Just because Summer and Fall come to an end, doesn’t mean your trail events have to as well. From November 2017 through February 2018, 112,587 Athletes participated in over 1,200 trail events Nationwide. At Athlinks Services, we’re gearing up to help you execute your own trail events by offering our take on best practices.

We know trail events can be a whole other animal. However, sometimes the most challenging part isn’t the competing, but rather the planning and course marking. From the basics, to things you might never have thought of, we’ve got you covered. Here you will find guidance on the in’s and out’s of making your event successful, stress free, and SAFE for both your Athletes and the environment.

Trail Marking

To kick things off, our friends at Race Director HQ have put together some great content regarding rules to follow when marking those courses. Below you will find their take on what makes ideal course markings, as well as a link to which materials are best suited for the job. 

The Rules

  • Be explicit. When it comes to course marking, there is no such thing as “obvious”. Something that may be obvious to you, will not be obvious to a first-timer on the course.
  • Think of the environment. Marking should be a balancing act between providing as much information as is necessary to ensure a safe navigation and having as little of an impact on the environment as possible. 
  • Communicate. Before marking your course, make sure local authorities, residents, the police and all relevant agencies are fully on board with what you’re planning to do. 
  • Be consistent. Come up with a set of trail marking conventions and stick to them throughout your course. If you are getting help from others, make sure the same rules are followed by everyone, down to the color, size and style of arrows, signs and waypoints.
  • Keep it simple. Avoid using elaborate or over-explicit marks. Most of the times you’d want to either point direction with an arrow or confirm direction with a dot, square or other symbol. Do, however, make sure your marks stand out against the trail background and look clearly man-made.

Check out what materials Race Director HQ recommends for your event by reading the full blog

Based on the rules above, this information begs the question, is there such a thing as too much marking? The answer: no and yes. At confusing/potentially dangerous spots, mark away – just make sure you aren’t damaging the land. You can make your course markings obvious while making them environmentally friendly at the same time. On the flip side, Athletes participate in these types of events, not just for the challenge of terrain, but for the beauty of it as well. Constantly staring at neon pink flags and marking tassels can take away from the outdoor experience. So, try and preserve the landscape for its natural aesthetic and feel

More Than Just the Basics

In addition to just the course markings and synthetic materials, we cover a few more best practices, from Aid Station prep to final countdown communication:

trail event best practices - aid stationAid Stations –  Remember to equip your aid stations with all course marking materials in case volunteers or roaming staff need to make changes or re-mark the course. Make sure you have properly educated Volunteers and staff before arming them with course materials – you want to make sure any additions or changes are consistent to ensure the safety of all on course. 

Pro Tip: If you are arming each aid station with a first-aid kit (which you 100% should be doing), they should be “blown out”, meaning more and bigger gauze, bandages, etc. Trail events can get dangerous due to the terrain, and your aid stations should be ready to handle bigger cuts and bruises. Parks and mountain resort regulations often require a minimum number of medical personnel on site, and if If your budget can afford it, it’s a great idea to man every aid station with medical staff. 

Man-Marking – A fool proof way to make sure your runners stay safe at confusing parts of your course is to mark it with a real, live, human being. A perfect role for a capable Volunteer! If there is any major doubt while marking, be safe and put a body there.

Trail Sabotage – We hate to even have to mention this, but it’s important to keep in mind that not all local hikers/residents are excited to have their home trail host your event. Unfortunately, some individuals might try to sabotage course markings. Make sure the morning before the event you have gone out and reviewed your course, especially at confusing junctions/trailheads where mismarking or no marking could be dangerous. Making sure no one has messed with your markings could be life and event saving, and could be the difference between a one-and-done or tenured event.

Starting Line Announcements – At the start of the race, the starting line, runners chute, etc., have your Event Announcer hold up and display the various marking materials Athletes will encounter on course. Let them know where they can be expecting the markings to lie. If you’re using bib tags, it’s a great idea to coordinate bib color per distance type, with the same colored course markings. For example, if you are marking your 10K course with yellow flags, spray paint, arrows, etc. make the participant bibs yellow. That way if your Athletes get confused as to which color they are supposed to be following, they simply have to look at their bib.

Pre-Race Communication – If you’re planning an event where Athletes won’t be using bibs or tracking tags that have the ability to color coordinate, make sure you have communicated which color of markings they are to follow before they hit the course. A great way to communicate is through pre-race emails, packet pick up, or even at the time of registration. Remember, consistency is key so make sure they have had multiple reminders of this information.

Last-minute Course Changes – If any last minute changes have to be made to your course markings that deviate from communications you have previously sent your Athletes, make sure you communicate changes across multiple platforms. Post it to your social pages the night before or morning of, send emails with changes noted, make announcements at the start line and have your Event Staff and Volunteers personally inform every Athlete they interact with before the starting gun goes off. Remember, there is such a thing as too much marking, but you can never have too much communication surrounding those markings.

If you have any questions on how Athlinks Services can help you with your next trail event, reach out to your Account Manager today or send us an email at info@athlinks.com

Happy Trails to you!