So there I was, in Belgium, the day before the Houffa Trail. I opened my suitcase to put all my clothes on the bed for the next day’s race. All my clothes? No, because I forgot my socks and my running poles. Okay, socks are not such a problem. I can wear my normal socks or even run without socks. But where to get a pair of running poles late at night? To help you prevent making the same mistake, here is a Trail Running Checklist.
MONTHS BEFORE YOUR TRAIL RUN
Register for your trail run
Sign up for the race. This may sound stupid, but for some races you have to register months in advance, because they sell out quickly, like Zegama Aizkorri, or you even have to qualify, like the UTMB.
Adjust your training schedule
Adjust/create your training schedule, and start your specific training. You probably don’t run a marathon or ultra run every week. So if you decide to do one, you need time to prepare. Make sure you give yourself that time. Also, think about the altitude. How much climbing will there be and how much are you used to climbing? Do you need additional training?
The next thing on the checklist is accommodation. Lots of Trail runs are in small places, which means limited accommodation. If you do a race far away, make sure to book your accommodation in advance, so on the big day you don’t have to worry about travelling. Or at least, not long distance travelling. For some races you might even want to acclimatize or get familiar with the terrain. I’ve run in the heath in the Dolomites in Italy and in the bog in Scotland. I neither have mountains around me nor bog
How will you go to the race? If it is a local one, can you carpool? Parking spaces are often limited, and the more we carpool, the better it is for the environment. Or do you have to fly? Book a place on a ferry or train? The closer you get to the race, the more you want to focus on the race, so it’s better to get transport out of the way in advance.
What gear will you use during your race? What will the weather be? Is there any mandatory gear? Especially on long trail races you often have to have an emergency blanket, a rainproof jacket, rainproof trousers and a whistle. Make a checklist of the mandatory gear and shop for it.
You don’t have to do this months before a race, but the sooner you do it, the sooner you can test your gear. My running poles are, for example, something I had to get used to. How to fold them open, how to get them into my running vest and out again.
What and how much will you eat and drink during the race? Organizers often offer food during the race. Yet running and digesting are two things that don’t go together for everybody. It might be better to stick to your own energy bars and gels. So try some brands on your training runs and see which one suits you.
If you want to rely on the food provided by the organisation, ask them which brands they will use. Buy some of those products and see if you can digest it during your training runs.
Do you need a crew? On some of the ultras there are checkpoints where you can have a crew member to give you some dry clothes, a fresh pair of socks or just some uplifting words.
If you run a (half) marathon, you might want to have somebody handing you a sports drink, if this is allowed. If you’re very nervous about a race, share this checklist with a crew member. She or he can be in charge of making sure you pack all your gear, including your drinks and food.
Check the rules of the race. Every race has its own set of rules. Some allow for help from the outside, like a pacer, others don’t. Some allow you to run with running poles, others don’t. In some races you have to get a stamp at the checkpoints, while at others you can just cross a checkpoint without doing anything.
Are there any cutoff times you have to keep in mind? If so, can you make them? If not, how do you get back to the start? Also be sure when and how to get your bib number.
TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE RACE
Your performance will improve up to 3 percent if you taper the last 2 weeks before a race. The amount of runs you do and the intensity should stay the same. However, you should bring the amount of kilometers you run down by 40 to 60 percent.
It’s best to always eat healthy, but sometimes life gets in the way. We’re busy and grab something quick. That’s okay, but in the last two weeks before the race you want to make sure you’re eating healthy again. Enough protein, and maybe some extra carbohydrates. Also, make sure to drink enough water so you’re hydrated before the race.
THE WEEK BEFORE THE RACE
Is there a gpx available? If so, make sure to download it and send it to your running watch, if that has the option. If you run with a GPS, you can import it there.
Even if the whole trail run is marked, it can be handy to have the route on your watch. I have run several races in which my watch saved me when I was in doubt, and after which lots of other runners complained about missing turn offs.
Check the weather. Will there be rain or sun? Do you need to bring sunscreen? Extra water? A hat?
News and traffic
Check the news. Will there be a strike? Are there any roadworks planned on the day of the race?
Make a checklist of all the gear you want to bring and check if your gear is still in perfect condition. This is also the moment to do laundry, so everything you want to bring, is clean.
THE DAY BEFORE THE RACE
I often make a checklist for the day of the race with all the times on it; counting backwards: time of the start, time to pick up my bib number, time I want to be at the race, time I have to leave home, time I have to have breakfast and the time I have to wake up.
Have your car fueled and ready
If you go by car, get petrol so you don’t have to stop halfway. If you have an electric car, make sure it’s charged and check if you have to stop to charge on the way. If so, where are the charging points? And is there one close to the start?
Make sure your phone, watch and headphones are charged. And, if needed, a power-bank and GPS.
Layout all your gear, the way you’re planning to wear it. So hat/bandanna on above, your shirts under it, trail run vest on top of that, shorts/thighs below your vest and your socks, shoes below that. To the side your running poles and gloves. Think of all the layers you want to wear, and place them visible on top of each other. Place also your waterproof jacket and pants next to them.
By making your gear visible, the way you will wear it, you can see if something is missing. I used to do this and the one time I didn’t, the day I left home for the Houffa Trail, I forgot something.
Part of your gear is also what you want to wear and need after the race. A towel to dry off, a dry shirt, a dry pair of pants, socks and shoes. Maybe a beanie. I often drive home wearing my slippers. They are so nice and comfortable, after bouncing around on my trail run shoes for a couple of hours.
Place your gels, water flasks or camel bag, cup (you need one for most races), and other foods and drinks you want to bring, next to your clothes, so you can directly see if you have everything. Also think about the energy bar of gel you want to take just before the race.
If you have to travel a couple of hours on race day, make sure you have something to drink and eat with you en route.
If you’ve gone over your checklist and you have everything, it’s time to pack. I prefer to put the clothes I wear after the race in a separate bag.
If I have to travel for a race, all my race gear is in one bag and my other clothes and toiletries are in another back. That can even be just some plastic bags in my suitcase. If you travel by plane, wear your running shoes. You can always get a pair of shorts or a shirt, but you don’t want to buy new shoes at the last moment. And if you’re like me, size 48, often you can’t buy shoes at the last moment.
If you don’t have to travel, you can decide to go to the race in your race gear, or at least in part of it. I generally wear everything, except my top layer, trail run vest and shoes.
Check the weather one more time, and make any last adjustments to your gear and nutrition if needed. In summer you might want to have more water with you, in winter more energy bars, as you will use energy to stay warm.
If you start out in the rain, but it will dry up, you can bring a dry pair of socks with you. Lots of sun? Sunscreen, sun glasses, a bandanna.
Last chance for a good meal, however keep your race in mind. If you have an early start, maybe you don’t want to eat too heavy in the evening. On race day I only eat a light snack in the evening. I don’t digest very fast and I prefer to empty my bowels at home.
Double check your alarm before you go to bed.
Everybody races on her/his own preferred type of food. I like to run on pancakes with peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles. Depending on the start of the race you still have one or more meals to go. Keep it light.
Leave in time
Plan for the unexpected. Better be at the start too early than having to rush. The longer the journey the bigger the margin you want to have. Traffic is always unexpected.
Picking up your bib number and – if needed – dropping off your bag might take time, depending on how busy it is. Plus: there are never enough toilets for the amount of runners that want to go last minute.
Last but not least, enjoy your race, no matter how it goes.