Trail running is not only a great way to see New Zealand’s outdoors, it is an enjoyable activity that demands physical performance, mental agility, fortitude and perseverance. It is also a pursuit that frequently exposes runners to risk. While the risks are inherent in trail running, they can easily be reduced through careful planning and good decision making.
New Zealand weather can change quickly. What can start out as a hot sunny day can rapidly turn cold, windy and wet. For that reason, I never head out on a trail run greater than 2 hours without a few basic items for safety and comfort.– Nathan Fa'avae - Five times adventure racing world championship
The first thing to remember is that every trip needs a plan. It doesn't take much to turn a short trip into an 'unexpected night out' in the bush. If you've planned before you hit the track using the outdoor safety code as a guide, there's a good chance you'll be prepared to handle an unexpected turn of events.
Safety is the outcome of good planning and good decision making– Mike Daisley, MSC CEO
55% of search and rescues for trail runners occurred in the summer months.– There and Back, 2016
Search and rescues are 4x higher on Easter and Queens Birthday weekends.– There and Back, 2016
69% of trail runners involved in search and rescues were overdue or lost– There and Back, 2016
When running a new track, check a map and ask someone who knows. A trip’s distance might look short on a map, but it could take much longer if it’s on a rough track or has a large elevation gain.
Trail running is not only a great way to see New Zealand’s outdoors, it is an enjoyable activity that demands physical performance, mental agility, fortitude and perseverance. It is also a pursuit that frequently exposes runners to risk. While the risks are inherent in trail running, they can easily be reduced through careful planning and good decision making. It doesn’t take long to plan. Use this guide to help you.
It doesn't take a big injury to slow your progress dramatically. If you're caught out overnight you'll need to stay calm and prepare to survive the 'unexpected night out.'
Employ strategies for identifying and managing fatigue. Ensure this is considered as part of any pre-trip planning and pay this element the due respect it deserves during your trip. Allow time for adequate breaks to rest and take on food/water. Most importantly ensure the culture surrounding your trip allows for topics such as fatigue management to be part of your conversations and communication.
New Zealand weather is very changeable. Even if you set out in the sunshine and there is no rain in the forecast it's not uncommon to have an isolated shower. Make sure you take rain protection and extra layers you can put on if it gets cold. Having the right supplies means that you're more likely to remain warm, comfortable and safe for the duration of your ride.
Wear the right fabrics. Clothing only retains what heat your body produces. Certain fabrics wick moisture away from the body and retain warmth. Avoid cotton clothing – when cotton gets wet it ceases to insulate you. Wet and cold clothing significantly contributes to hypothermia.
Questions to consider before you head out
Jonathan Wyatt - Seven time mountain running world champion.
When I plan a trail run I think about
If I am running more than 3 hours in the mountains on a trail I have never been on before that could be quite technical, then I prepare myself very differently compared to a 2-hour trail run on my home trails that I know I am running at lower elevation with good weather. If you’re out in nature, then you have to rely on your own knowledge and the resources you have with you. This means good clothing, energy replacing fuels, basic safety equipment and thinking about likely hazards.– Jonathan Wyatt - Seven time mountain running world champion.
There is a huge difference between running a track as part of a race and running that same track as a social training run. A race will normally require a mandatory list of gear you must carry so you can be self-reliant, there is always a 'safety net' in place on top of that. All these things are removed when you're not taking part in a planned event, so it's up to you to take responsibility for yourself.
This clothing, combined with what I’m already wearing, is the minimum to get me home if I get caught out in bad weather. If the forecast predicts a weather change, I take thermal leggings, lightweight over trousers and a heavier-weight top. This gear enables me to stay warm in all trail conditions.
Budget on something to eat every 30 minutes and have a plan on where you can refill your water.
Tell your plans to someone you trust. A family member or a close friend is ideal for your trusted contact – you need to know they will act if you don’t return from your trip when you say you will.
If you don't get in contact with them by the stated time, they will need to act - see the trail running guide for more information.
Don’t wear cotton, once it’s wet it stays wet.
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