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Evaluating and Choosing Ideal Trail Races

Written by Joaquim Anjos


Posted on June 26 2023

Choosing the right trail races is essential for athletes who wish to challenge their limits, explore new terrain, and reach or even exceed their personal goals. With a plethora of options available, it is important to carefully evaluate each event, considering your experience level, physical condition, terrain types, and individual goals.

In this article, we will guide you on how to evaluate and choose suitable trail races, taking into consideration different types of events, difficulty levels, distances, and unique characteristics.

Types of Trail Races:

There are different types of trail races, which are distinguished by their distances, difficulty levels, and unique characteristics. Here, we briefly introduce each of these elements:



Short distance: Usually up to 15 km, ideal for beginners and runners looking for faster and more intense races.
Middle Distance: Varies between 15 km and 30 km, offering a balance between speed and endurance.
Long Distance: Over 30 km, designed for runners who wish to test their endurance and capacity to face long challenges.


Difficulty Levels:

Easy: Races with smooth terrain, little variation in altimetry and well-demarcated trails. They are suitable for beginner runners or those who prefer a more moderate challenge.
Moderate: Races with varied terrain, including steeper climbs and descents, technical trails, and possible natural obstacles. They require a good level of fitness and trail running experience.
Hard: Races with extremely challenging terrain, including steep trails, technical sections, and adverse conditions. They are designed for experienced runners prepared to face great challenges.


Unique Features of Trail Races:

Stunning scenery: Some trail races offer panoramic views and spectacular landscapes, allowing runners to enjoy the natural beauty along the way.
Technical challenges: Other races may feature technical sections, such as narrow passages, steep climbs, technical descents, and rough terrain.
Themed events: Some events have special themes, such as night races, races in historical sites, or team challenges.



How to choose the most appropriate trail running events?

Assess your running experience: Consider your level of experience in previous races. If you are a beginner, it is recommended that you start with short distance races of less technical difficulty. As you gain more experience, you can progress to more demanding challenges.

Know your physical condition: Analyze your current physical condition and your ability to meet different levels of challenge. Assess your endurance, strength, and stability, as these elements play a crucial role in trail racing. Starting with races that are in line with your physical condition is key to avoiding injury and ensuring a positive experience.

Learn more about how to prevent sports injuries.

Define your personal goals: Think about what you want to achieve by participating in a trail race. Whether you are looking for a personal challenge or simply want to enjoy an outdoor experience, your goals will influence the type of race you should choose.

Consider the distance of the race: As we noted earlier, trail races can vary in distance from short to ultra-distances. Assess your ability to run at different distances and choose a race that is within your limits. It is always recommended to progress gradually to longer distances as you gain experience and fitness.

Analyze the terrain profile: Each trail race has unique terrain characteristics, such as well marked trails, steep climbs, technical descents, rocky sections, and more. Consider your technical skills and your familiarity with different types of terrain when choosing a race. If you are a beginner, it is advisable to choose rides with gentler terrain before venturing into more challenging terrain.

Learn more about the different types of terrain found in trail running and the running techniques to use in each.

Research the organization of trail races: Check the reputation and quality of the race organization. Read ratings and comments from runners who have participated in the event before. Good organization is key to ensuring a safe and well-planned experience.

Consult with experienced runners: Seek advice and opinions from more experienced runners. Join running groups, online forums or social networks related to trail running. This way you can get valuable information about recommended races and share experiences.



Top 10 most challenging trail races in the world

As a mere curiosity or challenge for the more courageous, we also leave here some of the most challenging trail races in the world. But never forget, don't venture beyond your capabilities!

Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) - France, Italy and Switzerland:
The UTMB is known as one of the most challenging trail running races in the world. With a course of about 171 km, runners tackle mountainous trails in the Alps, with a positive gradient of more than 10,000 meters. This epic race tests the physical and mental endurance of the participants, while they marvel at the breathtaking alpine scenery.

To find out more about this fantastic event read our article: UTMB 2023 - The Ultimate Mountain Race.

Barkley Marathons - United States:
The Barkley Marathons is also considered one of the most difficult and enigmatic trail races in the world. Held in the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee, runners must complete five laps on a course of about 20 miles each, totaling about 100 miles. With rugged terrain, dense forests, and map and compass guidance, this extreme race is known to challenge even the most experienced runners.

Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run - United States:
The Western States is an iconic ultra-distance race held in California. With a course of 160 km, runners face mountainous trails, adverse weather conditions, and a positive gradient of more than 5,000 meters. This traditional and prestigious race challenges runners to push their limits in a naturally challenging environment.

Hardrock 100 - United States:
The Hardrock 100 is a race held in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. With a course of about 161 km, runners face technical trails, alpine passes and high altitudes, with a positive gradient of about 10,000 meters. Famous for its wild beauty and extreme challenges, this race demands a combination of physical and mental endurance from the participants.

Diagonale des Fous - Reunion Island
The Diagonale des Fous is a race held on the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. With a course of roughly 165 km, the runners face steep trails, dense forests, and active volcanoes. With a positive gradient of about 9,000 meters, this race offers a unique and challenging experience in the midst of an impressive tropical landscape.

Marathon des Sables - Morocco:
The Marathon des Sables is known as the "toughest race on the planet." Held in Morocco's Sahara Desert, the race covers some 250 km over several days. Runners must face high temperatures, sandy terrain, and challenges of self-reliance, carrying their own food and equipment. This race is a test of endurance and determination in the inhospitable desert environment.

Tor des Géants - Italy:
The Tor des Géants is an ultra-distance race held in the Italian Alps. With a course of about 330 km, the runners face mountainous terrain, alpine peaks, and adverse weather conditions. The race has a positive gradient of more than 24,000 meters, requiring participants to combine endurance, technical ability, and determination to face the challenges of the course.

Lavaredo Ultra Trail - Italy:
The Lavaredo Ultra Trail is a trail running race held in the Dolomites in Italy. With a course around 120 km, the race takes runners through challenging trails, past alpine peaks and stunning scenery. With a positive gradient of around 5,800 meters and technical terrain, this race provides a demanding and exciting experience for participants.

Transgrancanaria - Spain (Canary Islands):
The Transgrancanaria is a race held in the Canary Islands in Spain that offers different distances and difficulty levels. The main race, around 125 km, takes runners across the island of Gran Canaria, over steep tracks, rocky terrain and beautiful volcanic scenery. With a positive gradient of about 8,000 meters and unpredictable weather conditions, this race is a real challenge for trail running enthusiasts.

Madeira Island Ultra Trail (MIUT) - Portugal:
The Madeira Island Ultra Trail (MIUT) is a trail running race held on the island of Madeira in Portugal. With different distances, including the 115 km main race, runners have the opportunity to explore the island's stunning mountainous landscapes and technical trails. With a positive gradient of about 7,000 meters and rugged terrain, this race offers a unique challenge to the participants, providing an incredible experience in the lush nature of Madeira.



Have you chosen your next trail?

Choosing ideal trail races is critical to a rewarding and safe experience.
Consider your experience level, fitness level, and personal goals when selecting an event. Consider the different types of trail running events, difficulty levels, distances, and unique characteristics of each event.
Remember to prepare adequately for your chosen challenge by following a trail running-specific training program. Be ready to explore new horizons, overcome your limits, and experience unforgettable moments in your trail running journey!

Always seek to consult health professionals and running experts before starting any training program or physical activity.

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