Trail running is one of the hottest new pastimes in the Southern Suburbs—with more and more former treadmill and road runners, not to mention new enthusiasts, hitting the city’s greenbelts to get their exercise fix. If you’re looking to add something new to your exercise program—or if you feel stuck in a rut with your current regime—here are five reasons why you should give trail running a go.
1. It’s Easy To Get Into
If you’re new to running, there’s something infinitely more appealing about heading out on a trail than simply pounding the concrete around your neighbourhood. Trail running is safer for a number of reasons (not least of all traffic), plus it adds a sense of adventure to what might otherwise be a mundane, functional activity. In recent years, a large number of treadmill users have converted to trail running for precisely this reason: it is easier to incentivise yourself to go running when the run is about more than simply the physical motion of your legs.
2. There’s Less Impact On Your Body
Trail running is also great for people recovering from injuries, or for those who have been warned off road running because of issues with their joints or muscles. Trail running surfaces (mud, grass, compacted sand, etc.) are much softer than asphalt, and—because the surfaces are also less even—they encourage runners to land with more pressure on their forefoot than their heel. This distributes the impact force throughout more of the foot and the lower leg, leading to fewer injuries and greater strength building. Many trail runners also report of improved balance and better core strength since making the switch.
3. It’s Psychologically Healthy
Most people enjoy exercising after work because it helps them to ‘clear their minds’ after a busy day at the office. However, combining this physical activity with an experience of the outdoors can considerably increase this mental relief. Clinical psychologists have shown that, notwithstanding the endorphins released by exercise, simply being in nature can trigger chemicals in your brain that lead to feelings of rejuvenation and refreshment. If you are a long-time road runner who has begun to feel only tired—and not uplifted—after running, perhaps you should see if a change to trail running will make the difference.
4. There’s Always A New Challenge On The Horizon
What’s fantastic about trail running is that, unlike road running—where your ‘progress’ as a runner is usually measured by external, impersonal things like distance covered and time taken—you can develop as a trail runner in a number of different ways. Of course, you can simply run increasingly longer trails to build your fitness and lung capacity, but there are other interesting variations you might want to try, such as ‘Steep Course’ training, which is good for building muscle strength in your lower legs, and ‘Mixed Terrain’ running, where you cover a number of different surfaces in one run. Trail running is also an excellent reason for a weekend away, exploring new routes and testing yourself in new environments.
5. World-Class Spots Right On Your Doorstep
Cape Town has an amazing array of top-quality trail running spots. Whether you are a beginner who is enticed by the idea of exercising in nature, or whether you are a hardcore runner who has grown bored of the scene at the gym, you are guaranteed to find a trail around the Mother City to suit your needs. The Constantia Greenbelt is home to many of the city’s most beautiful trails, with several routes of varying difficulty. Start with the Alphen Trail, a 7km route that winds through deep forest in the shadow of Table Mountain. The Lion’s Head Circuit (5.3km) is also extremely popular at any time of day for its long, raking views over Camps Bay—and, for the very fit, the Chapman’s Peak Contour Path (9.5km) in Hout Bay provides a real challenge as it climbs and crosses Blackburn Ravine.