Preparing for Your First Trail Race


So, you have taken the plunge and entered your first trail race… good job, you won’t regret it!

Now, let’s take a quiz on what you should do next!

A – should you be racing to an outdoor shop to buy an array of fancy trail running equipment?

B – should you be thinking about how to train for the event?

C – should you be considering your hydration and nutrition strategy for the event?

D – should you be investing in a new running wardrobe?!

E – all of the above?

In regards to your preparation logistics, a lot will depend upon the type of trail event, and the distance and terrain of the race. As it is your first trail race, let’s work on the assumption that it is not a multi-stage event, that it is not an ultramarathon distance, and that the terrain is not massively technical – i.e. you have probably entered a ‘standard’ Malaysian-based trail event ranging from 10-30km, within a jungle or forest location.

Here are some points for you to research and consider in order to maximize your preparation:


This is one of the most important topics to consider, and one that often gets overlooked.  It is vital to know what drinks and food are being offered during the race, and how they are served.

Some events require you to carry your own, but most provide water as a minimum, although it may be the case that you are required to have your own water container (cup-free events).  Most runners will wear a small rucksack that incorporates either a drinks bladder or bottle holders, but if you plan to race light, then be sure to know if drinks are provided or not.

Depending upon your ability level, and therefore how long the race will take you, be sure to consider if you need to carry any snacks.  Trail racing is a bit of an adventure, and it is always best to prepare for all eventualities!  Many seasoned trail runners will, therefore, carry salty snacks such as nuts or broken up chips, as well as energy bars and gels.

If you will be on your feet for more than 1 hour, then probably you need to think about taking some calories.  There are plenty of high quality running snacks out there; you just need to find the ones that work best for you and fit the needs of your upcoming event.


This is a big topic, and not easy to cover in a short article, but let’s look at the basics.  My advice to you, firstly, is to keep things simple for your first race and always be sure to use your equipment in training, before you race.

Rucksack Trail Vest – Most probably you will need some kind of small rucksack or trail vest.  The size (capacity) will depend upon how much you want or need to carry, and what items are stipulated by the organizer as mandatory.  Running with a rucksack or vest may not feel natural, so ensure to try before you race, and test where to store items so they don’t move about!

GPS watch – Nice to have, and a good safety net for navigation in case you get lost, but in trail racing you don’t need to worry about your paces, so you may actually use the watch less than you would in a road running event if it is a relatively simple/short trail race.  Most of us like to have a watch, however, as it is nice to have a record of our route and our performance data.  For longer trail distances, a good GPS watch will be essential.

Poles – If the terrain is particularly harsh, you may consider using walking poles.  These days these are available super lightweight and foldable so that you can store them in your bag when they are not being used.  For most Malaysian-based trail races, poles are not generally required.

Emergency Kit – Many trail race organizers will rightly insist that you carry some emergency items.  These may include a compass, mirror, blister kit, whistle, mobile phone, and possibly an emergency bivvy bag (basically a big plastic bag in which you can shelter).  You must respect the mandatory emergency items that are required for your event, which are for your own safety.


It is often easy to spot the ‘newbie trail runner’ as they are prone to be decked from head to toe in expensive compression gear! Don’t go mad getting a new wardrobe for your first race, but the following should be taken into account:

  • Invest in quality running socks to prevent blisters.
  • Ensure your t-shirt/vest is made from a quality quick-dry material.
  • Trail shoes are generally worth to buy, but I suggest you do it after your first trail race only, once you know you will do more trail racing. For the first race, just wear the most grippy running shoes that you have.
  • You don’t need calf guards, sleeves, visor, specialized sunglasses – save your money on these items until later in your trail running career!
  • Don’t forget to apply plenty of lubricant to any area of your body that may chafe. You will be on your feet for longer than road racing, and you will sweat much more.  Chafing is not pleasant, and you want to avoid it at all costs!


Often overlooked, it is of course very important to do some of your running training on the trails, so that you know what to expect when it comes to your trail event.  If you don’t have access to a trail, then no problem, just ensure to include plenty of hill work in your training.  If you can run on the trails, then practice running at different speeds, and pushing both the ascents and descents.  Be very careful with your footing at all times and run with a training partner if possible.

See you on the trails!

About the Author

Jeffrey Ross is Director and Co-founder (with Mark Williams) The Running Plan – – the Malaysian-based running experts.  Visit their website for more information on training plans for trail and road.

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