Racing and Running After Covid: Avoid these Rookie Mistakes
After a year and a half without any official races or structured running due to Covid, last month I was finally able to hit the trails around Vall de Nord for 56km of Ultra Trail Barcelona 2021.
Even though I haven’t run competitively in a while, I’ve been keeping up my training, knocking out 40-50km runs regularly in and around Barcelona city. I assumed this would be a quick and easy return to competition and technical trails.
Hahaha man was I wrong!? I made MULTIPLE rookie errors along the way, so I thought I’d share the gentle and sometimes painful reminders from the day.
- Look up, branches!
After two whacks to the head and one to the shoulder you think I would’ve remembered that proper trails have proper trees lining the route? But I didn’t, and goddam those hurt. Every. Single. Time.
Eyes up and ahead and duck when the time comes, simple.
- Look down, roots!
And rocks! And God knows what else? 2 trips to the floor because I lost concentration (one time looking at my watch and the other who knows why) which cost me a reasonable chunk of skin per hand. Concentrate on the task at hand and remember to whip the sunglasses off for the shaded parts.
Oh, and I forgot that you can always change direction mid-fall. Try it if you ever find yourself falling faster than a homesick mole. You’ll be amazed at how much you can twist your body to shield your money maker!
- There’s always one more hill
Leaving the last aid station, I vaguely remembered a slight bump at the end of the route according to the race profile. That slight bump was relatively bigger than expected, and sure enough it was the last km just after I had pushed hard on the downhill.
Save some energy for that last climb and avoid being shamefully re-passed by everyone you just gunned on the downhill…
- Your watch is wrong
If you’re expecting that aid station at 50km, it’s going to come, but generally later rather than sooner. Prepare mentally and make sure you don’t down your remaining water thinking it’s around the corner. That corner could be 2km long still!
- Food, they have enough
I’ve only recently turned veggie, and this was my first race as one of the “oh have I told you I’m a vegetarian now?” crowd. From my high horse I assumed there’s no way they’d cater for my new diet, and so I stuffed my pack with about 57kg of fruit & nuts & assorted snacks.
What a waste of time and valuable weight. Watermelon, bananas, oranges, assorted nuts, cheesy biscuits, rice with corn, pasta with tomato sauce, they had it all. Lugged around all that extra weight for nothing.
If you have any doubts, check with the race organizers beforehand. But yeah, they were properly stocked, and in retrospect I can’t remember a race that wasn’t more veggie- than meat-sided?!
- Don’t overpack
Following on from above, I was severely overweight in my pack. Not just the snacks, but for whatever reason I decided I needed a spare full thermal shirt and longs, as well as an extra filled water flask “just in case”.
Now I know the mountains and weather can change at any point, and am in no way advocating being unprepared, but sometimes common sense should prevail. I knew the forecast for the day was 20+ degrees. There were no rain clouds on the horizon. The route was well marked and along worn trails, supported by hundreds of runners and volunteers, with aid stations roughly every 10km.
Honestly, I went overboard on safety. I mean I even took a spare battery pack in case I needed to recharge my head torch or phone. For an 8 hour race. During the day. What was I thinking?!
Add up all of the above and I reckon I could’ve saved 3kg of weight if I’d just packed smarter.
- Medical kit
As you’ll have seen above, I am a cautious runner by nature. I never hit any trail without my whistle (seriously, always carry a whistle I don’t care how short a run or how well you ‘know’ your route, keep it on you buddy!) and I never start a race without a small medical kit.
Except this time I didn’t check the med kit before the race. I just pulled it out the drawer, assumed everything was still in there, and chucked it in my pack.
At some point I got a small blister, so started my standard “poke it, drain it, cover it, curse about it” routine. Only to find that ALL my plasters had managed to get themselves stuck to their wrappers, thanks to a year of sitting in a sweaty mess after my last race!
Nothing is more frustrating than sweaty fingers trying to peel a plaster out of a wrapper that’s stuck closed! Many curse words uttered. Double check your kit.
- Pack your mandatory kit at the TOP of your pack
They did a kit check when we entered the start pen, of which I always approve. What I didn’t approve of was my decision to stash half the mandatory items at the bottom of my pack.
In a fumbling attempt to show my kit to the marshal I proceeded to dump my entire bag’s contents on the ground, resulting in a full repack at the checkpoint and slowing everyone behind me down. On the plus side at least my several extra thermal layers were great amusement for the crowd around.
Health and Safety
- Don’t waterboard yourself
I just finished, 4pm in the afternoon sun, severely overheating and wiped out (goddam final uphill!). So I grabbed 2 x 500ml cups of water and proceeded to dump them over my backwards-tilted head. Instant cooling, followed by instant choking.
I forgot that under new Covid running rules you must wear a mask in the finish area! So that was a great way to
a) waterboard myself, and
b) ruin my only mask for the rest of the trip home.
- Take a spare mask
For after the race. Even if you don’t partially drown yourself, its smell after being stuffed for 9hrs in your pack and on & off your sweaty face should be enough of a reason to always carry a spare in the car.
- Sun cream
It’s never too early to apply it, fact.
- A bottle of wine and limoncello the night before the race does NOT constitute good last minute carbo loading…
And that’s about it. Whether you’re a seasoned pro making your return to running after a lengthy Covid drought, or you’re about to hit your first trail run, or somewhere in between, hopefully some of the above pointers help you have a better race day than I did!
Anyone else who’s returned to the trails after a break, did I miss anything? Any advice for the rest of us? Feel free to share it below, save us all from those d’oh! moments on the trails.