Trail Event Etiquette 101

Written by Mark VanTongeren
Mark VanTongeren owns Michigan Adventure Racing and puts on the Hurt the Dirt and
Dirty Duel trail races in Grand Rapids. His German Shorthaired Pointer gets him out the door every day for a run or hike.

So, you're ready to run your first trail event? Read the tips below on how to best
prep before a trail event, what to expect during, and how to recovery properly after.

Pre-Trail Event Prep

  • Time Expectations: Set low expectations for your time. Trail running requires a lot more effort. Enjoy the experience. Establish PRs for a certain trail, not a certain distance.
  • Find your Pace: Passing is more challenging, right away you should get into the correct wave or group of runners going at your pace.
  • Dress Rehearsal: Pick a short, local trail race for your first one so you can practice on the course in advance and know what to expect.
  • Accountability: Bring a friend, ideally one who runs at your pace and share the experience with them.

 Key Tips:

  • Footing will obviously be more challenging in a trail race. Practice picking up your feet a bit more than usually; develop a slight spring in your step. If you trip, roll onto your shoulder to avoid a wrist injury.
  • Keep your arms a little wider for balance and pump them more on hills and over obstacles.
  • Keep your eye a little more on the ground and in front of you so you can prepare for how you will negotiate obstacles. Soak in the scenery when the trail smooths out.
  • For your first trail race, it’s not necessary to go out and buy a new trail running shoe. A road shoe will work fine as long as it’s stable and comfortable. Over time, as you do more trail running, consider a trail-specific shoe which should have a lower profile for stability and a more aggressive or “knobby” tread for grip, along with some other minor enhancements.

During Event:

  • Speak Up: Passing another runner will be more challenging. You may need to be patience and pick a spot that allows for an easier pass with a short burst of speed. Call out when you’d like to pass someone. Either announce your passing with “On your left/right” or if the trail is really narrow, ask them if you can pass when there’s room so that they can move over slightly to one side of the trail to allow you to get by.
  • Personal Space: Give the runner ahead of you about 6 feet. This should be easy now that we are all social distancing experts! That way if they have to slow suddenly, you won’t run into them. And it just feels better to have some space behind and before you.
  • No Tunes: Ideally, leave your music at home so you can really hear others, especially if they wish to pass but for safety as well. Most runners have a better overall experience when they can fully immerse themselves on a trail, listening to nature and chatting now and then with other runners.


Post-Trail Event:

  • Recover Longer: Trail running is more of a full body workout so a longer recovery may be needed. It will likely affect more parts of your body. Incorporate balance and strength exercises into your training; focus on your core.
  • Manage your Runner's High: If you decide you want to do a lot more trail running, ease into it. Once your body gets used to trails, you’ll find that the more forgiving and varied terrain very likely will reduce chronic injuries.