In the last month or two I’ve run 2 short distance trail races. One was outstanding and one was horrendous. The latter was just another reminder of the controllable aspects of competing that can make or break your day.
When the race is short the difference between 1st & 2nd can be a matter of seconds, so every detail must be dialled in.
Short distance trail racing is like getting to play in an outdoor natural obstacle course. Foot work, grit, guts, speed, strength & fitness all come into play. Instead of trying to occupy your mind to pass some time, you’re thinking as fast as your feet are moving. Reacting and planning all at the same time.
The climbs are challenging, trying to go fast but not completely gas. The descents are a test of trust with your feet. The trails are thin and steep, needing agility, balance, and fearlessness to keep your speed and not get passed.
Race 1 – 8km – 500 m elevation gain – 1st Female overall
Cap Crusher was an 8km trail race put on by Gary Robbins’ Coast Mountain Trail series and it was hands down the most fun I’ve had racing to date.
I was 100% ready and felt physically perfect, and I finally came in first in a race!
Race 2 – 5 Peaks Trail Race – 12km 450m elevation gain – 5th overall 2nd in age category.
Death. After the bad race I walked away shaking my head. This time I had no ‘rookie mistakes’ excuse. I was just not prepared properly.
Here are 5 lessons I learn again and again. They could be a game changer in your race.
1. Prepare your gear! Having the right equipment for the day is the simplest thing you can do to prepare so all of your focus can be on performance on race day.
After my first ironman experience when I was so underprepared for the weather, I had to take a garbage bag out of an aid station and wear it on the ride. You’d think I would have learned. The 12km race was a rainy and cold morning and the start line a few kms in from the parking lot. I looked around at the expensive gortex bags and jackets and then sadly down at my own system.
The lack of fancy bags and jackets doesn’t bother me too much, but the one thing I total blew was the shoes. It was a wet & muddy slippery race and I tried to run in regular running shoes. The worst part is I came across a perfect pair of trail shoes the day before but just decided I’d be fine. I was so wrong. I fell 3 times, was fully horizontal and landed rolling for each one.
2. Take care of your injuries. Sounds simple but we tend to ignore things we don’t want to deal with, and when the seconds count you’ll really wish you took the extra few minutes to take an ice bath or get IMS.
Sticking to a recovery program for nagging injuries seems to be the hardest part of competing for me. I think because doing that would require taking time off. I currently have this rib injury that is driving me nuts. The muscles are so tight around it and it keeps pulling my upper rib out of place. Andy felt it pop out and could stick his thumb in the gap because it was so far out. I didn’t think it would bother me for the race but as soon as I got running up hill and was breathing hard, in combination with the elevation gain, I couldn’t breath at all. Breathing apparently, is pretty important.
3. Take the time to stretch. This goes with #2. Training can take so much time and money. Stretching and rolling out your muscles is vital to making the training hours count.
I have a knot in my hip so tight that I couldn’t lift my leg properly and I’m sure this played a roll in my falls. Especially since all 3 falls were from my left foot hitting a rock or a root.
4. Nutrition. Your energy output is a direct result of the type of energy you put in.
I’ve known this from the time I was 10, but for some reason just chose to ignore it the day before the race. I had been on a really good no sugar kick and for some reason the day before the race I chose to end it. I came across one of those vegan gluten free cookies that pretend to look healthy but if you actually look at the ingredients the first ingredient is probably sugar. I took a bite and thought, well this will probably hurt tomorrow. It did. I was sluggish and sloppy and even more angry that I sacrificed any speed.
5. Once again note to self..do not do heavy squats within 10 days of racing! WHY does this keep happening? All I can say is squat as heavy as you can, and then go for a run a week later and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The common theme of these errors are that they are preventable. While physical mistakes are often inevitable, concentrating on the mental things, which you can control, will increase your chances of winning. More importantly, you can walk away knowing you did everything you could, win or lose.