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Beginners guide to trail running: Keeping it fun and simple

It seems that the popularity of trail running in South Africa is surging. You still get the average person who has no clue, and calls on the morning of a race to ask if she can run the trails with a pram, or the person who calls to ask if we can start the race later because 8am is still too cold on a Sunday morning, but besides for them, there are a whole bunch of newbies getting into the sport.. wild men and women who are running through forests and mountains, seeking for ways to nurture their souls.


Trail running satisfies a human primal need for movement through nature, presumably left over from our days as hunters. When things spin out of control in an age of iPhones and drones, running in the woods is one thing we can count on to be pretty much the same as it’s always been.


That’s my fancy explanation. My real reason for trail running? Getting dirty makes me feel way more badass than I am.


The age old argument of whether road running, or trail running is better for you has become a weekly talking point of mine. So to clear it up, here is what I think the average road runner has to gain from venturing out into the wilderness:


Two things. First, reduced risk of injury: The soft, ever-varying surface of the trail lessens the likelihood of an overuse injury, strengthens core muscles, and ultimately makes for more comfortable long runs than asphalt. Second, a rush that road running just can’t give you. It should come as no surprise that soaking in the essence of the forest results in a quantifiably-greater endorphin release than does breathing in roadside fumes.


Trail running has done more than make me a stronger, happier runner: It has made me a runner, period. Don’t wait as long as I did to try it. Here’s what you need to know to hit the trails safely and discover this wildly soothing side of running.


At its best, trail running is a more minimalistic endeavor than road running. While GPS devices, and heart rate monitors have become musts for many runners, technology tends to take away from experience of trail running. Even a watch is dispensable.


Still, there are certain necessities for trail running, some of which require different considerations from running on roads:

· Clothing: The same technical apparel that you wear on roads works for trails, but choose something that you don’t mind getting dirty or snagged.

· Shoes: Road shoes work fine for short runs. If you decide to stick with trail running, however, you’ll eventually want to get a pair of trail shoes. They offer a stronger, protective sole and greater stability than most road shoes. And while the idea of barefooting on trails is appealing, it’s smart to run a trail in standard shoes first to get a feel for how sharp those rocks are.

· Water bottle: If you’re not big on drinking from streams, you’re going to have to carry your water with you. A favorite among trail runners is the handheld water bottle that straps to the hand and has additional pouches for things like keys, ID, and food. For longer runs, consider a hydration vest.


And don’t forget a towel and a change of clothes, socks, and shoes for afterward. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be wet and dirty by the end of the run.


7 Steps to Your First Trail Run

1. Find a trail.

By far the best way to start trail running is to find a local group of trail junkies (AKA adventure junkie SA) and run with them. They’ll know the best trails in your area and help you get started. I met my trail-running group by chance, if you keen to meet up in Joburg, come and join our @AthletesBru crew .. Offers a whole lot of banter, and a chocolate croissant at the finish


Be sure to distinguish between non-technical and technical trails. Non-technical trails are paved, gravel, or dirt roads that are generally easy to negotiate. Technical trails are narrow, dirt or rocky paths offering every variety of challenge that most people associate with trail running.


Here is a link to some of my favourite trails: https://www.inyourpocket.com/johannesburg/walking-and-hiking-in-joburg_74737f


2. Slow down and take short, quick strides. (or so I’ve been told)

You can expect to run about 20 percent slower on trails for a given level of exertion than you would on roads. You’ll find steeper hills, more side-to-side movement, and lots of obstacles to deal with. Trail running is most fun when you forget about pace and do what feels good.


Shorten your stride so that your weight is over your feet most of the time; this allows you to react quickly and maintain balance. You’ll find that trail running works your core and stabilizer muscles more than road running, so it may help to focus on keeping your core engaged.


3. Don’t be afraid to walk the hills.

The surest way to identify a road runner on the trails is to look for the guy who runs past everybody on the uphills, only to be passed again on the downhills. Trail runners know that it’s usually more efficient to walk up the steep hills and conserve energy to make up time on the way down.


4. Scan the ground five to ten feet in front of you as you run.

When you’re running trails, you need to pay extra attention to where you step. But you certainly don’t want to be staring straight down at your feet the whole time. Continuously scan the ground a few yards ahead of you while you’re running. As you notice an approaching obstacle, shift your attention to your feet to do whatever is necessary to clear the obstacle. And don’t be lazy—pick up your feet just a little higher than you think is necessary to avoid a root or rock. Too many falls happen due to simple complacency.


5. Keep a distance of a couple of feet from other runners.

If you’re going to pay attention the ground in front of you, it helps if you can actually see it. If that’s not enough reason to keep your distance, trail runners are required to change speeds all the time, rarely with warning. Nobody likes getting rear-ended.


6. Watch out for slippery roots and rocks.

If you can step over a fallen tree, root, or large rock, rather than on it, do it. Lots of them are more slippery than they look. And when crossing streams, it’s often safer to walk directly through the water than to try to tiptoe across wet rocks. (You’ll avoid being called names, too.) It’s trail running; you’re supposed to get muddy and wet!


7. Be safe. It’s not called “the wild” for nothing.

You know, the common-sense stuff. Whenever possible, run with a friend. Bring a map if you’re running a new trail for the first time, I know I cant give much advice in this regard 😊 . Have a first aid kit in the car, and carry extra food with you for emergencies. Bring along a cell phone or pepper spray if you’re running alone. And know the area you’re running—how to deal with the wildlife, when and where hunting takes place, when the sun goes down, and anything else that might pose a danger.


You have everything you need. Don’t wait another day. Happy trails.




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