Even if you just nailed that 10km road run, you’re probably less prepared to tackle trails than you think. “Because trail running requires so much attention, it’s more like mountain biking or skiing than running on a pavement,” says Dr Travis Stork, host of The Doctors and an avid outdoorsman. So when you hit the ground running, imagine that you’re navigating an obstacle course, keeping your mind engaged and present rather than distracted by squirrels playing with their nuts.

“Focus on a spot on the horizon where you can still see the undulations of the trail,” he suggests. “And start off at a jogging pace so the little stabilising muscles in your lower extremities can adapt to the unstable surface.” That means taking it slow for your first several outings. Three other rules to follow:

1/ Stay Strong

“Strengthening my core has been one of the keys for me to staying injury-free,” says Ryan Sandes, the first runner to win all of the 4 Desert races. “I try to keep my ankles strong because they take a lot of strain when you’re running on technical trails. I do a lot of core work and work the smaller muscles that don’t always get worked when you’re trail running.”

2/ Think Mountain

AJ Calitz, winner of the Red Bull LionHeart, says he stays away from tar.“I run on grass, sand and up and down mountains.” The only time he’s on the road is to get to and from trails. And on the mountain, road-running shoes will get you hurt. “It’s important to give yourself the right protection,” Sandes says. “I couldn’t think of anything worse than running in a pair of road shoes.” “I don’t just jump in a new pair of shoes and do a long run – you have to phase them in,” says Calitz.

3/ Forget Minimalism

Recent minimalist trends have resulted in shoe designs that provide little to no protection in the toe region. “Without that protection, one false landing can easily lead to a broken toe or worse,” warns Stork. Sandes agrees: “If you suddenly run in minimalist shoes you’re going to pick up injuries.” Ease into them, he advises. “Minimalist running is good, but it needs to be a slow process. For me, I’m slowly but surely reducing my shoes.”

Our pick of trail-running shoes that offer serious protection and impressive flexibility: the iNov-8 Trail Talon 275 (R1 795, inov-8store.co.za).

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Picture credit Kolesky/Nikon/Red Bull Content Pool