How to run a stage race

What you need to know for running a stage race on the trails

April 25th, 2019 by | Posted in Trail Running | Tags: , , , ,

Have you ever finished a race and sworn you’d never run again? In a stage race, you get to do it all over again the very next day. In the trail running world, a stage race is usually a multi-day race where endurance runners challenge themselves on varied terrain day after day. Stages races will often have awards for each particular stage, or day, as well as the overall rankings, which combine every stage.

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The Coastal Challenge. Photo: Hilary Matheson

Stages races are becoming more popular in Canada as well as internationally. Both local and international stage races almost guarantee a unique experience and lifelong memories. For example, for the last fifteen years, The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica has tested the limits of endurance runners through its six-day race. Peru’s Half Marathon des Sables challenges runners for three days across a sandy desert. Canada’s Trans Selkirks Run in Revelstoke, B.C. also challenges trail runners over three or five days. The Golden Ultra has a variety of trail running options from one to three days. As stage races increase in popularity, so do our questions about them. Whether you’re a stage racing veteran, or new to the concept, here are some things to consider:

Gain experience

The start line of a stage race should not be your first day on the trails. Like most things in life, experience matters. You will be tired, ‘rangry’, and thankful you have a bag of tricks to get you through the exhaustion–and the blisters. If you are keen to try a stage race, we recommend gaining experience and running some tough races beforehand. Alberta’s Mike Cameron had a painful blister from day two onwards of The Coastal Challenge. “Proper foot care knowledge is paramount to a successful race.”

Train your tummy

A gel one kilometre from the finish seems ridiculous for most distance races. However, it can be extremely beneficial in a tough stage race. Fuelling in a stage race is a different beast than in any other endurance activity. Imagine stage race nutrition like a circle. Everything you eat is connected, and can help or hinder fuelling, recovering, and supplementing each stage. Don’t feel like eating the extra potato at dinner after day three? Think again.

Limit expectations

Imagine this: It’s day three of a five-day stage race. You are drooling over today’s stage, and believe the course profile has your name written all over it. You love the idea of its steep ascents and gnarly descents, and believe this is your time to shine. Yet, during the race you feel a twinge in the back of your knee, which has you walking for half the race. Stage races are not one-hit wonders, and anything can happen. Be open to the good, the bad, and the ugly. Have fun and don’t expect anything.

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Zoom out

During a stage race it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of each day. If you’re in it to win it, your overall time matters most, and not going out as hard as you can on day one. Zooming out to see the big picture matters more than a kilometre sprint at the end of one of the stages.

Control what you can

By zooming out, we don’t need to fixate on minute details. However, details become important during a stage race in order to control the controllables. Like an ultra trail race, anything can happen over a stage race. If nausea sets in, do what you can and keep moving forward. You can’t control the 3 a.m. wake up calls at The Coastal Challenge camp, but you can control ensuring you are hydrated and stocked on electrolytes.

Photo: The Golden Ultra

Make friends

This goes without saying for all running races. Making friends throughout a stage race is not only inevitable, but you will establish a bond unlike any other. Many stage races have an awards dinner at the end of each stage. Have dinner with new friends every night and be inspired by new friends in the trail running community.

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