Racing on trails has some unique differences to running on roads. Here are some tips on training and racing to help you reach your race goals!
Know what the trail is like: Do your homework on the race terrain or do some running on the race course if it is local. Are there a lot of hills? Is it on single-track trail or a wider trail? Is it on a smooth trail or are there a lot of rocks and roots? All of these aspects of the trail will impact how you train, your goal time, and your race strategy.
Make your training specific: This means, make your training match the race you are preparing for. At least once a week, try to do a training run on trails that match the terrain of the race.
Gear: Consider what gear you are going to use – hydration vest, handheld water bottles, a flip belt, etc. Two to four miles between aid stations during a road race may not be very far, but for a trail race, it could mean going 40-60 minutes without aid. Test out your hydration system before race day so you know what works for you.
Fuel: Since trail races take longer than road races, practice using a variety of calorie sources during your long runs to find what will fuel you best on race day. You want to avoid hitting a wall at the end of a race! This might mean that gels and other typical fueling products will not effectively fuel you for longer periods of time. Consider looking up what aid station foods will be offered and try those foods during your long runs.
Pacing: Whatever your road time was for the distance you are racing, expect to add at least 1-2 minutes per mile to your pace. Review your training trail-run paces before the race and make a realistic finish time goal so that you avoid going out too fast.
Shoes: If the trail is really rocky/rooty, consider using trail-specific shoes. Try them out during your trail training runs to find which trail shoes work best for you. If the trail is on smooth ground or a rail trail, you will be able to race just as well in your favorite road shoes.
Good luck and have fun!