The common thread with trail running is that it’s about the journey and not the destination. Venues range from wine farms to mountain ridges and remote wilderness locations, with something for all tastes and abilities. Trail running has a seriously competitive form, of which we have only just started to see what is possible, but for the majority of runners it’s all about getting off the road, away from traffic and enjoying the surroundings.
There are a few major differences in a trail race that you need to bear in mind:
1. Terrain and total ascent/descent have a huge impact on the time it takes to complete a trail race. Unlike road running, constant pace is more often than not impossible. Throw in a few sharp climbs and rough terrain and you add hours to your time. Experience and checking previous winning times will give you a good idea of how long you can expect your race to take.
2. Trail running race norm, due to the very nature of the venues you run in, require you to be self-sufficient. Water tables are a bonus and are not to be expected. This means that you may often be carrying at least a liter of water on you, plus other safety items such as a wind breaker, cellphone and first aid kit (depending on what event).
3. Hiking is as much to trail running as waves are to surfing. Hiking can be as fast as running with half the effort on steep terrain, so you can expect to walk from time to time, once again adding to your time taken.
Wildrunner have established their own Wildrunner Trail Grading' system (WTG). This grading system was established to help new trail runners make informed decisions about which races might best suit their ability. For other events that don't use this WTG, try to find out as much as you can from other runners and the race organizer as to the aspects mentioned above.
So you’ve tried it out and the bug has bitten - what next? Well then, in much the same way as road running, you can work your way through the races as far as you want to go. Trail running distances in South Africa range from 4km up to 100 milers (Addo 100 miler) and multi-day races like the Wildcoast and Namibia Crossing Wildrun®, and the mammoth 250km, 7 day Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon. The trail running calendar in South Africa has exploded in the last few years. Every month there are now dozens of races to choose from, long or short. On the international scene, there are more events than you would believe. Some of the famous favourites: Mauritius Royal Raid 80 & 35km, the 160km UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) and the 163km Le Grand Raid Reunion to name but the tip of the iceberg.
Also check out the Mountain Challenge Series that consists of three big mountain runs in the Western Cape as the next step on your trail running yourney.
If you are in Cape Town there are a number of trail running group options that help with training and advice. The CRAG group (Cape Runners Against Gravity www.crag.org.za) are the longest-standing trail running group in the Cape and run religiously throughout the year on a Wednesday evening after work. The VOB Running club (www.vob.co.za) have formed a trail running group that runs on weekends. Celtic Harriers (www.celticharriers.co.za) have trail runs during the week and on weekends.