by Martin J. Trout
That’s what we all want.
That perfect running day on the trail when everything goes right.
But what should that look like?
I interviewed a number of trail running friends on what a perfect running day was for them. The answers were fairly consistent and included such factors as
“Getting my pacing right from the beginning to the end”
“Totally enjoying the course and having a great time”
“Not having any physical problems such as stomach upset or blisters”
There were also some other less prosaic answers…
“Overtaking and arriving to the finish line before my friend”
“Not falling and face planting”
“Not puking my guts up”
It’s probably impossible to guarantee ourselves a perfect race day every time but we can certainly give ourselves a fighting chance by considering a number of important factors.
Personal Preferences And Fitness Levels
First of all it’s important to choose the correct race not only for our current state of fitness but also for our personal preference in terms of the length and altitude profile.
There are plenty of appointments in the Italian trail calendar so, if we’re not properly prepared it’s not a good idea to choose a long race with a daunting vertical profile such as the Lycony Trail in Morgex, Aosta Valley (70km, 5000m+) when we would be better suited to a rather gentler and more runnable race such as the Ultrabericus Trail in Vicenza, Veneto (65km, 2500m+).
Even shorter races, such as the 25km Esino Skyrace (that takes place in Lecco, Lombardy in May) can have high elevation gains – this race boasts 2000m D+
Preparation and training are obviously huge factors in making sure that our race day experience is positive.
As always training should be:
There is no point training like a maniac every day for a couple of weeks, taking a month off and then realising that race day is only a few weeks away. It is better to train just a few days a week but to do that consistently throughout the build up period to the race.
Beware Of ‘Good Habits’
Similarly training the same way every day for every week will work for a bit but then it won’t work anymore as the body gets used to the training stimulus.
What to look for in a training programme:
Different physiological abilities need to be alternatively stressed and varied, such as:
Why? This will allow us to develop a stronger and more race ready body.
Incorporate Specific Training
Do your research. Be sure to get in some specific training. For example if there are going to be a lot of long and steep hills get some uphill walk training, which we look at HERE, and downhill running done. Then the aforementioned Licony Trail should be plausible.
This or That? – Equipment
Choosing the right equipment for the job is a huge factor in having a good day. You don’t want to be hauling a 10kg bag with enough clothes to complete the Tor des Geants if you’re taking part in a spring race in the Apennines such as the Porte di Pietra, (71km 4000mD+) which takes place in low-ish altitude in Piedmont at max 1700m above sea level.
At the same time you certainly don’t want to get caught in shorts and a vest with only a windbreaker jacket if the weather turns nasty during a high altitude race such as the Dolomiti di Brenta Trail.
The Porta di Pietra 2013 in the Val Borbera, Piedmont – Race takes place in the Apennines and reaches max 1700m above sea level
Kit and Rules Check
Respecting the obligatory material requirements is absolutely vital but only you can judge what else you may need to take, but without overdoing it. If in doubt, read our guide to Italian-English vocab for mandatory equipment, which outlines the basics. And, believe me, it’s not an old wives tale – never use equipment, especially shoes, on race day, which you haven’t already used in training.
Dolomiti Brenta Trail, in the Dolomites – Spectacular surroundings require some restraint to keep us from exhausting ourselves on the trails in days leading up to race!
I know, Italian trail venues are mostly in awesome places and the temptation to go out for a run in the days leading up to the race can be irresistible. But we all know how important it is to taper for a race. You should have been gradually tapering over the last couple of weeks if the race is over 40-50km long. Arriving at the race destination and going out to explore that really cool looking mountain on the other side of the valley may seem a good idea at the time, but it won’t be looking so great come race day morning. By all means do some shake out runs but keep them short and sweet. You can do all your exploring after the race.
A Word About Trail Food
Honestly, in Italy it’s usually really good. It is not unusual to find all kinds of delicious hams, salamis, cheeses, breads, biscuits, cakes as well as fruit, nuts and chocolate adorning the aid station tables.
Unless you’re aiming for a spot on the podium I would advise you to taste some of the local delicacies. Take your time in the aid station, try to chat with and thank some of the volunteers, but don’t treat it as a moving feast. Your stomach won’t be thanking you on the next climb, and anyway there’s sure to be another aid station a little further down the trail.
Plus an even bigger one across the finish line!
Martin Trout is an all round Adventurer, an accomplished ultra runner, mountaineer, ski mountaineering instructor and trail running coach at Endurance Training in Progress. He’s been living in Italy since the 1990’s.