Tips to conquer your first race fears

As you'll well know, your first trail event (of any length) can be an intimidating prospect. Or maybe you're stepping up to a new unknown distance and you don't know if you'll be able to manage it. The unknown can be scary. Often, it is so off-putting that you might decide not to try, for fear of failing. TRAIL sought out 18 trail running experts to help you overcome your challenge and your fears. On analysis, their advice has many common elements. This shared knowledge indicates that you are best advised to divide your approach into several stages.

Lizzy Strauss gives tips in Trail 13 photo Govan Basson

Let yourself go

Just enter your first race and go for it! Take your time, forget your pace, and enjoy the scenery. Then train a little more to make the next one easier. The more you enjoy the trails, the faster you’ll conquer them. Nicolette Griffioen South African Ultra Trail and Long Distance Trail champion

Train on the terrain

You need to do lot of long runs to be able to run the distance. Spend some time on the mountains to get used to the terrain, this is vital. There’s no short-cut for any race longer than two hours. Thabang Madiba Four Peaks Mountain Challenge record holder, international racer

Determine the profile

Some trail runs are fast and the technical sections are short and sweet. Other trail runs can include mammoth climbs and technical descents. Iain and I find that trail runs should always be looked at in terms of finishing times (rather than distance) as this gives you a more accurate idea of the fitness you need. Su Don-Wauchope Mountain runner with Giant’s Cup Trail, Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge, and many other wins

Grey for guidance

It’s a mind game to go long distance. You need to control your body via your mind: the longer the distance the more the mind matters. Victor TheHunter Gugushe Southern Cross stage race winner

Hold back

Be prepared for the route challenges in the late kilometres, as that is where enormous time gains and losses occur. Hold back a bit in the first hour, and have a strict, regular fuelling plan to ensure that you’re not running on empty later on – try for 200 calories per hour. (That’s the equivalent of a cup of rice.) Relax, enjoy the scenery and the company of the other runners! Andrew Hagen Platteklip Gorge Descent record holder, and three time winner of Three Peaks Challenge


Slowly condition your body over a considerable time period to avoid overuse and other injuries. Make sure that you train on similar terrain as the race you are planning to run. Landie Greyling Winner of Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km and 65km, as many other races around SA, international racer

This is just a fraction of the wisdom offered by only a third of our experts, so get your copy of TRAIL magazine issue 13 for more!

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