How to get into Trail Running
South Africans are quickly discovering the many joys of trail running. While regular road running remains popular, trail running has a different set of benefits if you’re looking to change up your running environment.
This reactive, in-the-moment running style is exciting and fun. And no wonder! Our beautiful country offers so many stunning locations for you to try your first trail. It’s also perfect for those who find the monotony of the road or treadmill a little dull.
Benefits of trail running
- It’s physically safer, as you run on softer, more varied terrain, reducing the risk of injury.
- It’s core-strengthening – your core will be more engaged for quicker reactions.
- It’s a more comfortable running style in general.
- You’ll enjoy a rush that you won’t find running on a normal road.
Trail running allows you to take in the beauty of nature around you, and there will be plenty of moments to pause and enjoy the scenery. But as with any outdoor activity…
- Run with a friend if you can
- Take your dog on the trail with you
- Tell someone where you are going, when and at what time
- Have a first aid kit in the car
- Carry your phone, ID and an area map with you
- Carry pepper spray
So, once you are prepared on the safety front, how do you get started on this new running journey?
Here are our top tips on how to get into trail running:
1. Get the right gear
You will need a more ‘minimalist’ wardrobe for trail running, and one you won’t mind getting dirty. After all, you’ll be leaping, running and skipping through all kinds of terrain, water and vegetation – this can be a messy business!
Consider the following essentials for trail running:
- Trail shoes: these are special shoes with stronger soles that offer more stability. They will help you reduce ankle rolls and improve traction.
- Waist belt: very handy, as trail running is a hands-free running style where you will need both arms for balance. There are straps and belts available with extra pouches for you to store other essentials like your keys, phone, etc.
- Water bottle: strapped to your hand or to your special waist belt.
- Headlamp or small flashlight: handy to keep in your waist belt, especially if you’re running at the end of the day or on an early morning.
- Sunscreen: essential in our climate, in any season, at any time of day. Sunglasses or a hat / cap are good too.
- Insect repellant: optional, but helpful, especially in mosquito prone areas.
- Towel, a change of clothes and shoes: to keep in the car for after your run.
2. Prepare for a different kind of run
Trail running can be exhausting, especially in the beginning. Being prepared for a different kind of run will help you manage your expectations.
Trail running requires a more reactive approach, balance, core strength, awareness of your surroundings and the path ahead, and other important skills you will pick up as you do more trails.
Here are some things to be prepared for on your first few trails:
- Use shorter, quicker strides: the terrain is varied, so shorter strides will help with balance and pace.
- You will be slower: so try to be less aware of your time and distance covered, especially if you are used to running good time on the road. Over time, you will get stronger and faster as you get used to the routes.
- Prepare for obstacles: hills on trails are steeper, so be ready to tackle varied terrain and obstacles in your path. Enjoy them as they’re part of the fun!
- Use your arms: widen your arms for extra balance when you run.
Ryan Sandes, South African trail running sensation, recommends knowing your limits, especially as a beginner. Deciding whether to walk or run at various steeper trail points will help you run more efficiently.
3. Conserve your energy
This has nothing to do with pride – it has everything to do with energy management and efficiency. Knowing your body and your limits will help you conserve your energy, making for a more enjoyable trail running experience.
Instead of trying to run up steep hills, walk. This approach applies to any other part of your run, especially on new trails. When in doubt, walk. Then you can determine whether a section of path can be run or not on your next trail.
Every seasoned trail runner will tell you: there is no room for ego in trail running!
4. Always look ahead
One of the challenges you may face if you’re new to trail running is keeping an eye on your surroundings as well as on the path ahead.
Here are some tips to help you navigate your route effectively and avoid falls:
- Scan the ground ahead of you, not just immediately in front of you.
- Be aware of approaching obstacles.
- Slow down if you’re unsure of what lies ahead.
- Pick up your feet to avoid tripping.
- Keep a safe distance between you and fellow trail runners.
5. Be aware of slippery terrain
When it comes to wet rocks or tree roots, over is better than on. If you’re running soon after rainfall, or in the early morning or evening, foresty areas can be fairly wet in places. So just be careful and aware. When you come to any shallow streams or puddles, walk through the water – it’s safer and fun!
6. Fuel-up right
Eating the right snacks is possibly one of the most important parts of trail running. Eating a diet high in protein, good fats and good energy sources will make you a better runner.
Snacks you can nibble on while you’re on the trail will keep you going for longer. Montagu products are especially convenient, as they come in small portions that you can pop into your pocket or waist belt!
Here is a list of our favourite essential foods and snacks for trail runners:
- Raw date and nut truffles: dates are high in energy making them the perfect runners’ snack. Try Montagu’s exciting truffle range.
- Energy balls made with dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Try these Apple and Walnut energy balls.
- Home-made granola bars
- Montagu No… No Flakes and Multitubs: with no added sugar, preservatives, artificial colourants or flavourants
- Assorted nuts, seeds and dried fruit
In the beginning, do a trail once a week. Your body will need time to recover. Then increase your trails to once a week, every 2 / 3 weeks. Many runners also swear by chocolate milk straight after a run, for a post-trail recovery snack. Yum!
7. Exercise off the trail
In between trails, pay attention to strength and balance-improvement exercises – your body will thank you.
Try these as part of your fitness routine:
- Squats (2-leg and 1-leg)
- Calf raises
As with any other sport or activity, there is some etiquette you should be aware of. No one likes it when people aren’t courteous on the road – the same applies to trails.
Your basic guide to trail running etiquette:
- Yield to other trail users, including horse riders, mountain bikers and hikers.
- When making your way downhill, yield to those making their way uphill.
- Be kind and courteous, always keeping a good distance between other runners.
- Stick to marked trails.
- Be kind to the environment and don’t litter.
Find a trail group in your community
There are plenty of trail runs happening all over South Africa throughout the year, with trails designed for every fitness level, individual or group-based. Browse the web or social media for clubs, parks, and once-off events in your area. There is something for everyone.
Cape Town has some of the best trail runs around, so be sure to keep an eye on your local calendars.
Upcoming trail run
Don’t miss the upcoming SOX trail run happening from the 9th – 11th of August 2019. Montagu will be sponsoring the fueling stations at this 3-day event, so runners get to enjoy sunshine-packed Montagu treats during the trail. Find out more here.