At the beginning of every year, I think how nice it would be to get into trail running. And every year, without fail, 12 months go by and I find myself thinking the exact same thing. 2018 has been different. I’ve entered almost every trail run in the Western Cape, actually done some, and the trail running bug has bit. I even put together a Western Cape trail run calendar which people (bless) have been using. If you’re an experienced runner, go away, there is nothing of value for you here. If you want to start and have been umming, ahhing and making excuses, keep reading.
How to start
Naturally, this new-found love for trail running is the focus of many an Instagram story. Because of this, several women have asked for advice on how to get started. It seems like a lot of people are very keen, but no one is quite sure how to get going. Look, I’m not an expert and there’s no magic formula, you just have to start. That said, some things helped immensely.
Park Runs are great!
I started taking part in several of the local Park Runs. These are timed, 5km runs that happen across the world. These are fantastic, they require little investment, are just around the corner, are free and happen every week. If we’re honest, it’s quite hard to find a legitimate excuse not to do them.
In the beginning, it was a bit awful though. I went in with the wrong mindset and got frustrated that there weren’t overnight improvements. Running had never been my thing. And when you’re starting out, 5km is actually quite far. And running in a group of people was a whole new experience too. I kept going. It’s true what they say, consistency really is the key to succeeding with most things in life. And so is patience.
The Park Run is now firmly part of my routine and has helped build confidence in something I never thought I’d do: regular running. If you don’t know where to start, start with the Park Run. While you don’t have to have someone with you on the Park Run, it really helps to keep you motivated. Between boyfriend, Dad and good friends, it was nice to have friendly faces on the run and waiting at the finish line. Some runs are friendlier than others, some are quieter, some are near the ocean and some are in built-up areas. Try out a few and find one that you really enjoy.
Shattering THE “TRAIL RUNNING” myth
Without overthinking it, I entered a few trail runs and committed to doing them. Fast forward to the first trail. I was nervous I would be the only walker, that I would finish last and be outed as an imposter who was not fit to walk among them (see what I did there).
Long have I lived under the impression that people who do these trail runs, run the whole way. This intimidated me greatly, how on earth do you run up those steep hills? The thought of having to run the entire route was often an excuse for not starting.
Well, this is a COMPLETE MYTH. In reality, people are walking all over the route. Uphills, downhills, on the flat sections, on the single track, on the jeep track. Wait, people are walking? PEOPLE ARE WALKING! Once this myth was shattered, I became unstoppable and signed up for tons more. For a while this new realisation was pretty much all I could talk about.
Just GO Sign Up already
Research some in your area, sign up for one or two, and put a stick in the sand. If you’re struggling to find them, both Dirtopia and WildRunner host great, well-organised events with shorter route options. If you’re wondering what to expect, here’s a video Chasing Trails shot at a Dirtopia trail earlier this year.
Women-only CMIFYC hosts great runs and you can read about that over here. And if you need more trail running motivation, some of them even give you wine.
Phone a friend … and plan breakfast
I’ll admit the thought of getting up early, to drive an hour in the near dark, to run through a cold forest, with little to keep you warm, doesn’t sound like everyone’s idea of fun. Prior to 2018, it certainly wasn’t mine. The best advice here is to rope someone in to do it with you. It’s nice to have company on the drive, someone you can moan to on the steep uphills and a breakfast buddy. Let me tell you, after 11kms of running around in the dirt, an omelette never tasted so good. The thought of a delicious coffee and something with bacon becomes a pretty good motivator.
Get your friends, family, partner and whoever else involved. Get them walking, running or waiting on the finish line for you. I really appreciate it when people show up to support me. It’s incredibly encouraging having your own personal cheerleaders see you off at the start, run alongside you or wait with a post-run coffee. And it’s a chance to connect with other people who’ve also started running. Mel from ImagineYou and I are finally meeting IRL, after speaking online for years, at a trail run later this month.
Everyone has their own version of downtime. Yoga has never been my thing, neither has meditation, but trail runs and I are in the same WhatsApp group. They get you up early, get you outdoors and help you get your step goals before 10am. If you’re thinking about starting, just do it. If you like plans and want a little more structure, start the couch to 5km program, register for the Park Run, lace up and go. You can read about the things I wish I’d known before my first trail run here.