Letshego Zulu
3 minute read
13 Jun 2022
10:00 am

Everything you need to know about trail running

Letshego Zulu

It's daunting but exciting because every metre is different from start to finish.

Picture: iStock

I have always wondered about trail running but have never ventured into it. Being a mountain biker, I have a good idea of what the trail running experience is like.

The beauty about trail running and mountain biking is they often take you on the road less travelled, deep into the mountains where an ordinary city slicker would not typically go. The two sports take you on a sight-seeing journey and you get the opportunity to explore the true beauty of our country.

Trail running can be daunting but exciting, purely because every metre is different from start to finish. It has more obstacles than road running and, in most cases, results in slower, more concentrated running.

In road running, there is more forward momentum as trail running often results in a lot of stop-start and directional changes.

ALSO SEE: A beginner’s guide to running

What skills are required in trail running?

Unlike in road running, when starting out in trail running, it is suggested you shorten your stride in order to keep your centre of balance beneath you. That way, it is easier to catch yourself should an obstacle throw you off balance. It is also much easier to make directional changes with shorter strides as opposed to long ones.

It is suggested you keep your eyes down and scan the path a good couple of metres in front of you. This helps with planning your foot placements as you navigate the pathways. If you look directly where your feet land, you may miss upcoming obstacles and trip.

This is the same technique used in mountain biking. When you look a few metres ahead of you, your brain processes what you see and by the time your feet land on that spot, they already know what needs to be done.

While trail running, swing your arms. This helps with navigation and balance. When climbing hills, keep your back straight as leaning forward may compress your lungs and reduce your breathing capacity, making you tired sooner.

When descending, avoid leaning back, as this might result in you losing your balance and injuring yourself.

What kit do you need?

The type of gear needed on a trail run depends solely on the distance and kind of route you plan to undertake. One thing you need to note, for example, is that a 10km trail run is a lot more technical than a 10km road run and ultimately takes longer to complete.

With trail runs taking place in remote places, you most likely need to take some water with you in a hydration backpack. Hydration backpacks are a great investment because you can use them to also store your keys, gear, money, nutrition bars and other snacks.

If your run is short, you could manage with a handheld bottle but it is not advisable on technical routes where you will need your hands to navigate.

With regards to clothing, it’s best to opt for breathable, moisture-wicking clothes. The weather in mountainous areas tends to be unstable, so you want to have a hat, a rain jacket and some sun lotion.

Have a small first aid kit in case you trip, fall and need to patch yourself up. If you like running in the evening, make sure you invest in a good headlamp. All of these can be stored in your hydration backpack. A sports watch is not a must if you know where you are going, but it’s definitely a good piece of equipment to have. It will help keep you on track by measuring your distance. Last, but not least, make sure your shoes have good grip. Often in trail running you climb up and down rocky paths and shoes with poor grip can lead to loss of traction and lead to falls or other injuries.