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About Trail Running as Part of a Fit Life

Like mountain biking, it would seem that the soul inspiring terrain and picturesque trails of off road running appeal to the adventurous spirit of sports lovers, taking them out of the gyms and off the pavements into the mountains, forests and parklands. To many, trail running sounds like torture, yet it is one of the fastest growing athletic sports and has attracted millions of enthusiasts over the last few years.

Basically, trail running is extreme-hiking at a faster tempo. Like hiking, you can participate in trail running at every level, wherever you find suitable terrain.

The trails consist of natural tracks which wind up hill, down dale and anywhere in between. It’s all about discovering.

When you take part in a trail run event you can expect to encounter water, negotiate bridges, ladders, rocks and boulders and run through forests and open plains. The perfect escape to replenish the soul and reignite your love for the great outdoors!

If that sounds like fun to you, you should consider incorporating this type of running into your fit life regime.

Why Try Trail Running?

As part of your fitness program, trail running makes a pleasant change from your usual routine and gives you a chance to enjoy nature while challenging your endurance at the same time. It is also a wonderful way to stay fit while you’re holidaying at a scenic destination

Other trail running benefits include:

  • Trail running surfaces are much softer than tarmac or asphalt which means less impact on your muscles and joints.
  • The terrain forces you to take smaller steps which means more acceleration with less effort.
  • Being out in nature is a psychological pick me up which can renew your enthusiasm for running if your usual routine has become stale and monotonous.
  • The air is cleaner out on a trial run where there are no exhaust fumes or angry motorists to contend with.
  • Running up hills makes you stronger and lets you benefit from training at altitude.

Whether you plan to take up trail running full time or use it as part of your fit life program, you’re going to need to add a few more items to your wardrobe to get the most out of it.

Trail Running Gear

Many of the running clothes that are suitable for road and track running will do just as well for trail running. You will need specialized shoes though.

Trail Running Shoes

The best trail running shoes have thick soles with added grip for coping with the rough terrain. They’re more padded to protect your feet from rocks, and the fabric on the top of the shoe is more resistant to cuts, tears and moisture.

Stiff construction helps prevent foot rotation and twisted ankles on the trail. Trail runners usually choose long running socks to protect their legs from scratches.

Trail running shoes are available in light, heavy and off trail versions according to the task at hand.

Trail Running Apparel

All the same guidelines for choosing running gear apply to trail running too. You may want to stick to long bottoms as they do give you added protection from scratches, splashes and ticks.

Pack some extra layers into your sports bag, especially if you are travelling elsewhere for your run. The weather is unpredictable most of time, especially in unfamiliar places and layering up for the start is always recommended.

Training for Trail Running

Like any running, trail running training should be a gradual process. Start small and set your sights on more testing terrain. You don’t want an injury to stop you in your tracks. Specialist coaches will tell you that there is a technique to trail running with three main challenges; running uphill, running downhill and controlling your rhythm with your arms.

The best advice for a trail running beginner is to set off on a hiking trail and only run the sections of the track that your feel comfortable with. This gives you ample time for recovery and some moments to enjoy the view out there.

It’s important to remember that you’ll need to make some adjustments to your usual running style and don’t be disheartened by slower times at first. Trail running is more difficult and time consuming than running on the road.

If you want to take part in a race, your preparation should begin at least 10 weeks ahead of the event. Begin by adding at least two days of trail running to your regular road training schedule. It is important to continue with your usual road-running exercise while training for trails as this give your body time to recover on familiar ground, without losing fitness.

Regular EMS sessions and gym workouts with a suitably qualified trainer will also help you to prepare. Be sure to include balance and coordination exercises, like squats, splits and single-leg exercises, in your schedule.

Trail Running Tips

When you’re running on the trail, focus on effort instead of time. A short, obstacle-filled course will take longer to complete than an easy, lengthier distance.

Learn to run with your toes up using short, swift strides. This prevents tripping and will help you cover ground faster.

When running uphill shorten your stride, lift your knees higher and move your weight on to the balls of your feet.

Never let yourself get out of control when running downhill. Don’t allow gravity to pull you at a pace that it is too fast for your ability, keep your stride short with your feed directly under your body while maintaining an upright position.

Your arms are a crucial component in trail running. They help you to keep an efficient running rhythm.

  • Uphill – short and sharp swinging movement followed by a short and fast stride.
  • Downhill – control your momentum with your arms to keep you balanced and regulated. If you need to change direction suddenly use your arms to guide you.

During competition, make the trail your biggest competitor and finishing your only goal. Trail running is a test of your ability and endurance, not speed. Focusing on every step instead of what position you are in is the best way to improve your time ultimately.

Tackle downhills boldly and deliberately and don’t be ashamed to walk the hills.

For goodness sake, look where you’re going while training. Focus a few feet in front of you and only consult your training watch or fitness devices on flat, unobstructed areas. Many an injury can be prevented by staying aware of your surroundings.

Best Places to Go Trail Running

Once you’ve been bitten by the trail running bug, there are an infinite number of destinations you can add to your bucket list.

  • The Fish River Canyon is the scene of an intense ultra trail running marathon event that must be completed within 24 hours. You can choose from a 65km or a 100km version of the challenge.
  • The Sky Run in KwaZulu Natal’s Witteberg is so tough that if you finish, you win. Everyone who completes the race receives a medal and the first runner home gets little more than a pat on the back.
  • Meandering through the Tsitsikamma National Forest, The Otter Trail run may cover the standard 42km marathon distance, but it does have 1 600m of accumulated elevation and 4 river crossings to negotiate.

There are so many events across Africa that it’s hard to choose just a few. Ranging from 5km nature trails to full-on self-supporting multi-day desert adventures you will be spoilt for choice. Wherever you are in the world, you’ll find a trail run to suit your level of training and adventurous spirit.

Whether your preference is short and scenic or long and challenging, grab yourself a copy of “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. “A fascinating and inspiring true adventure story, based on humans pushing themselves to the limits. A brilliantly written account of extraordinary endurance … destined to become a classic: Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

It’s quite simply – captivating and compelling and will inspire you to run further, live life more fully and will entertain you immensely!

Are you ready to take the road less travelled?