Winner of this year’s gruelling Addo Elephant 100 mile (160 km) Trail Run, popular ultra-distance trail runner and NavWorld Ambassador, Naomi Brand, shares her top five trail running secrets. [Photos by:]

For me, ultra-distance trail running is all about feeling free in nature and pushing myself to be the best athlete I can possibly be. However, I’m one of the first to admit that trail running isn’t for the faint hearted; it requires mental strength, a self-reliant attitude, rigorous training and plenty of stamina. That said, here are my top five trail running secrets to help improve your run next time you decide to hit a trail and explore the wild.

1. What to eat and what not to eat?
In all of my years of running and competing, “What do I eat before and while I race?” is without a doubt the most common question I ever get asked. For me the answer is simple. Depending on how competitive you are, and how hard you push yourself during a race, you always have to keep in mind that racing invariably requires a lot more energy and physical effort than normal everyday training sessions do. However, you’re still using the same muscles as you did when training. The lunch you consume every day before afternoon runs, the energy drink you take in while you’re at the gym, the bar and banana you gobble up while running around in the mountains with your friends over the weekend – these are the nutrients your body is used to digesting and converting into enough energy and power for your body to perform.

So before a race (and even during), forget about excessive carbo loading if that’s not what you’re used to. Also, don’t take 5 energy gel packs if you normally don’t even take one when out on a proper long run. It might work and give you plenty of energy – but on the other hand, it might cause your blood sugar to dip, your stomach to get upset and in short, end or spoil your race. My advice: Only take what you would normally eat and what you’ve tried in the past while training. And for that extra bit of oomph you need to race your heart out – just eat a little more of that!

2. Training for a race
How you prepare for a race is up to you, and again depends on what your personal goals are when competing. If you’re serious about running, getting a coach to help you with a specific training program could be the best way to reach your goals. However, trail running is not just about developing speed and endurance – it’s also about being able to move over torturous terrain while staying safe, being aware of nature, as well as looking out for other runners who are sharing your journey.

I’ve found the following to be helpful when training for races: First, if you’re new to trail running, make sure you go off the beaten track once in a while and get used to the feeling of running on uneven terrain. Just running on a treadmill or the tar will never prepare you for narrow, rocky single tracks. Exchange one of your afternoon jogs for a few sets of stairs or hill repeats instead. Most trail runs require some form of climbing and descending, and by doing these you’ll learn how to pace yourself better when faced with a bad vertical climb or steep downhill track. Also train with friends and groups – sometimes with those who are faster than you, where you struggle to keep up.

Trail running it can be risky, especially when competing in ultra runs that carry on throughout the night. So getting used to running with someone that more-or-less runs at the same pace as you is always a good idea. That way you’ll cope better with the company in a race situation should it become necessary. You also need to cross-train to improve your core strength. Climbing, which is part and parcel of trail running, uses other muscles than when running on flat terrain. Swimming, cycling and fast packing will help improve the strength of these muscles.

3. A cure for cramping
Muscles tying themselves into a knot, followed by excruciating pain that often brings one to an immediate halt, is something all runners have struggled with at some point during a race. Fortunately, a lot of research has gone into this field, and there are some great products available on the shelves to prevent or alleviate cramping. Like with so many other aspects regarding one’s health – when it comes to cramping, prevention is always better than the cure. That’s because, once your muscles start cramping there’s often not much you can do about it, regardless of the tablets and fluids you have at your disposal. So instead of waiting for a cramp to strike during a race, I suggest the following: Start “filling up” your body’s electrolyte stores by drinking anti-cramp medication the evening before your race. Then dissolve an effervescent SlowMag tablet into the energy drink that you’ll be consuming while out running the trail, or drink a Magneset with breakfast.

4. Gear up to giddy up
These days most race organisers provide us with a list of compulsory items we have to carry while running their event: a hydration pack that holds a certain volume of water, a warm blanket, waterproof clothing and a cell phone with emergency numbers saved onto it, to mention a few. However, it’s often tempting to leave one or two things behind to lighten the load. But once you start thinking about everything that could possibly go wrong while you are out in the mountains or remote valleys (and rapidly changing weather conditions are only one concern) – it becomes blatantly obvious why carrying these items is not only compulsory but necessary.

Here are some of the things I personally find useful, although they’re not always on the compulsory list:

A spare set of batteries for your headlamp: You never know when your batteries (old or new) might fail, even if you checked them beforehand. I’ve watched some very frustrated runners having to follow on someone’s heels just because they couldn’t see.

Dettol wet wipes: They come in small packets, weigh next to nothing and can serve at least 3 purposes; toilet paper, cleaning sticky stuff off you (energy gels, powder, etc.) and cleaning wounds.

Rennies: These tablets do much more than just treat heartburn. They also contain magnesium like many other anti-cramp tablets but are chewable, cheap and each one comes sealed inside their own little individual sleeves.

The smallest pocket knife you can find: Granted, these have a bit of weight to them, but have you ever had a huge thorn stuck in your foot with 50km to go? Or had to fix your shoe with a plaster in the middle of nowhere without any scissors? Enough said.

5. Recovery
Aah…recovery. The part where we’ve given it our all and can now indulge in some guilt-free eating, drinking and enjoy the endorphin-rush brought on by having accomplished something we’re proud of. But if you’ve ever really given it your all before, you’ll know that completing a race goes hand in hand with a some very stiff, aching muscles. Recovery can be enhanced with both heat and cold treatments. A gentle massage (note: not a full physio session full of pain and crying) shortly after, or even during, your race will warm up your muscles and increase blood flow – which, in turn, brings in all the good cells that help repair sore muscles and remove the lactic acid build-up that causes all the stiffness.

Taking a hot bath infused with Epsom salts will also help speed things along nicely, as they contain magnesium which plays an important role in muscle repair. The same goes for soaking your legs in a bucket of ice water, a cold swimming pool, or even the Atlantic ocean. The cold makes your blood vessels constrict, and afterwards, when they dilate again, blood will rush back – bringing with it all the necessary cells and fluids to speed up the recovery process.

And finally, as much as we all love to put our feet up and get some shut-eye immediately after a race, never forget that MOVEMENT is often the best cure for stiffness. So get those legs of yours moving if you want to dump your lactic acid build-up and recover fast! – (c) 2017 NavWorld

About The Author

Naomi Brand

Farm girl, adventure seeker, artist and up-and-coming veterinary surgeon. Ultra trail runner Naomi Brand, 28, has been taking the competitive running world by storm with her proactive attitude and fighting spirit. When not stuck with her nose in books, she spends as much time as she can in nature doing what she loves best – trail running, saying: “Trail running has not only become an important priority in my life, but an integral part of my lifestyle.”

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