Not just for super-fit ultra-marathon runners, trail running can be for anyone at any fitness level. You can go at your own pace, and there are endless trails at varying difficulty levels.
It’s a great way to mix up your running workout while getting out amongst nature and clearing your mind.
All running is good for you, but how is trail running different?
First of all, it takes a lot of focus. Outdoor tracks require you to always look where you’re stepping and be aware of your surroundings. With that kind of focus, it’s easy to get into an exhilarating workout, especially with beautiful scenery and fresh air all around you.
Because the terrain is more rough and varied compared to a flat road, trail running engages a wider range of muscles. With small obstacles like tree roots and stones, you’re having to balance your steps and body movement. This means you’re often using smaller muscles that you wouldn’t use so much when running on flat pavement. Because of this kind of terrain, it’s important to get trail running shoes that will support your movement.
Another reason why trail running is great for you? There’s less pressure on your joints. Dirt tracks are usually softer on your feet and joints compared to hard concrete. The softer dirt means less impact as you’re running, which is better for your joints.
“Trail running is a very dynamic style of running. It offers me access to remote terrain, as well as providing a sense of adventure to what I do.
My advice is to start small and go from there. You will find that you need to use different muscle groups than you would on the road and it takes a while to wear those muscles in.”
• Braden Currie, NZ Ironman Champion and endurance athlete
5 best trail running spots in New Zealand
In New Zealand, we’re lucky to have an array of diverse tracks, from beachside cliffs, to ancient forest trails, to mountain vistas. Before you lace up your trail running shoes, it’s important to check for conditions with DOC or your local council website. Here are a few of our favourite spots…
• Hillary trail: A short drive out of Auckland, the Hillary trail is one of Auckland’s most popular trail running spots. Named after New Zealand’s intrepid Everest climber Sir Edmund Hillary, the trail was built to inspire others to embark on their own adventures.
Spanning a total of 76 km, it’s become a favourite among local trail runners. Don’t worry, if you can’t commit to the whole distance, why not do it in sections? The Te Henga Walkway section is a favourite, with a steady climb to a beautiful panoramic ridgeline where you can see the wild west coastline for kilometers.
• Routeburn track: Why not tick off one of the 7 Great Walks? What DOC calls “the ultimate alpine adventure”, the Routeburn track in Fiordland National park weaves through waterfalls, valleys and crystal-clear rivers. Trail runners can opt for shorter distances or why not go for the whole 32km?
• Coromandel Coastal Walk: This beachside trail has been named “one of the best coastal walks in New Zealand” and you can understand why. A well-defined track meanders around the Coromandel’s most beautiful bays and inlets. The best part? When you’re finished with your workout, just head down to the beach and cool off in the water.
•Roy’s Peak track: A short drive out of Wanaka you’ll find the popular Roy’s Peak track. One of DOC’s “best day hikes”, this 11km track takes you through open alpine fields and meandering farmland. After a tough climb to the top, you’re rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of Lake Wanaka and the snowy Southern Alps in the distance -- trust us, you’ll want to bring your camera along for this one.
• Cossey Massey Loop track:Located less than an hour out of Auckland, this 8.3km loop takes you through dense forest, towering kauri trees and even a fresh stream to splash through. It’s perfect for those hot summer days when you need to cool off under some shade.
3 things you need when trail running:
1. Water is key. When you’re running cross country and long distances, hydration is key. Luckily, there are a lot of options for keeping hydrated so you’re not just stuck with lugging a 2L plastic bottle. Hand-held bottles are a popular choice; they can be securely strapped to your hands and are great for shorter runs. If you’re going a bit further, try a hydration pack or vest.
2. Shoes designed for the terrain. Of course, you’ve got to take care of your feet when running long distances and on different ground. Trails can take you through farmland, rocky surfaces, and even water. The best trail running shoes should be tough and flexible. ASICS NZ understands this. The ASICS trail running range is designed specifically for trail running, providing quality support and protection for rougher terrain.
3. Clothing that performs. Clothing can take more of a battering than normal on the trail, so make sure you choose items that are comfortable and durable. Running gear with flatlock or seamless construction will help reduce chafing. Tights and t-shirts or long sleeves can help to protect from stray scrub and branches. ASICS offers a range of comfortable performance running clothing that’s designed for both comfort and durability -- suitable for all weather conditions and perfect for the trail.
In the Auckland region lookout for trail closures because of the spread of Kauri dieback. Respect the efforts being made to halt the progress of this disease to New Zealand's beautiful trees by visiting the cleaning station before hitting the trail. All it takes is a pinhead of soil to spread the disease. Avoid going off the track and damaging fragile root systems.
With rough terrain a constant level of alertness is required to avoid tripping on obstacles or slipping. Keep your eyes on the trail, and create a line of travel by focusing four to five steps ahead, planning your steps for the next few strides.