As the popularity of trail running continues to soar, athletes are seeking effective strategies to conquer rugged terrain and maximize performance. 

One such strategy gaining traction is the run/walk approach, famously utilized by athletes like Caroline Wostmann in her victorious Comrades Marathon bid. But how does this strategy translate to the unpredictable world of trail running? 

In this article, we’ll explore the nuances of planning a run/walk strategy for trail races and how it can enhance your performance on the trails.

Understanding Trail Terrain

Unlike road races, trail races present unique challenges due to varying terrain and elevation changes. When crafting a run/walk strategy for trail races, it’s essential to consider the landscape and adjust your approach accordingly. Trails often feature steep climbs, technical descents, and uneven surfaces, making it impractical to maintain a continuous running pace throughout the entire race.

Incorporating Regimented Walking

In trail races, regimented walking intervals can be strategically incorporated to conserve energy and navigate challenging sections more efficiently. Identify sections of the course with steep climbs or technical terrain where walking is advantageous. Plan designated walk breaks during these sections to prevent burnout and maintain a sustainable pace.

Trail running requires adaptability and fluidity in your approach. While some sections may warrant structured walk breaks, others may allow for continuous running depending on the terrain. 

Factor in the natural flow of the trail and adjust your pace accordingly, alternating between running and walking as needed to optimize performance.

Capitalizing on Recovery Opportunities

One of the key benefits of the run/walk strategy in trail races is its ability to facilitate active recovery during challenging segments. 

Walking intervals provide a brief respite for fatigued muscles, allowing for partial recovery while maintaining forward momentum. Use walk breaks strategically to recover on climbs and technical descents, preserving energy for the remainder of the race.

Implementing a Balanced Approach

Achieving success with a run/walk strategy in trail races requires a balanced approach that accounts for both physical exertion and terrain dynamics. Plan your walk breaks strategically, considering factors such as elevation gain, technical difficulty, and overall race distance. By finding the right balance between running and walking, you can optimize your performance and conquer even the most formidable trails.

Transitioning from Road to Trail Running

If you’re a road runner intrigued by the allure of trail running, embarking on this new adventure can be both exhilarating and daunting. 

The transition from road to trail running entails navigating diverse terrain and topography. Unlike the smooth, predictable surfaces of roads, trails present challenges such as technical inclines, uneven terrain, and variable surfaces. 

Familiarize yourself with the unique characteristics of trail running, including steep ascents, descents, and the potential for rugged landscapes.

Related: The Ultimate Running Shoe Comparison: Trail Vs Road

Embracing Trail-Specific Training

To prepare adequately for trail running, tailor your training regimen to focus on the specific demands of off-road terrain. Incorporate hill repeats, strength training, and trail-specific workouts to enhance your endurance, agility, and resilience. 

Allocate more time to building strength and tackling challenging terrain, shifting the emphasis away from speed-focused workouts common in road running.

Selecting the Right Gear

Invest in trail-specific running gear, including shoes designed for off-road performance. Trail running shoes feature durable outsoles with aggressive tread patterns to provide superior traction on varied terrain. Opt for shoes with ample cushioning and stability to mitigate the impact of uneven surfaces and technical descents. Additionally, consider other essential gear such as hydration packs, moisture-wicking apparel, and protective accessories to ensure comfort and safety on the trails.

Trail running requires a recalibration of expectations, particularly regarding pace and performance. Accept that trail running paces may be significantly slower than those achieved on the road due to terrain challenges and elevation changes.

Avoid the temptation to compare trail running times directly with road running benchmarks, as this can lead to frustration and disappointment. Instead, embrace the journey, focus on effort rather than pace, and relish the immersive experience of trail running.

Mitigating Injury Risks

Trail running presents unique injury risks stemming from the rugged terrain and technical challenges. Take proactive measures to prevent injuries by gradually increasing mileage, incorporating cross-training for balanced conditioning, and practicing proper trail running techniques. 


With a passion for high performance sport – Lindsey Parry is one of South Africa’s most widely recognised coaches. Having led a team to the London, Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the Gold Coast & Birmingham, and coached both triathletes and runners onto podiums of some of the world’s most illustrious races, Lindsey has a unique ability to understand what it takes to succeed at any level and thrives on coaching, motivating and inspiring others to do the same – whether it’s on the track, on stage or behind a mic.

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