How to choose your first trail race

Whether you’re new to running, or simply moving across from running on the road, it can be a big step to enter your first trail race. It's easy to find out what trail races are on but to make it as rewarding and enjoyable an experience as possible, it’s worth taking your time to choose carefully. There are so many options available. With a wealth of information out there, use event websites, social media and your running contacts to find out as much as you can.

Choose your first trail race with care - make it one to remember!

Some key things to think about before you click on that ‘enter’ button are:

Distance

Distances take longer to cover when you are running off-road, so start with a shorter distance than can run on the road. Your pace is most likely to be slower on trails than tarmac and you’ll probably need to walk on uphills or more technical ground. For your first race, pick one that feels manageable to you.

Terrain

Find out all you can about the likely underfoot conditions in a race. Is it on smooth, easy-to-run paths or is the ground more technical? Will it be rocky, muddy or a combination of both? And how much ascent and descent are involved? For your first race, it’s probably best to stick to a less technical  course.

Technical terrain can add to the challenge

Navigation

Look into whether the route will be marked, partly marked or not marked at all. If it’s a self-navigating race, is there a route map provided? Do you have the map-reading skills to find your way, or would you be reliant on following other people? If you're not confident with a map, then choosing a marked course is probably the way to go.

A well-marked course can make navigation straightforward

Numbers

Find out how many entrants are usually in the race, as people can become very spread out off-road. It can sometimes be difficult to see other runners, especially in places like forests and on hilly terrain. If you like to be around other people as you run, choose an event with a larger entry list. If you prefer solitude, opt for one with limited numbers.

Company or solitude? You decide!

Location

Where is the start and the finish? Are they in a remote location or somewhere that’s easy to get to? If the race starts in one place and ends in another, how will you manage with transport?

Weather

What time of year is the race? Yes, in the UK we can get all sorts of weather at any time of year, but a race in winter is more likely to be cold and wet. For your first race, choosing a season where conditions are more likely to be favourable can be a good idea.

A winter trail race brings its own unique set of challenges

Kit

Do you have the right kit for the terrain? If the route is likely to be very muddy, do your shoes have the right kind of grip? If it's in a mountainous area, is your clothing warm and waterproof enough? Does the race organiser specify a list of compulsory kit to be carried? If so, do you have what is required and the means to carry it?

The grip on your shoes can make or break a race

Nutrition and hydration

Is the race long enough that you’ll need to eat and drink along the way? If so, find out what, if anything, is provided by the organisers, and where along the route it will be. If you need to carry your own provisions, think about both what you’d need to take and how you would carry it.

Whatever trail race you choose for your first, it's likely to be a memorable one. By taking some time to research and pick carefully, you stand a good chance of making it memorable for the right reasons. Before you know it, you'll be researching your off-road event number two...