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    Long-Distance Trail Running: Here’s Exactly How To Prep And Push Through

    There’s running, there’s long-distance running and then there’s long-distance trail running. And if hitting the tar or trails for a cheeky 5km wasn’t tasking enough, then tackling this terrain is exactly the kind of torture you will enjoy. But before you head off into the great outdoors, here are some practical tips to bear in mind.

    1. Your Training Should Be A Priority

    Modern trail runners are spoiled for choice when it comes to cutting-edge nutritional supplements, exercise regimes and gear, but speak to any trail runner after a major event, however, and you’ll hear the same tales of runners failing to finish due to altitude sickness, ripped up feet from ill-fitting shoes, or upset stomachs from eating too much of the wrong items at the wrong times.

    “A good mix of running and hiking, and knowing when to switch between the two will make it more enjoyable”

    To ensure your safety and enjoyment, the very first lesson for new runners is that your race journey doesn’t start when the race starts, but in the years and months leading up to that moment.

    READ MORE: Get Strong, Shapely Legs With This Do-Anywhere Leg Workout

    2. Don’t Push Yourself Too Early

    According to Coach Rebecca Johansson who has a PhD in Exercise Science from the University of Cape Town, new runners should be patient and enjoy the journey. “A good mix of running and hiking, and knowing when to switch between the two will make it more enjoyable and will help keep your breathing and effort sustainable,” she recommends. “As you gain fitness, strength and experience you will feel more confident and comfortable running longer distances.”

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    3. Don’t Try To Do It All Alone

    This applies as much to your preparation for any run – where it will initially be critical for your safety that you follow a more knowledgeable runner who can offer you guidance on-the-fly – as it does to during the race event itself.

    “Having a pacer or supporter can be very helpful in order to make observations on whether you are disorientated or hallucinating, and can help decide if you need to rest, need certain nutrients etc,” explains Coach Rebecca. “For a 160km race, with nine checkpoints along the way, it’s possible to do the race without a pacer. You will need to ensure to restock your nutrients at each checkpoint to have enough until the next point.”

    4. Sign Up For An Exciting Race

    One of the most challenging trail running events is the annual Ultra-Trail® Drakensberg (UTD), in April, with races ranging from 21km to 160km. What it’s really known for, however, is its unparalleled vistas as runners cross the border between South Africa and Lesotho, with the trail incorporating and skirting some of the legendary features of the Drakensberg, including Sani Pass and the Twelve Apostles.

    “Most people run too fast early on in the race, not taking into account that they’re literally going to be running the entire day”

    READ MORE: How Triathlete Vicky van der Merwe Balances Training With Motherhood

    5. Make Sure You Keep A Steady Pace

    Pieter ‘Everyone calls me Pete’ Calitz finished sixth overall in last year’s UTD 100km race. A professional tennis coach, Pete got into trail running seven years ago and participated in several races in his home city of Cape Town and surrounds before he tackled the UTD for a new challenge.

    According to him, the most common mistake he sees on runs is incorrect pacing: “Most people run too fast early on in the race, not taking into account that they’re literally going to be running the entire day. If you can run in the last 20 or 30 kilometres, it’s going to be much better for you than having run fast in the first 30 or 40 kilometres and then literally walking or death-marching towards the end.”

    6. Get Good Miles On Your Legs

    Jo Keppler also ran the UTD in 2022, making the trip from her home on a farm outside Pietermaritzburg with the aim of improving her time in the UTD 160km. Avoiding 2021’s ankle injury, in 2022 she accomplished her goal of a sub-28 hour time, shaving more than two hours off her 9th place finish in 2021, to finish fourth overall this year.

    Your preparation for a new event should preferably take into account both the local terrain and a distance which is related to whatever you’ll be running on race day. Jo left nothing to chance: she and a friend ran 226km along the Drakensberg Grand Traverse over 89 hours without any support a month before the race. “We were up in altitude most of the time, it was very wet on the escarpment and conditions were really difficult. So I think that really toughened me up,” she says.

    “Always have back up plans. If you are not acclimated to the area, the sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive”

    According to Pete, variety is key: “To run 100km you have to mix up long runs with a lot of climbing and you have to do some speed, so I just do a mix of some track work once a week and do lots of climbing up the mountain – even if it’s just for beers or coffees – and then every couple of weeks I do some long runs. I did a road marathon before the UTD race which was a way to run 42km.”

    READ MORE: This Cardio Abs Workout Takes Only 20 Minutes But Works All Your Major Muscles

    7. Prepare For High Altitude So You Have Low Stress

    Preparing yourself for the possibility of altitude sickness is also important in the Drakensberg. “Always have backup plans. If you are not acclimated to the area, the sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive which could make you more susceptible to GI distress,” explains Coach Rebecca. “If this happens, you need ‘back up’ food and drinks you can try. Some athletes will rely more on liquid nutrition as a backup, or slow down to get food down.”

    Jo agrees: “A lot of people get quite nauseous. From my experiences you really need to slow it down and drop your heart rate and keep eating, because then people stop eating and drinking and that makes it ten times worse. So I try to eat something every hour on the hour, even if I don’t feel like it.”

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    8. Make Sure You Fuel Yourself Correctly

    Marthinus Stander, the General Manager for the Premier Resort Sani Pass Hotel (a favourite venue for runners tackling the various Drakensberg races due to the location and runner camaraderie there), started road running eight years ago before getting hooked on trail running after moving from Durban to Sani.

    He explains that running in extremely cold and rainy conditions can suppress a runner’s appetite. “You’re so cold that all the blood has flowed to your skin to try to keep you warm in that environment. There’s no blood going to your stomach to process the food that you’re putting into it,” Marthinus says. “So the liquid diet that you’re on for that period works. There’s a bit of comfort in eating a handful of nuts or chewy sweets or a little race bar, but to actually have a sandwich is going to be  hard to get down.”

    According to Jo, nutrition has been a case of trial and error for her, but she feels she’s finding a good balance now. “I use Hammer gels and Hammer bars, which are all-natural. And then I use Maurten drink mix and Tailwind, so that’s like specialised nutrition which you don’t get at the refreshment tables,” she says. “So I’ll carry those and my cashews and dates, and at the tables, I’ll have some fruits, bananas and potatoes.”

    “A month before the time, I did the whole UTD route, broken up into 15km pieces. I think that played a massive role”

    9. Get To Know The Area

    Although trail runners can rarely spend months at their race’s venue beforehand, a site recce to familiarise yourself with the environment and soaking up local knowledge is a good idea.

    Marthinus recommends that runners prepare for new races by studying the actual routes they’ll be running while under less challenging conditions: “A month before the time, I did the whole UTD route, broken up into 15km pieces. I think that played a massive role, especially the pieces I was going to do at night.”

    “A lot of people will come back to do a recce for the UTD next year, and they’ll sit with me and say, ‘Right, how do we get from here to there? How tough is this?” he shares. “I have the knowledge to give to these people and say ‘This is how it works. Let me run with you for 10km or put you in touch with a farmer in that part of town who will allow you to run through his farm to a checkpoint.”

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    READ MORE: Meet Blue Health Travel, The New Water-Focused Jet-setting Trend

    10. Take The Leap

    When it comes to destination trail runs – aimed at all skill levels – it’s easy to see why the Drakensberg region attracts runners from across SA and the world. Whether your breath is taken away by the majestic mountain ranges, the biting cold, the high altitudes or your over-optimistic pace, there is something about the great outdoors.

    Apart from the UTD, two other trail runs in the Drakensberg which are worth investigating are The Giant’s Cup in May and the Sani Stagger in November.

    If all you want to do is just hike these routes and appreciate the beauty at your own pace, that’s also an option with The Giant’s Cup’s ‘Hiking Giants’ event. More

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    11 Best New Running Shoes That’ll Inspire Your Next PB

    We know what you’re thinking: another pair of running shoes? Sure, running shoe releases claiming to make you (almost) as fast as Caster Semenya drop what feels like every day, but hear this: getting the best new running shoe for your needs only means a better workout.
    Not only that, but running shoes are meant to be replaced regularly (around every 650km – 800km), to protect the health of your feet. We’ve scoped around to bring you the newest running shoe drops in 2022 (so far), along with how they’ll support your next PB.

    If You Want To Hit The Road
    Puma Eternity Nitro
    If you need stability, Puma’s runGUIDE tech keeps your foot in check and centred as you hit the ground. It’ll still feel lightweight, though, with a midsole that cushions your feet without feeling like a cement brick.
    Puma Eternity NitroR 3200Buy It
    New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 v11
    This shoe looks so good and comes in so many colourways, you’d be forgiven for wanting to wear it on a night out. The Ultra Heel tech gives you that support for long slogs, but the sizing option gets bonus points: you can select the shoe size and a desired width, for those of us with wide – or especially narrow – feet.
    New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 v11R 3099 Buy It
    adidas Solarglide 5
    Ever the #sustainablebae, adidas made this shoe in collaboration with Parley For The Oceans to recycle ocean plastic for 50% of the shoe. You still get that trademark BOOST tech that returns energy from the strike back to your foot, and it just looks hella cool.
    adidas Solarglide 5R 2499Buy It
    Asics GlideRide
    Asics’ trademark FLYTEFOAM™ tech, along with GEL™, protects your foot from fatigue by delivering great cushioning, so you keep going for longer. Notice the way this shoe is curved? That’s specifically to reduce excess ankle movement, lower strain on the calf and keep you moving forward.

    READ MORE: This Is Exactly How You Can Join The FREE adidas Runners Club RN 

    If You Want To Hit The Treadmill
    Under Armour HOVR™ Sonic 5
    These beauties will make every run better and better, thanks to its Connected Footwear tech that syncs with the UA MapMyRun app. Get real-time feedback as you run, plus they’re flexible and breathable.
    Under Armour HOVR™ Sonic 5R 2499Buy It
    Hoka Kawana
    The Kawana is named after the Sunshine Coast’s famous beach break in Oz, and just like that flexible surfer lifestyle, this shoe is specifically designed to take you from a run to the gym floor (Sweat1000 addicts, we’re looking at you!). A wide base supports your foot for lateral movements while responsive cushioning has your back on repetitive strikes.

    Asics METARACER™ Tokyo
    If you’re a treadmill runner who loves a good speed session, try the lightweight Metaracer™ Tokyo. The chunky GUIDESOLE™ is not only a lewk but allows for that toe-spring jump you need when going super fast. A carbon fibre plate inside the shoe propels your forward, in case you’re racing the cute person on the treadmill next to you.
    Asics MetaRacer TokyoR 3500Buy It
    READ MORE: So Many Of Us Get Knee Pain Running – Here Are 5 Possible Causes + What to Do About Them

    If You Want To Hit The Trail
    Hoka Tecton X
    Hoorah for major footwear tech that remains lightweight, especially when you’re praying to the deities that your ankles don’t roll on yet another unexpected loose rock. Hoka’s first trail running shoe has grippy outsole (be gone, dodgy pebbles!) and über cushy responsive foam base to keep you comforted in the great outdoors.

    Nike Pegasus Trail 3 GORE-TEX
    The same beloved Pegasus shoe, but with extra bells and whistles (tough traction and improved midfoot construction) to keep you stable on rough terrain. This one is great for neutral runners, and we gotta say – we love a waterproof shoe!
    Nike Pegasus Trail 3 GORE-TEXR 2999,95Buy It
    READ MORE: The Ultimate Training Guide For Your Gut
    K-Way Apex Trail
    A recycled mesh upper and insole gets a serious vote of confidence, plus the insole tech is orthopaedic-focused to support your rough-and-tumbles on the mountain. At such a great price, it’s also the perfect entry-level shoe for those of us dipping our toes into trail running.

    Hi-Tec GEO-Trail Pro
    Are you a constant toe-scuffer? This running shoe takes this into account by reinforcing the forefoot. It’s also kitted out with a shock-absorbing rebound layer (great for downhill sprints), EVA foam for speedy ascents., and a secure lacing system so you’re not sacrificing valuable PB time on flyaway string.
    Hi-Tec GEO-Trail ProR 1299Buy It

    READ MORE ON: Fitness Advice Fitness Gear Running Running Tips Trail Running More

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    The Best Trail Running Shoes For Women In 2020, According To Athletes And Experts

    Same ol’ concrete running route feeling a little, well, old? Good news: Trail running is having a much-deserved (and much-needed) moment — and we’re oh-so-here for it. Those smart folks are onto something: Exercising in nature actually quiets the part of the brain associated with overthinking, says research published by . (Can we say “yes, please”?!) […] More

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    Meet The First South African Woman To Cross The Finish Line At The World Masters Mountain Running Championships

    Nicolette Griffioen — the first SA woman to cross the finish at the World Masters Mountain Running Championships (um… whoa!) — is a lover of nature, so it’s no wonder her nickname is “Nature’s child.” And you’re most likely to bump into her running on a mountain… From World Masters Mountain Running Championships to… Nicolette recently ran […] More