A Mama’s Guide to Training for Her First Trail Race

8 min read

Running a trail race is by no means easy. You navigate around rocks and roots that sneak up on you out of nowhere, you run up seemingly endless hills (or mountains), and then you barrel down them while trying not to land flat on your face. It’s painful at times. Your legs will burn and your lungs may feel like they’ve caught fire. But let’s not forget an important detail: you’re a mom.

You grew a human being inside of you and proceeded to give birth to that beautiful little person. Maybe you’ve even done that a few times. Wiping noses and butts are part of your job description. You’re the main source of comfort for your tiny person and your hug can erase all the worries in their world. You get no sleep, but you still manage to get up everyday, take care of business, and love your family with every ounce of your being. Running a trail race is easy compared to the things you’ve done, mama.

Running a trail race is easy compared to the things you’ve done, mama.

You’ve got enough on your plate as it is, so I’ve done a bit of the legwork for you. I’ve gathered the most helpful training advice from trail running mamas all across the board. I’ve heard from mamas who are rather new to the sport but have fallen deeply and madly in love with it, mamas rocking successful careers while raising kids and still finding time to hit the trails, and mamas with years of elite training and racing under their belts. We run for different reasons and at different paces, but we’re all on this journey of motherhood together. So without further ado, here’s your guide to get you through training for your first trail race.

Make a training plan, but keep it flexible.

The first step is figuring out what training plan works for you and the race distance of your choosing. You’re going to need to decide what days you will run, how many miles you want to get in, when you will run, and of course who will watch your children. Take to Pinterest or a Google search, ask someone who’s trained for that distance, and then make a training plan that works with your schedule. Add some strength training and yoga into your repertoire and you’ll have one well-rounded training plan.

Leia (@leia_anderson) finds ways to share the trails with her son, which makes seeing his face (and her husband’s) at the finish line that much sweeter. (photo cred: @mile90photo)

Leia (@leia_anderson) finds ways to share the trails with her son, which makes seeing his face (and her husband’s) at the finish line that much sweeter. (photo cred: @mile90photo)

Leia Anderson is a badass ultrarunning mama with a handful of 100-mile finishes to show for it and she also just finished her first 48 hour race. Leia shared some wise words with me. “Training with a little one means that you have to fit your runs in differently than you may have before,” she said. “Make sure to eat enough and take care of yourself. Make your training fit creatively. Sometimes that means using a stroller, splitting your runs, or running in circles around a park.”

Train with friends

Emily (@emmcglover) and I share a love for running and a love for our babies. We navigated the first year of motherhood together with babies on our hips and trail shoes on our feet.  

Emily (@emmcglover) and I share a love for running and a love for our babies. We navigated the first year of motherhood together with babies on our hips and trail shoes on our feet.

A surefire way to motivate yourself to get out the door for a training run is to do it with a friend. Not only will you feel more accountable for waking up early and meeting your friend, but you’ll also enjoy the company. I’ve learned from experience that the really special thing about trail racing is the journey leading up to the race. never would have signed up for my first 50K if it weren’t for my friend Emily Glover. We encouraged each other to step out of our comfort zones and set challenging goals. Knowing that you’re going to have someone alongside you through the training runs and at the starting line gives you that extra boost of confidence.

Reach out to running clubs in your area. Many local running stores have weekly group runs. Get on the internet and see what Facebook groups you can find. Ask your friends to connect you with fellow runners. I’ve always thought that experiences are best when shared.

Identify your support system; Make it a family effort

It’s going to be impossible to successfully train and run your first trail race without a support system in place. This is where your spouse, friend, partner, grandparents,  babysitter or whoever else you have brought into your support network steps in to help out. It’s important that you are all on the same page. Communication is key when you are laying out your training plan and your goals so your support network has your back every step of the way. If you can, make it a family event. Throw your kiddo in the stroller and go for a family run, hit the trails and take turns running/hiking with your little, or find a trail near a playground and set up basecamp there while you get in some miles.

My husband, daughter, and mom out supporting me. (photo cred: @mile90photo)

My husband, daughter, and mom out supporting me. (photo cred: @mile90photo)

You’ll need that support system on race day, too. I owe a million thanks to my parents and my husband’s parents for being more than willing to watch our daughter so we can do what we love.

Train on terrain similar to the racecourse

Races vary greatly depending on the distance and the location. Understand the geography and terrain of your race and incorporate that into your training. Brandy Erholtz is a mama of two boys and she has years of elite trail running experience. She gave me some tips on training for the race’s terrain. “If you are training for a longer trail race, if possible, try and mimic the terrain as close as you can during your weekly long runs,” she said. ”If you live close to the trail where the race will be held, do some of your training on the course.”

Brandy (@berholtz1) is a five-time U.S. Mountain Running Team member. She’s a world-class runner, and a world-class mama.

Brandy (@berholtz1) is a five-time U.S. Mountain Running Team member. She’s a world-class runner, and a world-class mama.

That’s not always possible. Sometimes you’re going to have to get creative with your running. “If you don't live in an area where there are a lot of trails, dirt roads can be the next best thing,” Brandy suggested. “You can also practice hills using the incline on the treadmill.”

Figure out what gear and fuel works for you.

Hit up your local running store and pick their brains on trail running gear. Start with the shoes. Abigail Rolbiecki, a mama to a toddler girl with another babe on the way, shared her experience on investing in a solid pair of trail shoes. I didn’t realize how imperative this was until I started training on single-track trails in inclement weather: snow, rain, everything,” she said. “You can get by with run-of-the-mill shoes when it’s dry (though, you better have good ankle support), but it can get pretty serious when trail conditions aren’t perfect.”

Abigail has her PhD in social work, she’s raising a beautiful family with her wife, and she ran her first 100K in 2017. “I love being a mother, it’s the most rewarding experience,” she said. “But, I refuse to let go of the other things that make my heart beat every single day. I am a good mother because I am a trail runner. Period.”

Abigail (@run_wild_mama) refueling during her race.

Abigail (@run_wild_mama) refueling during her race.

If you’re going to be running longer, some gear you may want to invest in are a hydration vest or handheld water bottle, and a good GPS watch to help you track your mileage. Depending on your preference, you can use a bladder in your vest or water bottles (or both). If you don’t want anything on your back, you can carry a handheld or two. Gear with lots of pockets will come in handy. You’ll want to store your fuel, keys, and possibly your phone. And then there’s the fuel. You have lots of options: real food, energy gels or chews, bars, waffles, electrolyte drink mixes. The list goes on. I’d suggest hitting up REI or a running store and experimenting with a bit of everything. It’s important that you figure out what works for you and train with that fuel and gear. This goes for the clothing you wear, too. Don’t try anything new on race day.

We run for different reasons and at different paces, but we’re all on this journey of motherhood together.

Forget about pace and run based on effort.

Meghan (@meghanxc) runs ultras, works in a microbiology research lab, and raises her sweet toddler boy. (photo cred: @mile90photo)

Meghan (@meghanxc) runs ultras, works in a microbiology research lab, and raises her sweet toddler boy. (photo cred: @mile90photo)

“If you are first starting out on trails, try running watchless,” said Meghan Wallace, a cross-country runner turned trail runner, on transitioning from roads to trails. “It can be hard to look down and see yourself running 1-2 minutes per mile slower than your normal pace. It will help you to learn to run by feel and effort.”Don’t be afraid to ditch your watch and get to know your body by running based on effort. If you’re out on an easy run, make sure you’re able to hold a conversation without becoming too winded at that pace. When you’re getting out on a long run you need to keep in mind that you don’t go out too fast in the beginning, leaving yourself with no gas in the tank for your last few miles. Expect to learn new things about your body and about running on a weekly basis. Mother Nature and the trails are harsh at times, but they’re good teachers.

Find your reason and take in the beauty of the trail.

Lindsey (@lappenzo) works full-time as a medical physicist. She loves running in the Rocky Mountains and she is fully present in every second she spends with her daughter.

Lindsey (@lappenzo) works full-time as a medical physicist. She loves running in the Rocky Mountains and she is fully present in every second she spends with her daughter.

My friend Lindsey summed it up perfectly. “The best advice I can give is to enjoy your miles,” she said. “Whatever your purpose in running may be, focus on that purpose. Lindsey said she feels running trails improves her physical and emotional strength. ”It also allows me to be among the trees,” she said. “Something I have treasured for as long as I can remember.” Lindsey and many of the mamas that have shared with me made it known that trail running is a huge asset to their lives. There’s beauty and magic to the trails that allow you to challenge yourself, think more clearly, and then return feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. As mothers, we are constantly giving to others. In order to continue doing that in a healthy way, you need to make sure you give to yourself. Make time for your own goals and get after them without any reservations.

It’s going to take flexibility, hard work, and grace to train for a trail race. Training won’t always go as planned. Runs will be skipped. Kids will get sick and childcare may fall through. The beauty of trail running is that you never know what obstacles you may face, but more times than not you will overcome them and you will be stronger for it. Trail running and motherhood are a lot alike in that way. It makes sense that mothers make kick ass trail runners.

About the Author

Brigid Pickett

Mama to a nearly two-year-old little girl. Brigid and her family moved from Colorado to Missouri and are waiting to see where the Army takes them next. She’s an aspiring ultra runner and a lover of all things outdoors. Brigid is a teacher turned stay at home mama attempting to make everyday an adventure. She is also an AMI 2018 Ambassador. You can read more about her Ambassador Project here.

Connect with Brigid: IG @BrigidPickett

Read More Stories From Brigid

2 Comments

  1. Molly on March 19, 2018 at 10:27 am

    Awesome & Inspiring! Just ran my first trail race after having my son in December. The last mile was ALL uphill and just thinking about my babes (i also have a 2.5 yr old daughter) helped me get up that (forever long) last leg of the race!
    Thanks for the great ideas, Brigit!

    • Brigid on April 12, 2018 at 10:44 pm

      That’s amazing, Molly! Seeing your loved ones at that finish line is a pretty magical experience, huh. Happy you enjoyed this read. 🙂

Leave a Comment





Want the scoop?

Sign up for our e-newsletter to get news, goodies, and early-bird pricing on events!