Trail running is a great way to get some exercise and to get to know the world.
The beauty of the trail is that times are largely irrelevant. Your 10km time on the road doesn’t really correlate with a trail. And the times you run on one trail mean little on another.
That means you are really competing with yourself. And that makes trails far more satisfying and creates a running world filled with comrades and not combatants.
If you do most of your running on the road or a track, you’ll need to get your body accustomed to uneven terrain and different surfaces. For example, running down a steep street is a much different experience to sliding down a steep gravel path.
Start by getting your body accustomed to changing surfaces. For example, you could integrate some beach running into some of your regular runs. Or look for opportunities to run through parks on the grass.
Hill training is important
Hill training is strength training for runners. And there are no flat trails. Find some local hills and work them. If you don’t have hills around home (I’m lucky – I have some monster hills near my place) then make a day of hills training every couple of weekends. You can run the Two Bays trail any time or find a national park and go exploring.
If you don’t have hills around home (I’m lucky – I have some monster hills near my place) then at this as an excuse to explore some national parks. Head out early in the morning and make a day of hills training every couple of weekends.
Plan the run
Most well-known trails in national parks and other public spaces have websites with plenty of information such as maps, elevation profiles, locations of toilets and drink stations, and known hazards.
Do your research before hitting a new trail. If you’ve been doing all your training on flat tracks, be prepared to walk some of the hills. Allow plenty of time and take it easy when on unfamiliar terrain.
Set a realistic goal
How long should to take you to run a trail? My rule of thumb is to allow up to twice as long to run a trail as you would need on a familiar road.
For example, if you typically run 10km in about an hour, be prepared for the same distance on a trail to take as long as two hours. You’ll probably finish faster than that but there may be stretches where you have to walk, climb over a fallen tree, scramble over rocks or go around an unexpected obstacle.
Hydration and fuel are important
If you’re going to run for more than an hour then I’d suggest investing in a hydration pack. I recently invested in a Nathan VaporAir that lets me carry 2l of fluids. It also has a bunch of pockets for food, first aid supplies, my phone and other essentials. It even has a whistle so I can call for help.
Make sure you start the run well fueled and hydrated so that you’re only relying on your pack for top ups as you go. Of course, you could make a day of your run and stash a sandwich or two and stop for a picnic!
Let people know
Never go on a trail without letting people know where you are. I’d suggest carrying a cellphone with a full charge and turning on location services so you can be found easily in case something goes wrong.
There are apps and services that let people know where you are while running. For example, Garmin’s running watches link with an online service that lets people know where you are, how fast you’re going and other interesting run data.
I use an iPhone and simply enable select people to track my location using the “Find my Friends” service.
Savour the moments
One every trail run, there’s a great view or moment to savour.
Don’t just run on the trail – get into the trail. If you see a great view, stop and enjoy it. Take a photo, breathe the air in.