Becoming a dirt kid

In many ways, I’m lucky to be in a community of strong and serious dirt runners, but I’m not one, just to be clear. I’m only 10 months into this madness, by far, my most rewarding months, next to my BMC training. In a bid to speed up my progress—which isn’t really happening thanks to 10,000 excuses—I joined two camps with trail-running boss, Thumbie Remigio, and sat down in one of the 2017 AMCI BMC sessions led by Coach Ige Lopez.

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Pilipinas Trail Running Camp 1. Photo is owned by Raceyaya.

I tried combining all my notes from these three engagements to come up with an idiot’s guide. Well sort of, because a 2-day lecture is hard to fit in less than 1000 words.

Definitions

I’m lifting this from the ITRA (International Trail Running Association) website, because it’s the single, most-legit definition of trail-running.

Trail-running is a pedestrian race open to all, in a natural environment (mountain, desert, forest, plain) with minimal possible paved or asphalt road, which should not exceed 20% of the total course.

The terrain can vary (dirt road, forest trail, single track) and the route must be properly marked [meaning you shouldn’t get lost]. The race is ideally – but not necessarily – in self-sufficiency or semi self-sufficiency [meaning, there would be some aid stations, but you have to bring gear and food to sustain yourself] and is held in the respect for sporting ethics, loyalty, solidarity, and the environment.

*Some additions: single-track trails are narrow, about the width of a bike; fire trails, on the other hand can fit 4×4 vehicles.

There’s another term you should be familiar with: skyrunning or high-altitude running (sounds so freaking badass, right). It means racing at an elevation of at least 2000+ MASL. In the Philippines, there’s only one group recognized by the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF). That’s PhilSky (Philippine Skyrunning Association) and they do the annual Pilipinas Akyathlon.

Let’s begin

Most trail-runners I met started out either as 1. mountaineers who want less pack weight, more speed, more pain, and 2. road runners who are looking for something else to achieve apart from another PR. So for now, let’s assume that you (dear reader) would already have:

  • Running shoes
  • Some training / minimum endurance, meaning you should at least be able to run steady for 1 hour
  • A little bit of curiosity about eventually running on dirt

Notes from Coach Ige

  • Pace. Unlike the great flats, most trail races vary based on distance, terrain, weather, and elevation—and these variances often dictate your pace, gear of choice, and and overall race strategy. Trails can be dry and dusty or muddy, ascents can be mild or mildly nakatatanggal ulirat. I kid you not. If you can do 5 minutes per km on the road, don’t expect to be able to do that on trail. The ideal pace, in fact, is about 5km / hour or about 10 to 12 minutes per km.

 

  • Don’t be cocky. Even pros walk and power hike on long and steep ascents to ensure they don’t run out of juice too early. That’s how endurance works. (Maybe I’ll do another post on techniques because that’s a rather lengthy discussion)

 

  • Eat and hydrate. The reason why we have vests is because running trail requires a certain level of self-sufficiency. You need to have water and snacks packed.

 

  • Learn (like really learn) proper nutrition. That works before-, during-, and after the race. Pre-race is when you carbo-load, during the race is when you take in some 200 to 300 calories ever hour in the form of gels, trail mix, and other easily digestible calorie bombs, and post-race is when you get all the damn protein to aid in recovery. Caution: the aid station is not a buffet. Eat as planned, in small portions to avoid feeling bloated.

 

  • Train where you can. Not of all of us can go to Wawa or Batolusong, or north to train, so just run where you are, or find some places around your city that can give some decent elevation gain (like Kapitolyo, McKinley).
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Makiling Traverse sometime in April 2017. Photo owned by Shaun Olarte. 
  • Find people who can run with you. There are plenty of groups out there with members who run every god-given weekend on the hills of Rizal. Find them, make friends, join them.
Trailrunning philippines
Pre-race photo session. Jagged Peak 21k, Batulao. Photo from Mark Meneses.
  • Invest in the right gear. Shoes, a running vest, gaiters, trek poles. There are tons of trail running gear and to be quite frank, they are expensive—but there local brands out there that produce quality items that don’t break the bank (too much). So research and buy what you think suits you.

Now, I know this is all too basic, but I’ll see if I can do a follow-up article on beginners’ races so you’ll know where to register for late 2017 to early 2018. J

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