The transition from running road to trail can be daunting territory. From pace to cadence, balance to confidence, newbies to trail running would agree it might just feel a little… off.

Ahead of the Columbia Jungle Run on 7 October, we want everyone to feel confident and excited about their race. So, we went straight to the top and asked last year’s Columbia Jungle Run Individual category winner Zoe McParlin to share her secrets. Also a passionate running blogger and osteopath at City Osteo & Physio, she was more than happy to share…

…Zoe’s top advice for trail beginners

“While I’ve being running competitively for years now, my introduction to trails has actually been relatively recent. With inspiration and encouragement from friends (who it turns out, are some of Singapore’s best runners!), I was introduced to whole new world of running literally on my doorstep. Here’s what I’d like to share with this year’s Jungle Runners.

Be agile: in body and mind

Some courses will be really hilly, others will have lots of rocks, tree trunks or mud – no trail is created the same. Even on the same route with different weather conditions it could feel like a completely different run. One day, the ground could be dry while the next you could be running through thick mud or pools of water.

The best thing to do is leave your ego at home, listen to your body and enjoy being in nature. Check in with your body while you’re running – it’ll help in injury prevention as well as reading your body in race situations.

Run to feel (not to the watch)

If you run regularly, it’s likely you’re used to a pace, a time and you have an idea of long a route should take. When you switch to trails, that can all go out of the window.

With demanding terrain and obstacles, trails typically take you significantly longer and your pace will differ between road and trail. You’re not going to have even splits and running for a specific time is pointless when you’re new to the sport. My best advice is to let go of expectations and run to feel (and not what your smartphone or watch tells you!).

Build up mileage/time gradually

If you’re new to trail running you’ll be surprised how much it can take out of you compared to being on the road. You may think that as you’re running slower and on softer surfaces it should be a lot easier… but that isn’t always the case! The technical nature often means it can be more taxing on the body than the road, and you’ll be using your muscles differently as your running style adapts.

Start by running trails maybe once or twice a week, gradually increasing the amount of time on the trail – a good place to start is run half on road then half on trails. By gradually exposing yourself to trails, you’ll get used to the new demands of running while reducing risk of injury.

Strength training and hill reps

Undulating terrain is just one awesome aspect of trail running. To help your body cope with the demands, prepare the body with hill repeats and strengthen the muscles needed to climb even the toughest of slopes. Just like practicing intervals to run faster, you need your body to get used to running on different terrains and going over obstacles like fallen trees, or ducking under branches.

It’s ok to walk…

…in fact, I encourage it! Even the most elite trail runners don’t run the whole way – in some circumstances power hiking is actually more efficient than running! Hike with large strides to get up hills – it’s more efficient than running while leaning forwards! This is a strategy even some of the world’s best ultra-trail runners recommend.

Don’t overdo it!

Your running training benefits from variation (i.e. treadmill, road, track, trail) but niggles and injuries can prevail, especially as changes in form or running style overwork some muscles you don’t normally use. If you’re feeling pain or discomfort, it’s best to get it seen to early. Book in with an osteopath or physiotherapist who can work with you to help with training, goals and recovery.