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Trail Running for Beginners

Ok, so you’ve seen the stoke radiating off your friends when they come off the mountain, you’re envious of their Instagram content, and you know that there is magic out there beyond the “dreadmill” or the tar of the burbs… so where do you begin?

First up, trail running is loosely categorised as running on anything but tarmac. There are levels to this sport, and they generally range between jeep or gravel track running, and pure mountain running. The mountain goats will warn you to work your way up to the scrambles across ridge lines, and the negotiation of tricky ledges. Figure out some non-technical routes around you as you earn your trail cred.

1. Invest in a pair of trail shoes

Your road running / court shoes / walking takkies won’t cut it, and you’ll want to prevent injury from the word go. Trail shoes offer different kinds of support and grip. For a good analogy, think of the difference between tires on a mountain bike and a road bike. Within the trail-running category, you’ll find a range of shoes that are suited for everything from easy, groomed trails up to highly technical, variable terrain. Get your shoes properly fitted by an expert.

2. Gear

Keep it simple to start with. A hand-held water bottle, shorts, tee, quality socks and good trail shoes. You can add a carefully fitted hydration pack, GPS watch, first aid kit, ankle strapping, space blanket etc. as soon as you begin running longer, and more technical trails. A decent head lamp is a key trail running gear item, and should be considered as your next big investment after shoes. You don’t have to own a trucker hat or one of those flip up caps to run trail, they just look cool. But you should consider sun exposure and dress accordingly. Small sachets of sunscreen are a must for trail packs.

3. Route Recce

Get out and about as a hiker on your local trails, before plotting to run them. Join or create a recce group and work on adding speed together. Knowing the terrain is absolutely key. If you’re running trails in an unfamiliar area, don’t forget navigational tools such as a map and compass or, additionally, a GPS unit.

4. Technique

No, it’s not just running off-road… Focus on using a shorter stride. Keep your feet underneath you at all times to maintain your balance on variable terrain. Over-striding is the great enemy of trail runners. Keep your eyes down and scan the trail 10-15m in front of you. Your brain will work with your feet to plot the best way forward. Staring down at your feet will make you an awkward trail runner, and a liability to yourself and the trail buddies behind you. Swing your arms. This helps you to relax your core and keep your balance.

5. The Numbers Game

Trail running will take you into remote places, which is part of the appeal. You’ll want to do this within the safety of an officially organised race or event, or as part of a running crew. As soon as you have a few runs ticked off, look out for short to medium distance trail events in your area as a great way to get some experience, and meet fellow trail runners who are similarly paced to you.


Trail running is addictive, in the best possible way. It will show you elements of the world, and yourself, that you would otherwise never experience. You’ll make friends for life, and become a little obsessed with sunrise and sunset moments in nature. You’re going to have great calves.


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Words: Kim Stephens