Five essential tips for trail and obstacle racing success


If you’re taking on a trail or obstacle race for the first time this winter then you’re in for a real treat!  Whether you’re daunted by the thought of what’s to come or excited by the prospect of getting down and dirty, you’re sure to have a big smile across your face when you finish and an even bigger one when you’re relaying your accomplishment to your friends later in the day.

To help you have as much fun as possible on the day, here are our top five tips for a successful race.




1.  Research your race

Every race is different and the key to enjoying your day is to make sure you know what you’ve signed up for.  There are many variables that can ruin your race, including:  getting lost on the way there, not allowing time for registration, missing the start, finding the race is longer than you trained for,  unexpected water or obstacles and terrain or hills that you hadn’t planned for. So make sure to do some research before race day and plan:

  • How to get there
  • What time to be there, allowing enough time to park, register and sort your kit out
  • What to wear, both during the race and afterwards (remember to take dry warm clothes to change into)   
  • Your race strategy (see other points below)

2.  Get the right shoes

The great thing about running is you need very little kit and most of it can be purchased for very reasonable prices.  However, one item you may want to splash out on is a decent pair of running shoes.  For trail and obstacle racing you will want something a bit different to your road shoes, as road shoes and mud lead to lots of falls and a greatly increased chance of injury.  There is a lot of choice out there and the right shoes for you will be a combination of the event you’re running in, running style, personal preference and price.  Luckily, most decent running shops have very knowledgeable staff who will be glad to help find the right shoe for you.  Tell them what you’re planning and they will advise you on suitable options, let you try them on, jog around and maybe even analyse your gait.

3.  Training, training, training

You’ve done your research, you’ve got your shoes, now it’s time to do the hard work.  There’s no getting away from it, if you want to run this race you’re going to have to train for it!  That may seem like an obvious statement, but many times have I seen people turn up for a race with the assumption that their baseline fitness will get them to the finish line.  Wrong.  Well, maybe it will, but it won’t be pretty!  If you’re already fit then that’s a great advantage, but you will still need to train specifically for your race.  If your race is hilly then you need to incorporate hills into your training – and make sure you practice running DOWN hills as well as up.  If it’s an obstacle race then you need to research the obstacles then make sure you train the muscles you’re going to be using and practice the techniques as much as possible.  People may stare when you’re commando crawling across your local park or swinging from the monkey bars in the kids playground, but come race day it will be worth it.   

4.  Plan your nutrition

There’s no need to use any high-tech or expensive supplements to fuel you through your race, you simply need to make sure you are hydrated and your carbohydrate stores are full.  Both of these should be addressed the day before the race by eating well and making sure you drink water regularly throughout the day to stay hydrated. 

On the morning of your race eat a simple breakfast consisting of complex carbohydrates, drink some water and maybe have a sugary snack before the race for some quick release energy.  Don't make the common mistake of drinking litres of water or energy drink on the morning of the race.  It won't hydrate you and will only make you pee like a race horse after the first mile!   

Your body can store enough carbohydrate to fuel the first 60 to 90 minutes of the race, so if you expect to take longer than this,  either carry something with you or bring a friend to spectate and hand you your choice of fuel at the half way point.  You can use energy gels, but make sure you have used them in training as they may disagree with your stomach and race day is not the time to find out!  Equally as good (and much more tasty) are sweets such as Jelly Babies or Haribo.   

5.  Know your place

This is important in any race, but especially so in trail and obstacle racing.  You’re going to be running down single tracks with no overtaking opportunity, into bottlenecks created by obstacles and over rough terrain that you won’t be able to see due to the forest of legs that surround you.  So before race day you need to decide where your place is and by that, I mean where in the pack you are most comfortable running.

There are a few factors to think about here:

i.      Your general pace throughout the race.

You don’t want to be held up by slower runners in front of you, but neither do you want faster runners breathing down your neck and trying to push past.  Be realistic. If you’re a racing snake, make sure you start towards the front and get some clear track in front of you.  If you’re on the slow side, start further back and let the crowds race off in front of you – you’ll probably find yourself overtaking some of them later in the race anyway because they didn’t get their pacing right, which will only serve to boost your moral as you whiz past them.

ii.      Are you a tortoise or a hare?

Some people finish a race at the same pace they start, maintaining an even rhythm throughout.  Others start slow and gradually build up speed as they warm up and get into the race.  A few can start hot to find some clear trail and then pull back into a steady pace - warning, do not try this for the first time on race day or it will be the longest race you ever do!  The key tip here is to know what works for you and stick to it.  It’s easy to get caught up in the adrenaline rush at the start of a race and go out too fast, but it’s much better to start slow and build up than go out fast and burn out before your race has even begun.

iii.      Confidence

With any trail or obstacle race you will be taking on more than just the distance.  Even a basic trail race can include steep muddy banks, slippery corners and loose surface slopes, not to mention fences, low hanging branches and tree roots.  Use your research of the race and assess how comfortable you will be taking on the various obstacles and changes in terrain.  If you’re going to be happier being able to see the ground and having some space around you or taking on the obstacles without someone trying to climb over the top of you, then give yourself some space.

If you'd like help to train for a race, please contact us to see how we can help you.

Whichever race you enter, just be sure to enjoy it and have fun.  Good luck and happy running!