Lockdown cabin fever prompted many of us to literally head for the hills.
The desire to get outdoors and reconnect with nature meant hiking trails around major cities experienced a boom in foot traffic when lockdown restrictions eased as hikers and runners took to the single track.
As these new trail converts rack up the miles, their focus will inevitably turn to their first trail running race as their confidence and thirst for adventure grow.
Ultra-endurance athlete and health coach Kathryn Fourie provides her top tips to improve your trail running in the latest issue of Dis-Chem Living Fit magazine (available now at your local Dis-Chem, free for Benefit members). We share some of her advice:
Guidelines for novice trail runners
First-time trail runners must check that they’re heading to a safe area before setting off for a run. It’s a good idea to start at a trailhead where you can park and sign in so that someone knows you are out there.
Better yet, run with a friend! And always run with a phone in case you need help or get lost.
Start carrying water with you, even if you are heading out for a short 5km or 10km run. If you take a wrong turn and wind up running 20km, you’ll be grateful for that water!
And remember, there is no shame in walking! If you hit a hard uphill, walking it will be a lot faster than trying to run it and winding up exhausted later on!
3 tips to transition to trail running
- Start with shorter, more manageable outings to feel the difference and its impact on your body.
- Don’t try and match your fastest 5km time from road running on a trail straight away. Rather focus on how your body feels and make adjustments to feel comfortable on the trail.
- Road running shoes will be fine for simple trails that have nicely maintained paths, so don’t stress about getting new shoes right away. However, good trail running shoes are a must when you head into rocky, muddy, more technical terrain.
5 essential skills every runner should develop to become more proficient on trails:
- Pay attention to the trail ahead of you. There are more obstacles to potentially smash into compared to the road. The key is not to look down at your feet but a few metres ahead to anticipate what lies ahead.
- Know when walking is a better idea than running, be it for safety or efficiency.
- Practice drinking and eating while moving (and remembering to do that). These skills will help with your energy and your race times.
- Pay attention to your surroundings and try to orient yourself in relation to where you started to help with navigational proficiency. You will develop this skill over time.
- Using a GPS for longer runs will drastically increase your proficiency on the trails.
Trail running fuelling guidelines
Typically, if it’s a 10–20km non-technical run, a few light snacks will do, like an energy bar, a few baby potatoes, date balls or nuts.
If it’s a long race and you won’t have aid stations with food available, you need to pack more substantial food, like a wrap with hummus and veggies or a PB&J. I recommend testing out different things on different distances and see what goes down well!
For optimal hydration, there are numerous powders and gels available to suit different needs and taste preferences.
Kath’s essential trail running gear guide
- A pair of quality trail running shoes that fit well. Get your feet and fit properly assessed at a running shop and try different shoes. Choose your shoe based on the distances you want to focus on – you may want to invest in shoes for short and long distances, or a shoe for non-technical trails and a shoe that is set up for surviving a thrashing in rough terrain.
- Trail running socks. Socks may seem insignificant and you may feel like forking out extra for purpose-made trail socks is unnecessary, but they can make a huge difference to your comfort and race experience.
- Cap and sunscreen. Forgetting sunscreen or a cap can be potentially dangerous from a sunburn and sunstroke perspective.
- Trekking poles really help in steeper terrain and over longer distances. Good trail packs will have special attachment points for your poles so you don’t need to take your bag off to access or stow them.
- A trail running-specific backpack that includes a hydration source (or sources) with capacity for at least 1.5 litres of water. Go for options that have soft flasks up front on the chest area. These packs offer convenience as they allow you to quickly whip out a bottle and refill it from a river or an aid station. Pulling out and refilling a bladder is more time-consuming. Pockets up front on your chest also offer quick access to your phone or GPS, a gel or snack, or sunscreen. Always try the pack on first before buying it – some sizing is deceiving. Every pack should also contain a first aid kit, an emergency blanket, and a whistle.
Luckily, as South Africans, we’re spoilt for choice with the race options on offer. The annual race calendar offers an abundance of recreational trail and race options, from single-day events to multi-day stage races and extreme tests of ultra-endurance.
There really is something to challenge runners at every level. These are some of the country’s most iconic events which every passionate trail runner should include on their bucket list:
Iconic single-day trail races:
- The Otter African trail run (42km)
- Whale of Trail (53km)
- Bastille Day Trail run (50km)
- Salomon Magaliesberg Challenge (50km)
- Mont-Aux-Source Challenge (50km)
- Mweni Marathon (38km)
- Table Mountain Challenge
- Two Oceans Trail Run
Iconic multi-day stage races:
- Molweni Trail Run (2 days)
- The Oxpecker (2 days-
- AfricanX (3 days)
- Three Cranes Challenge (3 days)
- Namaqua Quest (3 days)
- The SOX (3 days)
- Oyster Catcher (3 days)
- Wildcoast Wildrun (3 days)
- Rhodes Dryland Traverse (4 days)
- Richtersveld Wildrun (4 days)
- The Golden Gate Challenge (3 days)
- Kruger 2 Canyon (2 days)
- Dumbe Trail Run (2 days)
- Zingela Trail Run (2 days)
- Glencairn Trail Run (2 days)
Iconic ultra-distance events:
- UTCT (100km)
- K-Way Skyrun (38, 65 and 100km options)
- Ultra Trail Drakensberg (160km, 100km, 62km, 30km and 21km)
- Karkloof 100 (160km) & 50 (80km) Milers
- Fish River Ultra (100km)
- Cederberg Traverse (100km & 100 miles)
- The X-Berg Challenge (Extreme and Mini)