Beginners

Tips for beginner trail runners

Nov 9, 2020

Whether you are a new trail runner or a road runner that is giving the trails a go, there are a few tips that I want to share when adventuring onto the trails which may make your experience that much more enjoyable!

Tips for beginner trail runners

Tip 1: Ignore your pace

Trail and road running are different sports except that the word “running” is the same. When trail running, the pace really doesn’t matter. It is almost impossible to compare your road running speeds with your trail. Due to the nature of trail running, it’s more about the technical aspects, the climbs, the views and experiences rather than how fast you can go and your average speed.

Tip 2: It’s not “just” a 10 km

Do not be fooled! For a road runner, a 10km may be a very manageable distance and for a lot of people even a short run. For trail, it is completely dependent on where it is, altitude, how technical the route it and the weather as that 10 km trail may take you well over an hour and a half of climbing in mountainous areas. Be aware of distances on the trail and, if entering a race, perhaps compare previous finishing times to get an idea of how long you may be on your feet.

Tip 3: Invest in trail gear

There is a reason that there are shoes specifically designed for trail. The main differences are the “lugs” or the sole of the shoe which provides the grip and the “protection” of the uppers – for when you bash those rocks. I would strongly recommend investing in a trail shoe for trail running. As you progress to run longer trails, a hydration vest is a great asset too as it fits comfortably, carries all you need and is easy access to water and food.

Tip 4: Explore and allow ample time

Sometimes there is more “exploring” done on the trails (we do not call it being lost) which means that the trail run may take longer than anticipated. Allow the time for the trail run and try not to have very limited time as this may add stress to get back from the run. Explore the trails, take photos and breathe in the fresh air.

Tip 5: Steep ups and downs

If you are running/ hiking up a really steep hill, try to lean forward into the hill and place your hands on your thighs to push through them as you step up. With steep downs, keep your arms wide out to the side of you to allow for balance correction and try to take smaller, quicker steps.

Tip 6: Choose your line

This means that when you are running and you have a choice of where to place your feet, choose your line (where you want to go) and stick to it! Try to look a metre ahead on the trails, rather than down at your feet. This allows your brain to anticipate where you are going and your head is in a better position too.

In South Africa we are so blessed with many unique trails. We talk about “technical” trails. What this means is how difficult it is to run underfoot – example would be a very stony or a trail with lots of roots sticking out. An easy trail would be a dirt road which is flatter underfoot and therefore easier to navigate.

When starting out, I would recommend that you start with an easier trail and then try out the more technical trails. Initially you can even walk some of the very technical parts and then, as you build your confidence, start to run parts of it.

It is all about practice and confidence. Trail running is incredible – go out and explore!

Dawn Nunes


Dawn Nunes is a Physiotherapist with over 15 years experience. Her passion is to help everyone lead an Active lifestyle preventing and rehabilitating injuries. She is also known as “Physiotrailrunner” and enjoys blogging about the local trails. Find out more about Dawn here.

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