Fresh air, panoramic views, and so many routes to choose from… what’s not to love about trail running? It’s no wonder the sport has seen a massive rise in popularity over the last few years, with fitness enthusiasts switching out their indoor workouts for trail running adventures over hills, down ravines, up mountains and through forests.
Whether you’re experienced or an absolute newbie, all trail runners will tell you that pace comes a distant second to enjoyment.
Find your trail running crew
The starting point is to find your crew. And then, as professional trail runner, Toni McCann says, “Just get out there! Find a person or a group you’re comfortable running with, pick a loop that excites you, keep running it until you’re comfortable, and then expand on it.”
Toni is one of the newest members of the adidas TERREX Trail Running team. She grew up in a landlocked country now known as Eswatini in Southern Africa, hopping from rock to rock along river beds with her Dad, and to a large extent that’s what she still does today… “the rocks are just much bigger!”
Running on the trails brought her immense peace during one of the most stressful periods of her life. “The most special thing about trail running is that you get to disconnect from busy life. Being in the open air surrounded by nature is so beneficial to your mental wellbeing.”
Trail running takes you to places you’ve never been before, and it’s different to exploring the route in a car or on a bicycle. As Toni says, “Being in nature is a much more tactile experience when you’re on your feet.”
Break your route down into manageable sections
While the idea of running up a mountain may seem like an impossible feat; Toni looks at it as a freeing and empowering journey. “Break it down into sections and don’t look at the top so that it feels manageable and not daunting. Then when you get to the top, whether you ran or hiked to get there, you’ll look down and have an immense feeling of accomplishment. It’s incredible what the body and the mind are capable of.”
She makes it sound really easy, so it’s surprising to learn that Toni wasn’t always a trail runner. She actually grew up with aspirations of becoming a national field hockey player; and when things didn’t go according to plan, she took a complete break from sport.
Use a positive mindset to get you through the challenging times
For Toni, her love of trail running developed only once she’d stopped playing field hockey. “I had gained weight, and wasn’t in a great space. I got into trail running because I was envious of all the amazing places that my mountain-biking friends were visiting each weekend. It looked so exciting!”
And while field hockey equipped Toni with physical strength, explosive power and the ability to change direction quickly, which all come in handy on the trails; she missed the support of a team around her, and found competing as an individual mentally challenging and lonely at times.
“It’s important to talk positively to yourself during a race, and to have the mindset that you’re capable of the challenge. It’s easy to talk yourself down when you’re having a hard time or want to stop – mental toughness is really important, but be kind to yourself.”
Enjoy the surprises trail running throws at you
For Toni, trail running is her way of exploring a new area. “That’s how I choose where to race – the trails, the area, and the community. It becomes difficult to choose though, so I end up racing more than I probably should in a year.”
In saying that, she’s quick to point out that trail running is slightly easier on your body than road running because there’s less repetitive motion so the load isn’t as consistently on the same groups of muscles. “In terms of training, the emphasis is placed on time on your feet and not as much on mileage. It’s about being out on the type of terrain with the same elevation profile and technicality you’re likely to encounter on race day. In this sense, the training can be easier on your body, as long as there’s a focus on recovery, and that proper maintenance is done such as strength and mobility training too.”
Ultimately, trail running is about exploring. As Toni says, “Enjoy being in the moment and it may just take your mind off the fact that you’re running!”
So, what are you waiting for? Head for the hills and within minutes of running (or walking), the sights, smells and sounds of nature will transport you to a place that feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Feeling inspired by the great outdoors?
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