I took the opportunity to do some trail running around Cape Town. I absolutely loved it. Having always been a road runner, mostly through living in the city, this was a new experience. Heading on a scenic trail run changed my view on running.
I managed to get out for a few scenic tail runs whilst in and around Cape Town during a recent trip to South Africa. I already knew the beauty of South Africa but to get out to run the trails around Cape Town and in the Stellenbosch area, wow. Sure, the beautiful setting did help but the entire experience was new and fun.
But it was more than that, it changed the way I ran. On a road run it is easy to switch off and let the kilometres tick on by. Here, I felt like my run demanded all my attention. I had to be fully present and engaged with my run and as a bonus, the views of cape town were spectacular.
I ran with some great people from Cape Town’s Tuesday Trails Group. This meant a few important things; I had a guide for the trail, I got tips from some experienced trail runners and I got to experience the great community that forms around trail running (not to mention the great beer to end the run)
As a road runner, I wanted to share my experience and some of my key learning points. Trail running is a different ball game and requires some change in approach and mindset.
I highly recommend the experience, but take the following steps into consideration
1.Find A Trail Running Group
This is one of the most important aspects to me.
Safety is key!
If you are running on less frequented paths it is really helpful to have someone around should you find yourself in need of help. This can take many forms from a trip due to uneven terrain, bumping into animals along your path, or even undesired humans.
When you head off the beaten track into unfamiliar terrain it’s great to be able to focus on your running, avoiding stones and branches instead of constantly need to think about your route and directions.
Getting out with a group who know the area means that you can do just that. As always, when running in a group, it helps to find a group that run at roughly the same pace or alternatively set regular meet-up points to regroup.
If a group is not an option, using tools such as strava beacon to ensure someone knows where you are may be your next best option.
2. Hydration & Nutrition
If like me, you are in the habit of being an urban runner it’s easy to slip some money in your pocket and stop at a local shop for some water. This may not be such a viable solution when heading off onto the trails.
As a road runner, I noticed that the trails’ demand for energy was significantly different. The undulating terrain with steep climbs and sudden drops meant that the demand on my energy was different to what I am used to. At these times it’s great to be able to rehydrate at to keep moving forward.
For trail running using hand held water bottles is an option, however I found it easier and safer to keep my hands free meaning that a running belt or a running vest seem to be better options for trail running adventures.
Ensuring you do not only have the right stability and grip, but also the right padding around your shoe is essential. At first it takes a little getting used to running with a higher step to avoid the uneven ground, so bumping my toes seemed frequent.
The terrain on the trails around Cape Town is made up of loose sandy mountain paths. With some steep inclines with rocks and tree roots to navigate it’s good to have the right trail shoes offering the right level of grip as well as being able to take a bump or two whilst still keeping your feet comfortable and protected inside.
I ran in a pair of Asics Alpine XT. This is a shoe that I bought for winter running when conditions are not perfect. This shoe worked perfectly for me on my journey through the trails.
4.Respect Trail Etiquette
Firstly, and most importantly, get out there to enjoy the environment and scenery that you are going to explore. Leave the city vibes behind and enjoy the sound of nature (so leave your headphones at home).
The second reason for this, more so than my experience running around the paths of a city park. You may be on a single path which means passing people (in either direction) requires some form of communication. Sometimes eye contact is enough, but being able to hear someone calling out for a pass can be important. Some paths are narrow not giving much space to pass.
Many aspects of trail running etiquette seem to be based on common sense but for a complete guide on trail running etiquette check out Relentless Forward Commotions’ Trail Running Etiquette Tips
5. Adjust Your Pace, Take Your Time and Enjoy the View
Your trail run is likely to be a greatly different experience to your regular road run. Depending on the route you choose. Whilst on your road run you may have the habit of staring at your watch and checking your pace. This is a time to leave pace behind and focus on enjoying everything the route has to offer.
Adjust to the environment, the uneven terrain, rocks, roots and tree stumps. Take time to enjoy and absorb the scenery and nature. Accept that you may need to slow down to pass runners, or to cross pedestrians.
The trail I ran offered spectacular views of Cape Town, the Lions head and Table Mountain during sunset, meandering through the Table Mountain National Reserve is truly spectacular. And highly recommended.
I envy the people who can run these paths on a daily basis. This experience lives highly in my memory. I can’t wait to go back.
Jeroen is a keen runner and triathlete. With over 10 years of experience training and participating in races, simply for the joy of sport he has turned to sharing his experience through the articles he writes. As a founder at Loop Social Sport Jeroen has focused his passion on creating a community of like minded individuals who not only train together but also motivate newcomers to take up sport, whether in person or via this blog.