It’s not often we have a bad run (if there is such a thing) but this Sunday we attempted a local self nav half and it was, for want of a better word, ‘challenging’. While I thought I was prepared for anything, turns out there are a few things I hadn’t anticipated, or had perhaps forgotten. After a run where I got home feeling tired, hungry and a little bit ‘ratty’, I was inspired (after showering, eating and napping) to write some tips and advice on mistakes not to make when self nav trail running.

Now, I am not saying that we made all of these errors on Sunday – far from it but, I did finish feeling absolutely famished, very thirsty and generally annoyed at myself. It reminded me that sometimes we can be underprepared, no matter how experienced we are.

1. Learn How to Read a Map

Phones are great but they don’t show the tiny trails and tracks that you can find on an OS maps and they aren’t any good when you have no signal! If you do have OS maps, make sure you know how to read them – spend a bit of time studying what the symbols mean. What are roads, tracks and where do the tracks join up? If you need glasses, take them! New to OS map reading? Have a look at this handy guide.  It’s also imperative that you have the right maps for the right area!

trail running self navigation

2. Take Enough Water

We did take water – turns out just not enough and I ended up finding a little local shop and purchasing a bottle of water and an energy drink. Always take plenty of water – if you are going out for more than ten miles – fill up TWO water bottles. One is not enough!

3. Carry a Snack for Later

We usually venture out before 8 on a Sunday and get back in time for a morning coffee and toast. This was an organised event and we were given a 9am start time. I had told myself I would be back by just after 12. It was almost 2pm when I got home. Take snacks! Being hungry and tired is not fun for anyone – especially the person who has to put up with you when you are ‘hangry’.

4. Expect to Run Further

If it says half – it means between 15-17 miles. Twice I have done this and twice I have exceeded the distance. If it was just a case of following the map we would have run closer to 13. as this time we didn’t take as many wrong turns. As it was, we had to find codes at checkpoints and ended up going round in circles, back on ourselves, changing direction etc. to find these codes.

5. Be Nice to Landowners

At mile 14, we ended up on someone’s property facing the prospect of having to turn around and go back the way we came when greeted by a landowner. We were very apologetic and we must have looked very sad and pathetic as he let us go across his land to get to where we needed to go. Thank you, whoever you are.

6. Make Sure You Get Along with Your Co-Pilot

Ha- we joked beforehand that this could all end in tears. There were some stroppy sighs and some raised eyebrows. It doesn’t help when both of us think we are right. Anyway, we are still talking – just. Not sure how long it will be before we attempt another self nav running event together though.

7. Be Prepared for All Weathers

When we left the house, it was raining. It had been raining all night. We had our waterproofs and hats and were all kitted out for getting very wet and cold. What happened? Twenty minutes in, the rain stopped, the sun came out and we were sweltering. Lucky we were prepared for this and had layered up.

8. Forget About Pace

There were miles that should have taken us 9/10 minutes which took us 14/15. When you have to stop and study a map, it’s a lot trickier. You stop, get the map out, have a conversation about which way to go, turn the map upside down etc. 15 miles of trail running with 1500ft of elevation would usually take us 3 – 3.5 hours. This took us over 4 hours. You must expect to be slower, especially when looking for checkpoints.

9. Have GPS Tracking

We were never too far from somewhere we knew and in that sense were not in any real danger of getting lost however, if we had been, how would we have found our way out? How would someone find us if we got lost? I tend to use Find my iPhone and then let my nearest and dearest have access To that. If I do go missing, they can locate me. It’s a good idea to have hi-vis clothing and a whistle too, with a fully charged phone for emergencies.

10. Enjoy the Views

It can be all too easy to get so lost in worrying about where you are and where you have to get to that you could fail to appreciate the views around you and we did see some stunning views that were new to us yesterday. Have fun and don’t take it all too seriously.

Do you have any experience of self nav running? How are your map reading skills? We’d love to hear.