The popularity of trail running is starting to catch on with immense ferocity. Veteran trail runner Jan Ham will affirm that notion. He speaks of trail running with intense passion. While he competes in many trail running events, he does it more for the love of the sport. He is a qualified sport scientist with an Education degree.
He comes from a track and field, cross country background, but after school decided to take a break while studying at Stellenbosch University. It was only a couple of years ago that the trail bug bit him and trail running has since become a major part of his life, making him a seasoned athlete. Here’s what he had to say…
Why do you favour trail running over road running?
In trail running, being out there makes every single stride different. There’s nothing quite like the rush of dodging some critters in the heat of summer, burning quads, the euphoria of reaching the summit and seeing the awesome views, followed by a mad dash down.
What has been your most memorable trail running experience?
It’s difficult to pick just one as with every run or race you can take away something from it. From my first ever multi stage event, the ProNutro AfricanX Trailrun in 2010, to winning the Dryland Traverse Multi Stage race in 2012, suffering through the Hout Bay Trail Challenge in 2011, they all bring fond memories.
What does it take to be a good trail runner?
Commitment and dedication. If you want to be at the top of your game you have to put in the hours. If you are in the position to train on the competition route before a race, do it. You will gain valuable insight. Also, try to train on terrain and simulate race conditions similar to the race you are planning to compete in.
Take us through a typical day of trail running training?
Having a full time job, and responsibilities at home, finding time to train properly is difficult at times. I believe in a quality over quantity approach. I am fortunate enough to work in the outdoors, so whenever I get the gap I’ll go for a run, while concentrating on hill training and speedwork during the week, followed by back to back long runs over weekends if I’m not racing. A couple of cross training gym sessions during the week maintains a healthy balance.
What is the hardest aspect of trail running?
There is no specific hardest aspect as with proper training experience, better results will follow. The
technical single track, especially downhill, is probably the most difficult skill for beginners to master, but luckily, to practise it, you get some hill training done too, free of charge.
What do you say to those who are of the belief that trail running is too unforgiving on the knees?
In trail running no two steps are the same, and with the constant change in terrain you most probably are strengthening your muscles, rather than injuring them.
What sort of diet do you follow?
I follow no specific diet as I love my wife’s cooking way too much. We do try to eat healthily, but I sometimes do over indulge during the occasional braai. I try to minimise the amount of starch I take in, but I still follow the carbo-loading approach with pasta two nights before a race. It’s most probably more of a pre-race ritual dating back from my school years and mom’s recipe.
Do you have any trail running heroes?
My good friend Patrick Cruywagen stands out. He is my mentor, and the reason I started trail running, after reading his article about the Otter Trail Run, and even though living abroad these days, we still try and organise a run together whenever he’s back in SA.
Internationally, runners like Killian Jornet and Scott Jurek comes to mind, while locally AJ Calitz stands out. We use to be training partners running around the grass track at Coetzenburg in Stellenbosch. Maybe I should have kept running with him, as he is dominating the SA trail scene at the moment.
How do you hydrate, leading up to a race?
I use GU Brew and GU Roctane as part of my training and race hydration. A carbo-loading beer the night before a race helps to settle the nerves too.
Any advice for aspiring trail runners?
Get out there! Invest in proper trail shoes (I have acquired six pairs of Inov-8s in a year), and start of slowly. Slow, but steady will get you to the finish! There are trails everywhere to be run and explored, so just go and do it.
What is your favourite trail running shoe?
No outright favourite, but if I have to pick one, it would be the Trailroc 245. It has a comfortable fit, with a tread that is ideal for the hard, rocky technical terrain, common on the Cape mountain trails. My Roclite 285 has a special place as it was my first pair of Inov-8 sneakers, but I’m currently making use of the Roclite 243s.
What is next for Jan Ham?
After getting injured at the 2013 AfricanX last month, I have taken a few weeks off to recover and spend some quality family time. With a couple of smaller races leading up to it, the main focus for now will be the three day Southern Cross trail run in August with Columbia team mate Cornel de Jongh, followed by the solo four day Namaqua Quest at the end of August, and the 100km Skyrun in November.
Does reading a feature like this inspire you to start trail running? Is there anything that you would like to ask Jan?