Are you fed up of tarmac, had enough of chasing PB’s & shoving gels down your throat – do you want to swap busy roads for peaceful trails, run with a smile on your face & feel more in tune with your body and your surroundings – welcome to the trails.
I remember very well my first encounter with a trail marathon – The Ox in 25th May 2014, a fantastic race & baptism of fire for a novice!
I had never really done any off road before and the technical running really scared me – too many obstacles to look out for in addition to running! The race started & within the first half mile we were running downhill on soft grass littered with sheep poo, not a good look in barefoot sandals – I started to relax this seemed OK running down into a valley – problem was we needed to climb back out of the valley – at around 3 miles we turned a corner to be faced with what i could only describe as a wall of grass – now back in 2014 my mindset was still very much that of road club runner – the idea of walking within the first 3 miles seemed ridiculous, but frankly there was no way I could run up this mountain of grass, so we walked our way out of the valley – the climb lead us back to the road we had initially run down & where we could see the carpark and race village. Less than 5 miles into that race I really wanted to stop, I was completely knackered!
We turned off the road into a forest track and the first CP, that gave me the breather I needed & it was cooler in the forest shade. Heading further into the forest there appeared to be a queue of runners, I realised that our path involved scrambling over a fallen tree & each runner was holding branches & helping the runner coming after – wow that was an inspiring moment for me, a bit of a “aha” moment – so this trail running malarkey seemed to be all about enjoyment, camaraderie – taking in your surroundings & working with the terrain. No worries on PB’s loosing time or being the strongest, fittest or fastest – it was a real revelation of still running well & pushing yourself, but being totally relaxed into your surroundings – a trail runner was born!
The OX is a tough race and it battered me as a novice trail runner, but I loved it and it was the start of my love affair with trail running, I have gradually gotten better over the more technical trails, but also taken quite a few tumbles, I think I just learn to fall better 🙂 . But its not something you should be afraid of practice does make better & while you are concentrating the miles just drift by.
Trail running has something for everybody; whether you like to run short or long distances, stay on the flat or head up hills. You go as far as you want, too – even race distances range from 3K to 100milers +
Guide to Trail Running
Take time to tune into your body
The first thing that you’ll notice when your starting trail running is that you’ll have to get used to placing your feet on an uneven surface.
Your feet & ankles will need to be strong – to keep up with the constantly changing terrain underfoot – tree roots, stones, potholes… nature throws a lot of curveballs!
It is important that you don’t rush or push yourself too hard when you’re starting out, as you need to allow your feet time to get used to the new movements – incorporate some simple strengthening and stretching exercises to strengthen your legs and feet, and to help you to stay injury free.
You need to tune into your body & your surroundings adapting your body movements & using vision to identify potential hazards and pinpointing out your safest path.
Confidence in your running
Whether you choose towpaths, fields or mountains, having a good grip in your footwear is key – strong, durable and high-traction footwear will give you confidence and reassurance in your foot placement. This means that you’ll be able to move faster as you won’t be second-guessing every step.
Don’t be too precious though they will get muddy!
Gradually increase your training
Trail running is known for being tough for a reason; running a mile off-road really does take more effort than walking or road running.
Muscles get used a lot more on uneven surface especially the lesser stabilizing muscles – while actually in the long run being easier on your body because of the softer surface – it initially may be a shock to the system really making your muscles work.
Don’t over push – in the first few weeks – this may require you to change your mindset – as you’ll find that you aren’t able to go as far, or as fast as you would do on the road. It’s OK – if you aim to build both distance and elevation gradually, then you should be able to make fast progress.
To start, seek out some undulating and rolling terrain that you can walk up without getting out of breath – nothing massively taxing though. OK, you’re there – now try running it! Get used to this before introducing significantly steeper climbs and distance. You can even just do the drill of run up, walk down, repeat – just add extra repeats as and when you’re ready. Building up gradually helps to minimise your risk of injury and builds a good strength and endurance base. Remember in trail running the ability to speed walk hills with good posture & a smooth transition between running/walking will be key to building speed & endurance.
Embrace the challenge
Trail runners are hardy souls, but the key is as always in the preparation. The beauty of the trails is getting away from it all, back to nature and space to breath – but this isolation can of course present difficulty if the weather suddenly changes or you take a tumble hurt yourself or get wet & muddy.
As you build your confidence & distance – build your kit!
A good hydration vest, to carry water/food – dry warm clothes, first aid kit, survival blanket & your mobile.
Check the weather so you know what to expect, but don’t be put off its part of the challenge, but be confident in your preparation.
As you grow in confidence you may want to learn to navigate new trails, there are some excellent watches with GPS & you can source routes online, alternatively you could find a navigation course & learn map reading or just find a well marked trail.
Trail running is a new challenge for you, so it’s totally understandable if you’re still a bit nervous. But really, take the leap of faith!
Relax, no pressure – do not be afraid to walk, do not worry about times, forget the road running mentality, endurance & speed will come with time and practice.
Just enjoy being outdoors, the sounds/sights/smells – let you mind wander & your body move as it was build to do.
Happy Trail Running