Endurance races can be killer, they push you far outside your comfort zone taking you to the edge both physically and mentally. I’ve raced plenty of 5 Ks, half marathons and completed the NY Marathon. Now, I’m thrilled to say I completed a hiking marathon — with actually couple miles more too! The Trailblaze Challenge is one of many hiking races I’ve seen pop up over the past year or two and I’m thrilled about this new opportunity to push my limits. I had an incredible time training for and racing this 26+ mile race and I couldn’t recommend taking on a hiking marathon more!
Be sure to follow the below tips for successful preparation and race-day fun, and keep me posted on how your training and race go. You can do it!
Top 7 Tips for Hiking Races
1.) Build endurance and be prepared for different types of terrain
Train with hikes that build endurance through increased distance, similar to training plans for marathons. Start small and each week add a couple of miles to your long hike. You’ll also want to make sure that you are covering different types of terrain on your training hikes so you’re ready for anything on race day. Over your training months, seek out different trails that include steep climbs, long steady inclines, muddy and gravel paths to practice uneven ground and even scrambling. The increasing lengths and varied terrain will only help you on race day.
2.) Train in your race day gear
This is one of the most valuable pieces of advice: be sure to train in your race day gear, and don’t bring gear or tool you aren’t familiar with. You should feel very comfortable using your gear so that on race day, you can focus on the trail and keeping one foot in front of the other. This could mean breaking in trail runners; practicing with hiking poles; knowing how to quickly refill your Camelbak bladder and liking the feel of your athletic wear. I really fell in love with a lightweight sweat wiking long sleeve quarter zip and knew it would be on my body or in my pack on race day.
3.) Be Safe
Hiking races can contain large stints of time without cell phone service and possibly without interaction from other hikers or event staff. Given the remoteness, it’s very important to stay safe and alert. Be sure to remain on trail, use tracking apps (my favorites are Map my Run and Halfmile’s PCT, both free and work in airplane mode) and keep a paper copy of the trail with any trail notes.
4.) Stay hydrated and pack snacks with quick burning energy
Unlike half or full marathons where racers generally drink water and Gatorade or have a quick chew or goo to push you through, hiking races require lots more water and fuel. Be sure to hydrate and try to stay away from alcohol the two days prior to race day. Then on race day, keep your bladder full and have a side water bottle or thermos for coffee in the morning and if you want to use a hydration tablet later in the day (they never go in your bladder pack!). Snacks I loved were crunchy pb & banana sandwiches, apples, dried mango, jerkey and Honey Stinger organic energy chews.
5.) Keep a small first aid kit, hand sanitizer and zip loc baggies in your pack
Hiking races take hours. If you get stuck in between aid stations, or your race doesn’t feature them, you’ll want to be prepared with a small first aid kit. Addressing injuries isn’t the only thing you’ll do in the woods…be sure to pack out anything you bring and put trash and tissues in zip loc baggies to throw away at the end. Taking the motto of “leave no trace” to a whole new meaning, right?
6.) Have a mantra and a mission
People talk about hitting a wall or being in the pain cave… these are real problems on race day. We train and build mileage, but race day we push ourselves farther physically than we’ve ever been. Key techniques to overcoming a mental block are repeating an uplifting phrase or mantra and having a mission statement. It’s proven that mantras and uplifting phrases repeated to yourself during strenuous activity (and really all of life!) keep you positive, calm and focused. This is no different than on race day and is the perfect place to practice. A couple of my go-to’s are: One foot in front of the other! // This is what you came for! // PCT ain’t got nothing on me (this last one was especially helpful to me recently ;)).
Mission statements can also be hugely motivating. Are you raising money and awareness for charity? Taking on a new challenge? Proving to yourself you can keep going at 40? Find the why behind the race and keep your mind there. The mind often breaks before the body, and don’t let you stand in your way. You got this!
7.) Share your journey!
Bring a camera or Go-Pro and take as much footage as you can! Trust me, you’ll want to capture the awe-inspiring views, crazy tough terrain you push through and your grinning face at the finish line. Plus, you never know who you could motivate when you share your story.
Good luck, hikers!