Words by Ben Woodcock
WHAT IS TRAIL RUNNING?
A sport coated in mystique; it has produced some of the greatest runners that you will have never heard of. Originating from 19th century community fairs and games, trail running paved the way for farmers, shepherds and just about any country dweller to gain kudos and stardom within their community. Indeed, this remains the sole motive for many who compete at the weekend, find their name published in weekly club newsletters before carrying on humbly, with their lives. Hence why despite their incredible feats of cardiovascular performance, their names don’t find their way to the mainstream sports world.
This has kept competition pure, untouched by sponsorship deals, prize money and global fame. It’s a sport performed simply for fun and camaraderie. However, not all trail running involves ascending mountains or covering ultra-distances. A trail could be as little as a dirt track through your local forest or as much as a 10k over the nearest peak, so anyone can do it, and everyone is welcome.
6 BENEFITS OF TRAIL RUNNING
Whatever the weather
It’s never too hot (usually) or too cold (sometimes) to go for a run. When it comes to trail running, the wilder the weather, the better the experience.
Due to the sheer number of calories burned during trail runs, food as fuel is crucial, both before and after your run. So, ensure you stock up with carbs before you head to the countryside.
Improve your running technique
The unpredictable nature of trail terrains makes for a perfect opportunity to dial in on your running technique. Rocks and roots force you to forefoot strike as you take shorter strides. This saves bags of energy over the course of a five-mile trail run. When, or if you decide to head back to road running you will find a more efficient and powerful pair of legs carrying you.
Improve your balance
Not only does the variable surface put your technique under the microscope but it also forces the smaller stabilising muscles in the core, feet and ankles into action, muscles which ordinarily lay dormant when running on flat concrete.
Breathe in the fresh air
Escaping the city to run in regions free from pollution will have your lungs saying a big thank you. You may even feel the difference in your cardiovascular capacity as you inhale much smaller levels of carbon monoxide.
Enjoy stunning views
There are some hidden gems to be discovered along some of the UK’s top trails that you can’t possibly replicate running through urban areas. Some of the best trail running routes with the finest, rewarding views are highlighted later.
HOW DO I FIND TRAILS NEAR ME?
The easiest way to find your local trails is to get out there! Set aside a day to lace up your running shoes and head outdoors, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find on your doorstep. These routes can be perfect for a quick 30-minute run before or after work.
Join the club
Finding your local running club and joining up could open a whole host of new routes. By speaking to experienced members, they will give you ideas for suitable routes for your ability level. There will also be club runs for you to take part in. This unlocks a new community, new people and new friends.
Dig out the map
While few of us have a physical map to hand anymore, a quick search on your maps app on your phone can certainly aid your search for trails, tucked in amongst the vast chunks of green fields and woodland will be trails galore. There are also some great apps downloadable to your phone that will find you specific routes based on location, difficulty level and elevation gain.
A quick google search for ‘trail runs’ or ‘trail runs near me’ will be enough to find some super routes that you may have missed out on while pondering over maps and apps.
TRAIL RUNNING UK: TOP 5 SPOTS
Loch Ness, Inverness, Scotland
While the name is more synonymous with the folklore monster that apparently swims in the depths of the loch itself. There are several magnificent trails, woven between the moorlands, which line either side of the loch that could give you front row viewing if ‘Nessy’ decides to surface while you’re getting your running fix.
Ladybower, Peak District, England
Just one region of the spectacular peaks. Trail running around Ladybower Reservoir provides everything from flat trails alongside the open water dams of Ladybower, Derwent and Howden where Lancaster bombers rehearsed their World War Two Dambusters raid, to the steep inclines of Winhill and Margery Hill that supply picture postcard views across Edale and the Hope Valley towards Castleton.
Snowdonia National Park, Wales
Of course, the first thing that springs to mind when you see the word Snowdonia is mount Snowdon itself. The second highest peak in the UK isn’t for the faint hearted but can be scaled by someone with limited ability all the same. However, if you fancy a smaller challenge first there are plenty of other routes within the country’s oldest nature reserve.
Cotswold Way National Trail, England
This superb trail extends over 100 miles of Cotswold countryside, so pick your favourite part and cover some ground through classic villages, hill forts and ancient beech woodland.
South Downs/Beachy Head, Sussex, England
If picturesque coastal routes are more your thing then head down to the South Coast. Again, you can cherry pick from a 100-mile stretch of coastline situated in the South Downs National Park. While the terrain isn’t a testing factor there is the odd hill to raise the heart rate and test the fitness of a more experienced runner. None more so than the path along the white cliffs of Beachy Head, at the end of the South Downs Way.
TRAIL RUNNING SHOES: DO I NEED THEM?
Are they essential? No. Would they help? Of course.
Depending on how seriously you intend to take your trail running adventures and how much time you plan to spend out on the trails, you may feel it would be worth investing in footwear designed specifically for the terrain. But, don’t feel pressured to shell out on the most expensive footwear in the game if you’re just starting out.
Regular trainers that are sturdy and have sufficient cushioning are perfect for beginners. If you are planning to spend plenty of time covering miles, then it would be welcome news to your ankle and knee joints if you grabbed a pair of runners.
BEST TRAIL RUNNING SHOES
While there are a wide range of different running trainers on the market, Adidas, Nike, On Running and Hoka are always a great bet for both comfort and performance on trails which may include roots, branches and loose rocks.
FIND A TRAIL RACE
Got a taste for the trails? Why not sign up to a trail race! Trail races are a great way to keep your training accountable and enjoy some beautifully curated race courses along the way. It beats pounding the pavement, that's for sure.
Check out these websites for Trail Run races near you:
So, now you know a little more about trail running, it’s humble beginnings, its history, its benefits and best locations. It’s time for you to lace up your shoes, running shoes if you fancy, and start eating up the miles.