You have been running and hiking for almost 6 hours along the mountain trails and then suddenly you made a wrong turn to a trail that is not a part of the course and then after running for about 400-500 meters or a few minutes from the turn, you realize that you are lost. You begin to panic and feel frustrated. You make a decision and you seem to be confused. In reality, you don’t know what to do!
Such situation always happen in a training run in the mountains which could be easily corrected and solved by other runners within the group. It is also a situation that happens in mountain or ultra trail races.
I always say that it is a normal occurrence when a runner gets lost on a trail during a race and there is no need to complain to the Race Director/Organizer, most specially in ultra distances. In truth, the runner himself/herself should be blamed for his mistake of being lost on the trail.
In my experience as a trail runner, I have followed “common sense” practices for me not to get lost along the trail and if ever I would be lost, there are also suggested things that should be done.
The following are the “preventive measures” to avoid being lost on the trails and suggestions to correct the situation:
1. Don’t attempt to go alone on a trail that you are not familiar with. Register in the Barangay Hall and get a “guide” if you are new to the place.
2. Run with a group and make sure that somebody in the group is familiar with the trails in the area.
3. Inform your family, relatives, and friends about your activity and always make sure that you bring your cell phone with you.
4. You should orient yourself in the place by knowing where are the North, South, East & West directions. Look around and find structures or key terrain features (hill peaks, mountain peaks, forested areas, grassy areas, water falls, creeks, rivers, sea shore, fences, highway or main roads) in relation to the directions. In short, you should know basic orienteering & map reading.
5. If you are in a training run with a group, make sure that you can keep up with the pace with the runner in front of you. Keeping pace with the runner in front of you means that you could see his/her back every turn of the trail.
6. If ever you don’t see the back of the runner in front of you, you can start shouting at the said runner to warn him that you are lost or tell him to slow down. Don’t be ashamed to shout the guy in front of you or to the rest of the group. It would be a smart idea to always bring a whistle in your trail runs.
7. If you are in a middle of a pack and you took a wrong turn and notice that you are lost, you have to re-trace you way back to the exact point or place where you made the wrong turn. Stay calm and don’t panic. Take a deep breath, rest, hydrate and take some food while waiting for the other runners who are running way behind you.
8. If you can not wait for the other runners behind you to arrive, observe your surroundings and try to find out the right trail by looking on the marks of soles of running shoes on the trail. If you can’t see any marks of shoes because the trail is covered with grass, follow such trail for a few meters and you might be surprised that it could be the trail that would lead you to the rest of the runners.
9. In an “out and back” and “loop” courses, find time to observe your surroundings on the first half of the course even if it will make you slower in your pace. Find time to appreciate the beauty of the outdoors and try to absorb them to your mind. On your way back to where you have started, the things that you observed on the first half will come in handy if in case you think you are lost on the trails.
10. If you are joining an ultra trail race, it is highly recommended to conduct a recon of the course by simply walking/hiking through it. Take some pictures of places where there are turns or physical and/or natural features which you can see along the route like streams, rivers, waterfalls, bridges, unusual plants/trees, grasslands, big rocks, rock formations, huts/houses, uphill & downhill sections of the course and most importantly, establish your own “marker” every 10K of the route.
11. In a well-marked trail race or run, shit happens. Surprisingly, markers or ribbons are altered or stolen by locals or people within the neighborhood, mostly by kids who make fun or play with them. Sometimes, there are also (front) runners who would remove them as part of their “collection of souvenirs”. There are instances also that markers are improperly placed along the route. The worst scenario is when these markers become wet due to rains or inclement weather that the color becomes the same with the surroundings, most especially during nighttime.
12. If there is a website of the ultra trail event, study the details posted and confirm/validate them in your recon/walk-through along the course. Some runners would laminate the data of the trail course printed on a piece of paper and had it handy in their pockets or in their hydration vest.
13. If you don’t have the luxury of time to conduct your recon, look for blogs of finishers of this race and you will find a lot of information that would help you to familiarize yourself with the course and event.
14. If you have friends who have finished this race, try to talk to them or contact them through e-mail or through the Social Media platforms. Ultra runners are very helpful to “newbies” when it comes to getting their experiences in finishing the race.
15. You might also consider joining a friend who trains with you in an ultra race to be a participant of the event. Having a partner in training and in a race is more comforting than running alone.
16. Lastly, if you are not well-trained or prepared for an ultra trail race, don’t make an attempt. You will be wasting your hard-earned money and effort.
Keep on running!