Trail running is a unique experience. Some absolutely love it and others see it as a trip through hell. It’s not always easy, in fact it rarely is but the rewards are great and plentiful. The landscapes, the challenges, the views, the isolation, the danger, the friendships and the comradeship. The experiences you walk away with can be truly magnificent and memorable but it can also turn into a nightmare. Very quickly, even life threatening ... but there are steps you can take to prepare for the worst and to make sure that the memories are great ones.
We have compiled a list of our favourite tips gathered from experienced trail runners as well as our own experiences. A must read for those wanting to progress to trails and an insightful read for those already donning the trail shoes.
Pack your kit with more water than you think you need. You never want to run out of water, ever. Plus you tend to get thirstier the less you have so always carry extra. You may also come across an injured or lost runner/walker who may be out of their own water or somebody in your group may begin to show signs of dehydration.
Whilst packing your kit, think about your nutrition. If you have to spend a night out in the bush you will need it. A few extra gels and energy bars will take up hardly any space in your kit and will keep you going if you need it later.
Think about a jacket and emergency blanket. It might be a hot day but consider what the temperature will be at night time. You might even be wet from rain or a water crossing gone wrong. A rolled up rain jacket is a great investment.
A first aid kit, even a simple one, is a must. In its very basic form, you will need bandaids, a basic bandage, gauze and at least one snake bandage, three is preferred. A sharpie is also a good addition for snake bites. Its good practice to write the time of the bite on the bandaged wound for the paramedics as confusion can be a symptom of the venom.
Speaking of snakes, always look out for them. We subscribe to the notion that every stick is a snake until proven otherwise. A popular practice in the trail community.
Pack a small bottle of sunscreen with you. It will be useful if you’re out there for longer than planned.
Insect repellent is a luxury for some and a must-have for others. Consider packing a small bottle in your kit.
This will sound obvious but tell somebody where you’re going and the approximate time you’ll be home. This is the best backup you will have if everything else fails.
Pack a headlamp with extra batteries. If you have a chargeable headlamp a spare battery operated one or battery bank is a great addition to your kit.
In the event you get disoriented and lost, stay where you are. Moving around will tire you out and you’ll end up wasting your resources. It will be tempting to move around and try to find your own way out but you might be making it a lot harder for authorities or others to find you. That said, taking note of key landmarks along the way may help you navigate your way back to certain areas if it is safe to do so.
Pack a whistle. It’s such a cheap and powerful asset and takes up pretty much no space. You can even hang it on your hydration pack or wear it around your neck.
Apps are great. There are plenty of good emergency apps around such as Emergency+ which uses the coordinates from your phone and relays them to the 000 responders. You could also use a running app with mapping which makes it easy for people to find you. Real life example: One of our friends used Strava and Facebook when he rolled his ankle. He stopped his watch and uploaded his run onto Strava and then posted his location on Facebook for his friends to follow if he needed them. Whichever method you use, make sure you’re familiar with it before you set out. Also, keep in mind that although technology is great it relies on your phone having service so always prepare to have a backup plan. Even in areas with service you may lose it in low areas such as valleys, gorges and gullies. In that scenario you may need to find higher ground.
It’s a good idea to check for bush fires in the area or for locations of proposed burns. You can find this information on the DFES website, emergency.wa.gov.au page or the Parks and Wildlife prescribed burning page.
Trail running can have very technical terrain. Always watch the ground in front of you. Often trips are caused by the little things. Hidden rocks, roots and so forth. Expect the unexpected. Tripping pretty much happens to everyone at some point so staying vigilant is of utmost importance. That said, take in your surroundings. The chances are you’ll be in a beautiful place and runners love photos. Enjoy where you are and the scenery around you.
The terrain on trails is rarely flat. You will encounter undulations and steep hills. Adjust your effort accordingly. You may choose to walk up the hills and allow gravity to pull you down saving energy. There are no rules here. Walk when you like and run when you can.
If you choose to listen to music, be aware of people around you. Fellow runners usually will pass you on your right but the terrain may not always allow for this. You may also miss hearing a call for help. Ear plugs that still allow for external sounds to be heard are a good option.
So those are our favourite tips to help prepare you and keep you safe whilst enjoying the experience of trail running. Although we hope that you never find yourself in any trouble, keep in mind that conditions out in the bush can change rather quickly, particularly with unexpected injury. Be prepared to have a lot of fun, but also be prepared for the unexpected.
It’s fun, it’s addictive and it’s a great way to get and stay fit. You don’t have to be a champion athlete or an Olympic sprinter. That’s the awesome thing about trail running, anyone can do it. It’s open to every fitness level. The trail community is always growing and depending on where and when you go, the chances are you’ll find other trail runners out along the way who are always up for a chat. Don’t want to go out alone? Join a local running group and jump in. Look out for trail events in your area too. Those are great places to meet new people who have the same mindset.
Get out there, stay safe and look out for each other. Happy running!
Full Photography credit goes to talented Runnovator & Ultra Marathoner Mel Reber who kindly provided these beautiful photographs for this article. You can follow her awesome running adventures on Instagram - @mel_runner.n.trail.love