Tips for the Trail – Preparing for a Mystery Race – Xterra – 5-6-2011

By Rachel Cieslewicz

published in Xterra 5/6/2011

When it comes to trail run racing, we often don’t know what to expect. It is easy to ask a veteran of the race what it is like or perhaps the race organizers will enlighten you. In the case of XTERRA’s 5/10/20K Santa Cruz Trail Runs, nobody knows what’s out there.

This is a brand new venue and course, and XTERRA is giving only the slightest bit of information out. When race course details are a bit of a mystery, how does one prepare? First, find out what we do know.

XTERRA loves new adventure and surprises. They have shared thoughts on a bit of the terrain, along with some possible gifts from Mother Nature of wind and a wet beach portion. As for specific details, we racers will get to find out literally on the run!

The great thing about a new race and never having run a particular course is that the playing field is leveled in terms of course knowledge. From the sound of things, this race is going to feature some of the most gorgeous ocean views on the California map. Running near the ocean, although incredibly breathtaking, can present some obstacles.

The wind along the beach, to put it lightly, can be monstrous. If this card is played on race day, good form is a must. Think of running tall and working with the wind. If it is a head-wind, run tall and lean from the ankles to let gravity help you out. Take quick, short steps and think about your body slicing through the air. Mental toughness is important. If you decide it is fun and easy, it will be much easier than those with a negative mindset. For a tail-wind, stay especially strong in your core and allow your body to be fast. Simply put, run with it!

I’ve run and raced on many beaches. But this will be my first year to step foot on the beaches of Santa Cruz. Here is what I know about beaches in general. Running on a beach can be terribly draining. But with the right technique, there is really nothing to it. If the beach is soft and sandy, run close to where the ocean laps the shore, if possible. The ground will be more solid and you will have an easier time running. If that is not possible, the technique I use for loose sand is to take quick short steps and pretend I am doing agility drills. In sand, it is imperative that you not push off the ground. This will sink you. Instead, think of it like a short marching step, picking up the feet and pumping the arms low and fast to match the foot movement. Again, think tall to stay out of your hips and lean from the ankles.

If the beach terrain is rocky, you should already be in luck if you are a seasoned trail runner. Navigate the rocks as you would any trail obstacles. Again, focus on a short, fast gait to stay over your center of mass. This will be especially important if the rocks are wet and slippery. Look where you want to go and run with your core muscles engaged. Think of it as a light, fun game instead of a hard run.

One more thought about the beach portion. XTERRA hinted it may be high tide. If that is the case, think again of picking up the feet while navigating through the water as described above. Footwear choices will become important if your feet get soaked. Wear shoes that drain well. Do you tend to get hot spots in general? If so, a sock rubbing wet skin is not good. My solution to this is prevention. I either apply glide or an antiseptic ointment to my feet to reduce friction. I also will pre-tape parts of my foot vulnerable to blisters and wear a thin light sock. Practice what you will do beforehand so you know your feet will feel great with your solution. This way, any granules of sand in the shoe, etc., won’t become an unplanned pedicure session on the wrong parts of your feet.

Santa Cruz’s less-technical course will equate to very fast times. That is great news as we may even have the chance to notice the views. This is exciting for those who love personal records. PRs can be difficult to achieve on trails. Perhaps Santa Cruz will be the perfect course for this? Other than the beach and some bits of singletrack, it sounds like XTERRA has created the perfect course for flying.

This being all the information I have, my other advice on an unknown course is adaptability. Think of the race as an adventure. Be excited for any hills or technical sections. On the longer courses, go out easier than you think you need to. Pick it up a bit more after each mile. This way, if there is a tough part of the trail you will have plenty of energy to just go with it. A strong, fast finish is the best feeling ever. Especially as you pass by those who went out too fast and couldn’t hang on for the duration. Building throughout the race and flying through the finish line may become your perfect strategy for every future XTERRA event.