[This was written by Fran Siebrits and published online by Wild Magazine http://www.wildcard.co.za/, 2011]

There are many hikers and runners out there, but trail-runners are a slightly rarer breed. I would expect it to be more popular. The sport involves running on trails used for hiking in the mountains, bringing one closer to nature and ensuring a CO2-free run.

I never realised how intimidating the sport can be for beginners until two of my friends recently attempted the mountain trails. With many years of trail-running behind me, I take for granted the skills and techniques I have learnt through many a fall, many a sunburn and many an injury. One needs strong concentration with the continuous jumping, scrambling, sliding and weaving around obstacles on the trail. Competence comes with practise. In the meantime, it is an amazing way of being active while surrounded by nature’s beauty.

So where does one start? Well, any trail normally used for hiking is great. It can be flat, steep, rocky, smooth or even muddy. Try to vary the distances and gradients every other run to give your body an all-round workout. Just do whatever you feel comfortable with; remember you can always walk if you feel tired.
Until your body has adapted to the trail environment, maintain a medium pace. Unless you are doing a specific training method, bursts of speed are not advisable. Instead of running at speed up a hill, keep your strides short, head up and chest out. You will be able to endure a much longer distance without feeling exhausted.

Take it easy on the down hills, but stay focused. This is often when runners tend to relax, losing concentration – all it takes is one misplaced foot to bring a speeding body tumbling to the ground. Try running on the balls of your feet rather than the heels. This minimises injury-causing pounding and increases control.
My aim is to convert all you road-runners out there to hit the trails this weekend and hopefully get hooked. So here are a few pointers to help guide those way-too-clean takkies in need of a makeover.

Laws of the trail

#1: There is no such thing as getting lost, it’s called ‘exploring’.
#2: If you want to admire the view, rather stop and do so (otherwise you’ll be admiring the path face down).
#3: Get the gear – Now you have a real excuse to get one of those show-off Camelbak packs you see the super-fit outdoorsy people wearing. It has what is called a ‘bladder’ inside to hold your water, essential when heading out for a morning of exercise. A good pair of trail-running shoes is necessary for ankle support, especially if you are going to be running often.
#4: Use the gear – Drink water regularly; your body loses a lot of liquid while exercising, especially on a taxing run in the heat. Stop after an hour or so (even less if you need to), admire the view and have a snack. But pack light … Jungle Energy Bars or nuts work well. Even the old Ouma rusk is a winner on the trail.
#5: After the trail-run – STRETCH!
#6: Go back to #5 – STRETCH!

#7: Back at home, have a long bath and pamper yourself. Your body is not going to like you if you don’t treat it properly after all that work.
I mentioned I was trying to convert you all to trail-running, but perhaps I should be careful of what I wish for … it’s quite nice having the trails all to myself at times.

In my Trail-pac
• Two litres of water
• Lightweight windsheeter
• One apple
• One Energy Bar (choc-strawberry)
• Raisins
• DCT lip balm
• Car keys
• Cell phone
• R50 (for that ice-cold Coke or two afterwards, or that taxi in case you take a different route off the mountain)