Race Day Prep: Bridle Trails Winter Trail Festival

Today I'm running my first race of 2011, a 10-mile trail race, part of the Bridle Trails Winter Trail Running Festival. Because it has an afternoon start of 3pm, I figured I'd use my morning to go over some of the preparation I normally do before most races. Got additional tips or suggestions? Add a comment below.

Course Research

Even if I've run the race or course before, I make it a practice to  review the elevation profile and course description before a race. A little visualization of how you'll manage the course, goes a long way. While valuable for a road race, this information is particularly essential for any trail running, triathlon or adventure race  so you know important details about transitions, landmarks and terrain. These details are often included on the race's website or in the race director's pre-race email. Read up and bring a printed copy to re-review just before the start.

  • Review elevation profile
  • Bring print of course director's email


The last thing you want to do before a race is to arrive at the start line with too little or too much clothing or the wrong gear. Gloveless hands can make your cyclocross race a excruciating experience on a cold and wet day. I quick look at the local weather and packing for the unexpected is important even if the sky looks clear.

My father gave me a great piece of advice he learned during his marathon days: Dress like it was 30° degrees warmer. This is because that's what it will likely feel like when you get into your stride.

While the sun looks bright in the sky today, the thermometer reads a chilly 38° I'm making sure I bring an extra thermal layer. Experience helps  with this this type of planning. I know I tend to run a little hotter than most runners. While my girlfriend is bringing running tights, I'll still be wearing Zoot 6'' running shorts with compression underwear built in. As soon as I start running my legs will warm up to the right temperature. For my top I'll pack a fleece for before the race and will pull it off at the start.

During the race I'll run with Nike synthetic running gloves, two long sleeve technical Brooks shirts and a Nike running cap. While not waterproof, the two layers on my top will provide enough insulation against the cold (once I start running) and won't weigh me down like a jacket would. On my feet I'll be wearing a pair of size 12 Brooks Cascadia 5 trail shoes.

  • Running cap
  • Light gloves (for short, low elevation races)
  • Two running long-sleeve shirts
  • Double-layer 6'' shorts (with compression underwear)
  • Wicking socks
  • Fleece top for before the race
  • Change of clothes for after the race


On longer runs or races and depending on the course (out and back vs. point to point), I may bring a hand-held bottle or a Nathan Hydration Vest. Because today I'll only be running a 5.2 mile course twice, I'll go without a bottle and will rely on the aid stations for water and maybe a energy goo.

On my wrist I'll wear my Garmin 310xt GPS watch. It will give me distance, pace, and timing information during the race. Data isn't for everyone, but I've found that it helps to keep me informed when and how hard I can push myself during the race.

I will also bring along a point-and-shoot camera for snapping photos before an after the race. These events--from a 30,000+ marathon to an intimate trail race-- are always amazing spectacles worthy of a photo.

  • Nathan Hydration Vest
  • Nathan Hand-Held
  • Digital Camera


My pre-race meal usually includes coffee (ok, ALWAYS includes), orange juice, a smoothie made with protein mix, milk, berries and yogurt and maybe some oatmeal or toast with spreadable cheese. I make sure I have this at least two hours before race time so my body can process it before I toe the start.

  • Oatmeal
  • Smoothie
  • Coffee
  • Toast


While I almost never compete with an MP3 player, having tunes for the drive to the race or for just before you head to the start can be a great motivator. No matter if you're inclined towards Journey or Lil Wayne, beats can get you in the mood to perform.

  • Headphones
  • Ipod Shuffle


What am I talking about here? Well, going to the bathroom. As far as race prep goes, this is one of the most important, particularly for early morning  events. Make sure you hit the john at least twice before the race. Don't count on having time or access to the toilet at the start or during the competition. Outside of forgetting your shoes before a race (or bike for a cycling event), this is probably the next most important thing to keep in mind.

  • Toilet paper (just in case the porta-potty is out)
  • Hand sanitizer bottle

I'm Not An Athlete

Fifth Grade Photo I played two, terrible seasons of little league when I was in 3rd and 4th grade. My position was left outfield (or "left out" as my teammates reminded me).

All the youth helmets were too small for my oversized head, so I had to borrow a coach's helmet before meekly trudging out to the plate. I failed to hit the ball even once during any of my  dozens of at-bats.

The only play I was ever involved in was when a ball was hit into the air, struck me in the head while I attempted to catch it, and bounced into the glove of my teammate. See, I told you. I was just terrible.

Despite the bribe of a post-game soda with the team, I told my parents at the ripe old age of 10 that my career in baseball was over.

"I guess I'm just not an athlete" I thought.

And with that, I said farewell to the dream of gracing the front of a Wheaties box. Sports were just not for me.

It took me almost 15 years to realize that I was actually wrong about this.

Nope, I didn't start playing Little League as a guy in my 20s. What I realized was that we are all good at some type of sport or activity. I WAS an athlete, I just needed to find the right sport.

I first stumbled upon this realization when I took up weight lifting in my mid-20s and became pretty good at it. Later when I was introduced to hiking, and found I could trek for miles, my sore ego from playing "left out" didn't hurt so much. Now as a runner, I am a fully-converted evangelist for this philosophy.

Every person has a sport or activity that they can excel at. You just need to find it!

Grand Ridge Solstice Race

So, the kid  who never hit a single pitch in little league (me), just ran his second trail race yesterday, the 10 mile Grand Ridge Solstice Race organized by 4th Dimension Racing.

I took the race on a day's notice, and my body was still recovering from a fast and hard 6.3 mile run from the night before. Despite this, I put one foot in front of the other and pushed through 2,000+ ft of elevation gain.

To my surprise, I not only finished the race, but captured 5th out of 28 runners! This is the first time I've ever finished a race near the top! Despite the mud and tough descents, I felt amazing at the end of the race!

While I may live my whole without hitting a pitch thrown in baseball, I'm ok with that. I'll just keep running around in the woods, smiling and having fun.

As the familiar bumper sticker reads "Real athletes run, others just play games". For me, that sounds great.