Runners can be creatures of habit. The majority of us probably started our running journeys on road or using a treadmill in the gym, and the chances are that most of us still stick to pavement and gym.
Malaysian cities can’t really claim to offer a user-friendly environment for road running, with their uneven pavements, busy roads, hilly routes and traffic pollution. So why don’t more of us turn to the trails? I conducted an informal survey amongst my running friends, and here are 5 factors which are holding us back from running on trails, and a counter-argument for each:
1 – Fear of getting lost – With some basic preparation and the use of common sense, there is no reason to get lost when trail running. Go with friends that know the routes, use a GPS watch or a simple map, take a mobile phone, and have some basic provisions with you. If in doubt, “make a U-turn”!
2 – Hills are hard – Yes indeed, nobody disputes that! But on a trail you can walk a hill and nobody cares. On the road if you start walking, you feel more self-conscious! Regardless, Malaysia is not flat, so nobody can say that road running equals flat routes.
3 – Snakes – Yes, sometimes you might come across snakes on the trails, but they are more scared of us than we are of them. It is also not uncommon to see dead snakes on roads, so don’t kid yourself that there are not snakes in the city!
4 – Fancy equipment – It is true that even at short trail races, you see people that look ready to run a 250km multi-stage endurance event! Runners like their gadgets, and trail running offers plenty of gadgets and attire. But most of it is surplus to requirement, and you can certainly get by in the early days by carrying an old fashioned bottle of water!
5 – Lazy to change – THIS is perhaps the main inhibitor to change, which comes back to the point that people are creatures of habit. But, change is never a bad thing, and you might just surprise yourself. You won’t know until you try, so don’t be afraid to give the trails a go!
In Malaysia we are truly spoilt by the range of trail running options that are on our doorstep, and those yet to venture onto the trails are definitely missing out. Here are some of the reasons that my trail running friends gave, with regards to their love of the trails:
SELLING POINTS OF MALAYSIAN TRAIL RUNNING
1 – Beautiful scenery – Malaysia is breathtakingly beautiful, with rich and diverse countryside. Drive just 20 minutes outside of the city and you are literally in a different world. The pace of life changes and locals greet you with smiles and waves. The air is generally clear, and peace and quiet can easily be found.
2 – Discover new parts of Malaysia – By entering trail races and joining trail running groups and clinics, you will visit amazing locations that you would probably never otherwise have found. Trail running is a fantastic way to be a tourist in your own country!
3 – Exercise different running muscles – Mixing your training on road and trail is a great way to get a fuller body workout. The nature of trail terrain means that you are utilising a different running technique and therefore different muscle groups.
4 – Informal race environment – Trail races are very different to road events, in a very positive way. The atmosphere tends to be more informal, and participants are much chattier and friendlier before, during and after the event. A trail race is more of a day out than a race, with runners working together and helping each other to get around the course. Of course a competitive race is still a battle, but there’s definitely a more relaxed edge to trail racing in general.
5 – Less reliance on pace – With trail running, forget worrying about average pace, target pace per km, distance and finish time! Immerse yourself in the run and don’t worry about the numbers. Just ensure you have enough nutrition to last the run and enjoy yourself!
Personally, I love trail running because it removes the banality of road running; you need to concentrate on footing and navigation, and therefore you focus less on the fact that you are tired or hurting. Breathing patterns are different due to the irregularity of the terrain, which allows regular recovery periods that you would not have had on the road. Sure, there are plenty of hills and tough climbs in trail running, but the graft is less noticeable as you need to focus on your route and your foot placement.
If you are tempted to give trail running a try, then my suggestion to you is to do a few slow and gentle outings first with a knowledgeable trail group. That way you don’t have to worry about the route, and you can take your time to enjoy the experience and the scenery. Then, why not sign up for a trail event? For your first race, choose a short distance, and build up to other events that are longer and involve more technical routes.
Above all, enjoy the run, enjoy the countryside and enjoy the friends you will make. Embrace the sweat!