The Tools You Need to Crush Your Next Trail Marathon

From resources to food, here’s how one runner geared up for her first big mountain race.

You’re in and—according to some—you’ve gone off the deep end. You signed up for your first 26-mile mountain race (in my case, the Leadville Marathon), and you’re ready to start training. Rather than hiring a personal trainer or coach, I macgyvered a program based off of expert advice and my past marathon experience. But I couldn’t have done it without these vital tools.

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The Race Community

When I responded to a Leadville Race Series newsletter, I ended up connecting with ultrarunner Junko Kazukawa. She’s a two-time Leadwoman—a title earned by athletes who run the Leadville Marathon as well as the Silver Rush 50 (MTB or run), 100-mile mountain bike, 10K run, and 100-mile run, consecutively, in one year. When I reached out, Junko happened to be leading a women’s training group for first-timers, which included a training plan and weekend running meet-ups. With one email exchange, I went from being a solo trail runner to having a mentor and meeting awesome people in the trail running community.

Take advantage of the resources made available to you through the race that you choose. Get involved in the trail running community. You never know what doors may open.

The Right Food

Running long distances makes my appetite go haywire—usually, I don’t feel hungry. Appetite or not, the body’s need for fuel will always catch up. And it will win. I’ve bonked during and after runs with a headache, nausea, and a lack of focus. So I started timing my nutrition intake. Every 30 to 45 minutes, I grabbed a bite to eat, aiming for a total of 200 to 250 calories an hour. I alternated between whole foods like rice balls, homemade energy bars, and an occasional gel or chews. (Learn more about what to eat on your long-distance runs.)

Manageable Weekly Mileage

Kazukawa rounded out my training routine. Instead of focusing heavily on increasing my accumulative weekly mileage, I built distance on the weekends. My mid-week (mostly flat and urban) runs remained at shorter distances (between 6 and 10 miles) throughout my training. For someone who lives or works in a city, this took some of the stress off of my weekly training and allowed me to really hone in on distance each weekend.

Ultimately, the accumulative weekly mileage that you reach will depend on your personal goals. The farthest single distance I ran before my marathon was 20 miles.

Varied Terrain

Not only is it important to run a range of distances, but it’s also key to train with various types of runs. The Leadville Marathon is an out-and-back with extremely steep sections that are better suited for fast hiking to preserve energy.

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I practiced quick hiking with laps on Box ‘o Rox, total accumulative elevation gain on Boulder Skyline Traverse, and a couple altitude runs in Leadville. These options switched up my weekday flat runs with steep hills and rocky paths at high elevation to help prepare me mentally and physically for the Leadville course.