How to Transition from Road Running to Trail

Tired of logging high mileage on the tar month after month in preparation for your goal race, but don’t want to lose your fitness? Trail running isn’t just for the bearded mountain goats among us – anyone can enjoy the fresh air out on the trails.

Winter usually means one of two things for a road runner. Either it’s the lung-busting, blood-in-your-throat, all-out sufferfest of the cross-country league; or it’s hiding beneath your Berkshire blanket, sipping on a cup of your favourite hot chocolate with slow-roasted marshmallows, while your legs of steel (that you slaved for months to get) fade into oblivion like the brown leaves of autumn.

If one of these sounds like you, there’s another way to maintain your hard-earned fitness, while still taking some time out from the slog of intensive training. Trail running is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, and in South Africa we’re no different. It’s one of the best ways to get out and allow yourself some time to let loose while enjoying being outdoors, soaking in the winter beauty around you.


Here are 5 ways to make the most out of your new trail running experience, regardless of your fitness level:

Be prepared.
Although trail running is pretty safe, you are more at the mercy of the elements than while road running. Heading off into the mountains without the necessary gear can be life-threatening! If you’re running in your local park, you won’t need to be dressed to the nines in Salomon S-Lab gear; but if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, a waterproof jacket and buff are good things to carry with you, if you’re unsure of local weather patterns. And if you’re running a route you haven’t run before, check it out on Google Maps, and print it out if necessary. Try plan your kit according to the time, distance or altitude that you will be running.

In the mountains the weather can turn faster than your GPS takes to pick up the satellites.

Get social.
The sport of trail running is growing – and so is the number of events, in every province in SA. The Trail Series® is one of the companies organising events all over the country, aimed at giving beginners the perfect starting platform into the world of trail running, while still providing challenging routes for those looking to test themselves against some of the best trail runners in the country. By going social, you increase the fun factor – and take some of the pressure off motivating yourself to get out on the trails.

Exploring new routes with training buddies is a great way to let loose.

Go local.
We wouldn’t recommend starting off your trail-running career with an unsupported 160-kilometre run through the Cederberg. Rather stay local, start off small, and see your neighbourhood with fresh eyes. Find a neighbourhood park and hit the footpaths through the trees; explore a local hiking route; or even hit the beach, if you stay on the coast. The key is to mix it up, and break the routine of pounding the tar for months on end as you train for your goal race.

You’d be amazed at how different things look from a fresh perspective


Switch off and take it easy.
Now is a great time to leave the GPS and earphones at home, relieve the pressure of constantly watching your lap-time splits and every other detail of your run, and just have fun. Have no aim but to be out enjoying nature. No intervals, no hill sprints, no set time – just you, your breathing, and the beauty around you.

Sometimes running with your head in the clouds is a good thing

Take only photos and leave only footprints.
Yes, it is a cliché; but how long will you be able to enjoy the green spaces we have, without a little effort to keep them that way? If you find some litter out on the trail, pick it up and toss it in a nearby bin – it won’t do much for your run, but you’ll finish feeling chuffed that you played a small part in preserving our fauna and flora. If you take any nutrition out on the trail with you, make sure the wrappers don’t accidentally fall out of your pocket while you run. And yes: you have our full permission to take as many selfies as you like at the top of that hill with the incredible views. You worked for it; you deserve to savour the moment.

The climb might be tough but the views at the top are always worth it.

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