Training Tips!


The objective of the Joe English Challenge is to complete the event-uninjured. The underlying challenge is to race against yourself. You can do this by running or speed-hiking. But since there are trail segments that are too steep to run, virtually every runner will do both. (Regardless of how proficient a runner you are, there is also terrain on which speed-hiking is simply the smart, safe thing to do.)

A Note About Training Safely

Trail running has inherent risks that are quite different than training on the roads. If you suffer a significant injury, the help you need can be a long way off. In order to ensure your safety while preparing for the Joe English Challenge, try to adopt these practices:

1. Train with a partner.
2. If you got out on a training run by yourself, be sure someone knows your route and when you expect to return.
3. Run with a small pack that includes at least 0.5L of water, your cell phone, a snack, and some basic emergency supplies
(matches/lighter, small LED flashlight, small knife and a mylar reflecting blanket).

Here is a list of training recommendations to consider as you begin your preparation for the Challenge.

The Effect of the Terrain

Many accomplished road runners and marathoners will tell you that they never anticipated the difficulty of their first trail challenge. So why is a trail challenge so different?

Smooth vs rough surface - Smooth roads produce better gas mileage for your car. The same is true for the energy your body uses when you run or walk. Rough surfaces require not only more muscle contractions with each foot strike but stronger contractions. So when you're training, try running off-road. Admittedly, trail running during the New England winter can be next to impossible but you can alternate 1/4 miles on the pavement and on the shoulder.

Steep grades - Few roads exceed 12% grade. The Mt. Washington Auto Road averages 11.7% with one 18% segment. Twenty- to thirty-percent grades are common on the Joe English course. And yes, there are steeper grades. None are paved. It is important to practice running downhill as part of your training as the steep downgrades produce more trauma than the uphills. When running down a hill, lower your hips slightly to allow your knee and hip to flex in order to dissipate force.

Side slopes - A typical road will have a slope of less than 2% from the center line to the edge. Side slopes on trail surfaces of greater than 30% are not uncommon. Find a hill with a grassy surface and walk it back and forth to train for side slopes. Gradually progress to jogging and then to running the slope-in both directions.

Obstructions - On a trail course you will encounter logs, rocks, streams, wet areas, or holes that require you to step over, hurdle or cross under the obstruction. The best training you can do, short of running trails, is to add a set of plyometrics to your workout 2 to 3 times per week.

Water crossings - An unavoidable part of the Joe English Challenge is the water crossings. Getting wet is almost unavoidable. If the weather has been wet, it will be very difficult to make the stream crossing by the old pestle mill at mile 10 without crossing through the water. Maintain footbed integrity; this will be covered in shoes and clothing sections of this guide.

Constant change of pace - Road runners strive to maintain an even pace throughout their races. The trail challenge demands that you constantly change pace. It is important to return to pace after a particularly slow segment. Practice moving your pace up and down on your training runs.

The Survival Shuffle

If you watch lesser-trained runners over the last miles of a distance race, you will see that they have lost all knee lift and their feet almost slide along the pavement. On the Joe English course, you need to be able to lift your knees on every kilometer. Most falls occur during the second half of the course when fatigue begins to set in. On this course, the demands on you will not diminish over the second half and the terrain and trail surfaces will not allow you to downshift and shuffle along. Train for the second half of the course. Add 2 to 3 weekly sessions of plyometrics and weight training to your program to address this need.

Lateral Forces

A road race subjects your body to straight-line forces. In the Joe English Challenge, you will take thousands of steps that create lateral forces. In addition to the side slopes discussed earlier, the trail can make constant turns. It is important to incorporate specific plyometrics into your training program to accommodate these forces.

Cross Training

Most of us tend to cut the length of our workouts during the winter. For endurance events, part of your training should include sessions of 2 to 4 hours of exercise to get your body and mind prepared for the challenge. This does not mean 2- to 4-hour runs, but a combination of running and speed hiking. Get in a few days of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing and work for the last two hours. Once the weather breaks, get out on some long bike rides.

Keep in mind that sessions on a bike, treadmill or stair climber are very specific and will not help you with the training needed to accommodate the lateral forces or uneven surfaces. You need your feet on the ground to maximize your training.


Trail shoes are distinctly different than road shoes. Most runners look for aggressive treads for traction but good trail shoes offer a front rubber guard for toe protection and a soft rubber tread to increase friction on rocks and wet surfaces. The sole of the shoe also needs to be rigid enough to protect the foot on rough surfaces yet still flex properly.

A critical aspect in selecting the correct trail shoe is the width. The shoe width must be fit properly to prevent the foot from rotating inside the shoe on side slopes. Many falls on trails are caused by the foot moving inside of the shoe, and properly fitting shoes prevent such movement. Again, footbed integrity is crucial; a good shoe for this event will keep debris out of the shoe, preventing friction which results in blisters and raw spots.


Rule #1 on clothing is to dress for the weather and the level of exertion. Many runners make the mistake of overdressing. Even if the temperatures are cool, minimize clothing to maximize cooling. Wear a pair of light gloves and a hat rather than another shirt. Remember that running or climbing steep hills will produce a tremendous amount of body heat.

Wear good technical fabrics that protect you from UV light and can help to regulate body heat. Avoid any fabric that adsorbs sweat or water. Cotton and cotton blends are like a sponge and hold water.

Socks are often overlooked but an important piece of clothing when running trails. Forget the low-cut socks and wear quarter socks that seal above the ankle joint. You will go through mud and water and low-cut socks invariably fill with mud on the inside. Prevent blisters and raw spots by wearing socks with sufficient loft to seal the top of the shoe around the foot.


If you're new to trail running, this section will help you succeed on your first time out. Proper training is essential in getting from the start to the finish, but all of those hours of work are of little value if you don't take an appropriate approach. The course is designed to be demanding; if it were not, it would not be much of a Challenge.

Know the Weather

On the left side of this page is a button that will take you to the hourly weather graph from the National Weather Service. Check the weather on the morning of the event and the graph will give you a concise picture of the conditions you will encounter. Temperature, humidity, wind, precipitation and cloud cover all play into your approach to the course.

Most participants will spend from 3 to 6 hours on the course, and during that time, you need to be prepared for changes in weather conditions. Most people make the mistake of overdressing. Rather than planning to remove layers, wear clothing that you can open to dissipate heat or close to retain heat.

Test the warm-weather, cold-weather and wet-weather gear you plan to wear during the Challenge on your training sessions. Know what does and does not work so when you get to the day of the event, the decision about what to wear is already made.

You can effectively regulate your body temperature with a pair of gloves and a hat. If it is cold before the start, wear a pair of light gloves rather than an extra shirt or a jacket. As the ambient temperature and/or your body heat increases, you can remove the gloves and easily put them back on if needed.

Maintain Adequate Hydration

Proper hydration begins the day before the event when you need to drink fluids to pre-load your body with liquids. Drink when you are thirsty but do not over drink. On the morning of the event, drink about 16 oz of water 90 minutes before the start and another 8 to 12 oz 15 minutes before the start. Any excess fluid will pass through your system.

During the event, you should consume enough fluid to maintain your body weight. Consuming too much fluid can be as dangerous as consuming too little. Your risk of dehydration and hyponatremia (too much fluid) increases substantially when you go beyond 4 hours of exercise.

It is a good idea to determine your individual fluid intake demand by weighing yourself before and after long training sessions. The weight loss will give you a good estimate of how much fluid to consume during each hour of exercise. Many endurance events ask (or require) participants to write their pre-race body weight on their bib number so that emergency responders have a baseline weight if needed.

Practice drinking fluid during your training sessions. There are many hydration systems available to runners and hikers and it is advisable to carry water or another fluid during the event. Drink the fluid while on the course and refill your containers at the aid stations. If the weather is warm, drink some additional fluid at each station if need.

As a general rule, you should drink approximately 3 to 5 oz of fluid for each 100 lbs of body weight for each kilometer of a trail race. If you weight 150 lbs this equals approximately 4 to 6 oz of fluid per kilometer. Carry a minimum of a half liter of fluid with you and drink it as needed between the aid stations. Use thirst as a guide. Don't drink just to drink.

Some sport drinks have a higher sugar-to-fluid ratio than is advised for consumption during high-exertion activities. But they also contain carbohydrate and electrolytes that help speed absorption of fluids. Try different drinks to learn how your body responds to each. It is a good idea to do some trial runs with these drinks if you plan to use them and to learn how your body responds.

Some individuals do well by consuming large quantities at one time but it is recommended that you use a more incremental approach. Divide your hourly intake into 20 minute increments. It is also common to have your body respond differently to a certain fluid between cold and warm weather, with warm weather often producing more negative responses.

Food on the Course

If you can complete the course in less than 3 hours, you probably have no physiological need to eat anything during the event. On the other hand, if you are planning to spend 4 to 6 hours on the trail, you will probably want some form of food. Research does show that eating small amount of easily digestible food will improve performance during long sessions of exercise.

It is not uncommon for some people to experience stomach discomfort during endurance events. If this happens to you, eat small amounts of food to alleviate the problem.

What to eat is a matter of personal preference. If you decide to eat something on the course, it needs to be a food type that will provide some tangible benefit. If you are eating to support your performance, it does no good to eat foods that require either a long time or a complex process to convert to usable glucose.

While you are on the course, eat foods that have a high glycemic index (GI). The GI is a measure of a food's affect on your blood glucose level. Foods with a high GI can be rapidly digested and absorbed into the blood stream to provide energy during the event. The higher the GI, the faster the food will benefit your performance. Eating small amounts of a high GI food can ensure that you maintain a constant blood glucose (energy) level that will benefit you over the last half of the course.

To help you evaluate food(s) to eat on the trail, check the following list:
Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods

Pace Yourself

The first 3.5k of the course has some significant hills, but the even, groomed surface makes this the easiest section. The temptation is to run this section too fast, and if you do you will pay the price in the second half of the event. Start at a comfortable pace and save your effort for the later stages where the ability to maintain a reasonable pace has more payoff.

Part of what makes the course a challenge is that there is almost no opportunity to relax mentally and just run on any of the single track trail. On the 25 kilometer course, the route follows a dirt road between 11 and 12 kilometers and after the aid station, you will soon begin one of the steepest climbs on the course and any thoughts of easy running will quickly disappear. Maintaining your desired performance requires that you give constant attention to the footing and look ahead to determine how to traverse the next section. Maintain good visual perspective and do not focus exclusively on your feet. Keeping your head up also helps to maintain a positive mental outlook.


Test new shoes and equipment thoroughly before the day of the Challenge. Most racing shoes are designed without seams and edges to avoid injury to crucial points on you foot, but you can't assume that your crucial points are in the same location as expected by the manufacturer.

Experiment with new shoes or other equipment to see how they perform with different surfaces and weather. Shoes that are good when dry may be terrible on wet trail surfaces. Also experiment with different running techniques up hills, down hills and at water crossings. How do you feel the next day if you run in a particular pair of shoes? You want to have sufficient information so that on the day of the event you can easily make a decision about which shoes will best suit the conditions.

To tie your shoes properly, stand in them with your heel in the back of the heel cup. Pull the laces just tight enough to feel light pressure on the tongue, and do not over tighten the last lacings when tying the knot. You should have a firm, not tight, fit along the entire length of the shoe. Rather than tie the bows into a knot, stuff them under one of the laces so that they can not get caught on branches.

What to Wear

It is generally best to wear as little clothing as possible on the course to minimize body heat buildup. Your body has a far harder time dissipating heat when it is hot than generating heat when it is cold. Try overdressing for a workout on a warm day to better understand how your body responds to heat buildup. The demanding uphill sections of the Joe English Challenge will generate significant body heat.

Use a hat and gloves as the primary body heat regulators if the temperature is cold at the start of the event. As soon as you begin to sweat, your body is beginning to generate excess body heat. It is better to run "cold" and retain fluid than to dissipate excess heat by sweating.

Running in the rain presents special challenges. Since most participants will be on the course for 3 to 6 hours, it will be nearly impossible to stay dry if it is raining. Keep your core warm by wearing a waterproof and breathable shell-preferably one with good ventilation. Accept the fact that your shoes and feet will get wet-be it from the rain or the water crossings. Put a thin film of petroleum jelly between your toes to help prevent blisters. It is also advisable to put some on the inside of your thighs where your shorts will rub (unless you are wearing tights) and on your nipples. The salt from sweat on abrasions can be agonizing.

Keep your toenails trimmed. Long toenails rub on the socks and on the end of the shoe and cause blisters under the nail. Sharp corners can also cut the toe that they rub against. File each toe nail after it is cut to prevent it from snagging on your sock. Long toenails are self-regulating-if you forget to trim them, they will come off.

Dealing with the weather is part of the Challenge. A New Englander by the name of Keith King had a saying, "There is no such thing as bad weather; just inappropriate clothing."

Coping with the Heat

Heat is the greatest weather threat to runners and hikers. On a hot day, drink extra fluids hours before the event and drink constantly while out on the course to maintain your body weight. Airflow across your body produces cooling. Wear mesh tops and regular shorts during hot weather-not tights. Clothing that holds sweat, such as a cotton T-shirt, produces heat-trapping insulation. At water stations, drink a cup of water and pour one on your head. Sweating cools the body by transferring heat from inside of the body to the outside. If you are dehydrated, you cannot sweat and body temperature rises. The brain begins to shut down the body when the internal temperature rises above 105F.

Virtually the entire course is in the woods and shaded, so direct sun is not likely to be a heat problem. But sun protection is still critical. If you have to run in the sun, use a SPF-15, waterproof sun screen and put it on at least 30 minutes before the event. Keep it away from your eyes and forehead as sweat will cause it to drain into your eyes and cause an irritation.

Warm up Before the Start. Really??

Many people are of the opinion that it is best to save their energy for the course rather than use some to warm up. In the warm up, you prepare your muscles and cardiovascular system for work.

Warm up properly and completely before you begin the event. It usually takes 20 minutes or more to warm up. Begin about 45 minutes before the start of the event, and do some easy running for about 5 to 7 minutes. Run with enough effort to sweat as this indicates that your body temperature is rising or warming up. Run 4 to 5 moderate sprints to focus on improving your range of motion-not speed. Pay attention to your body to see what is tight. Do some lunges and dynamic stretches for about 5 to 10 minutes and you should be ready to go.

If you intend to race over the course, you need to increase the length and intensity of the warm up.

On the Trail

Since time is part of your challenge, run the runnable segments and speed-hike the steep ascents and descents. The steep descents can take their toll on your body during the second half of the event.

Whenever possible, step over obstructions, not on them. This is especially true of logs and tree roots whether it is wet or dry. The risk of slipping and falling off of the obstruction is much greater than slipping when you plant your foot on the other side.

Use caution on the turns, as you will make a countless number of them. Always lead with the leg on the inside of the turn and avoid what is called an "opposite leg cross-over". This is where the outside leg crosses in front of the inside leg on the turn. The risk is that the inside leg then hits the outside leg. Anyone who has ever done an opposite leg cross-over on their cross-country skis knows that the consequences are pretty dramatic. The same can happen when you run.

Falls are by far the most frequent source of injury on the challenge course. Slow down on rough surfaces-this cannot be emphasized enough. Pay attention to quick turns on the steep descents because you need to alter your straight-line momentum.

If you wear sunglasses, be certain that you test them during training sessions to ensure that you have adequate perception of changing trail features. Since many people tend to look down at the trail while running, sunglasses can provide important eye protection on the single track trail segments.

Pay attention to the features of the course while you are on it. Look around and enjoy the setting. One of the objectives of the Challenge is to get you to experience the environment. But you can also use observation of the course features to reset yourself mentally and move beyond thinking only of the workload.