbie Perry’s article on pre-race nutrition for more details.
As for equipment, it’s important to be prepared for a variety of conditions. Just like any outdoor race, you should bring layered, synthetic clothing for hot or cold, wet or dry weather. Unlike the road or track, however, you also need to prepare for highly variable terrain. Trail conditions can deteriorate overnight with a sudden storm. Bring shoes for any scenario you can reasonably anticipate. Here in the Mountain West, trail racers or trail trainers are usually sufficient. But if you prefer a lighter, more flexible shoe, there’s nothing wrong with using a road trainer or even a road racing flat on the trails (ideally one with decent traction in the outsole). If you’re on grassy, soft trails like those typically found in the East or Pacific Northwest, it may even be appropriate to wear a cross country or track spike.
At last year’s USATF 10k Trail Championships in North Carolina, the course was rain-soaked and steep. There were sections of moss-slicked rocks and stretches of deep, spongy, forest soil. Not knowing what to expect, I brought track spikes, a pair of trail trainers, and a pair of road flats with a fairly aggressive tread for traction. I ruled out the spikes after seeing the rocky sections of the trail. I finally opted for the road flats over the trail shoes, giving up a little traction and support in exchange for a lighter shoe. The decision paid off, and I felt light and fast throughout the race.
Choosing the right shoe for you will depend on your personal preferences, your susceptibility to injury, and your particular race goals. Gather as much information as possible about the course before you race. To that end, there is no substitute for actually running the course, even if it’s on a pre-race warm-up. It’s never too late to make adjustments to equipment or strategy – until the gun goes off.
by Mike Spence – Elite Runner