How to Trail Race During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Written by American Trail Running Association founder and executive director Nancy Hobbs. 

Although many trail races are still in the virtual mode, some states and counties are loosening coronavirus restrictions and a handful of in-person events are being staged. These live events look and feel a bit different from those held prior to the pandemic, but for competition junkies, the return of racing is indeed filling a void.

Since I hadn’t run a race since early March, I felt a bit out of my element when I committed to run the 10 mile Dynafit Vail HillClimb trail race on July 4th in Vail, Colorado. My initial excitement while registering shifted to trepidation as I realized I had to actually prepare myself physically and mentally for race day after a four-month hiatus from competition.

Not only that, I also had to think about all the things that go into racing from choosing footwear and apparel appropriate for the conditions and terrain, accessorizing from hydration to sunglasses, what to eat before the trail race and during the race, whether to carry a water bottle, how much to warmup before the start, and something new – choosing a face covering and figuring out how to carry it during the race as it was mandatory at the start and finish.

I raced often before the coronavirus pandemic upended life as we knew it. In 2019, I participated in more than 30 events. I was on target to hit that many races in 2020, until March when the pandemic had me hitting the trail race brakes. Getting back to racing made me feel as if I was entering uncharted territory where the whole process from start to finish was forgotten and unfamiliar. I had to dust off my memory and start anew.

Trail Race

Photo: Vail Recreation District.

In that context, I’ve created a checklist for runners to ensure they have a successful trail race experience in the coming months. Note this list is recommended only for shorter distance events that don’t require drop bags, pacers, or headlamps.

Registration / Pre-race

  • Pick a race distance and course profile appropriate for your fitness level.
  • Select a date that works with your schedule.
  • Choose a location that accommodates your preferred method of travel.
  • Carefully read and understand all of the coronavirus related restrictions and guidelines for the event.
  • Sign-up far enough in advance to ensure the lowest pricing option while being aware of the refund policy.

Packing List

  • Shoes for the warmup and cool down; shoes for racing and comfortable footwear for post-race activities.
  • A dry set of clothes for post-race and a bag to check at start if this option exists.
  • Sunscreen and Sunglasses.
  • Gloves if the race has extremely technical terrain.
  • Hydration and food as well as a vest, belt or handheld carrying system.
  • Watch.
  • Face covering and/or mask.


Figure out how you’re going to get to the race venue and calculate what time you need to depart in order to be on time. Arrive at least 30 minutes before the race start so you have time to get your race number….and don’t forget pins for your bib! If you’re driving, research any fees for parking and the walking distance to the start and finish areas.

Start line

  • Know where the bathrooms are located relative to the start line.
  • Pick a starting position unless one is assigned to you based on wave starts or to meet social distancing requirements.
  • Wear your face covering in accordance with race regulations.
  • Start your watch when the “gun” goes off.


  • Think about your pace.
  • Focus on your breathing.
  • Hydrate and eat food as needed.
  • Thank volunteers as you see them on the course.
  • Look out for and follow course markings.
  • Stay socially distanced from other racers and volunteers.

Finish line

  • Stop your watch.
  • Wear your face covering.
  • Don’t linger in the finish area.
  • Do a short warm down run.
  • Change into dry clothes.
  • Eat and re-hydrate.

Are you an event director with questions about how to organize your trail running race during the coronavirus pandemic? Check out the Guidelines for Trail Running Events in the COVID-19 Era written by the Race Director Alliance.

Trail Race

Editor’s Note: Be safe as we continue to navigate the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic. Please continue to follow the recommendations and updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including proper hygiene practices. Also consider reading iRunFar’s COVID-19: A Trail Running and Ultrarunning Community Guide.

Tags: ,