Lots of people don’t ‘do’ running. I get that. Until recently, I was one of them.
There are many reasons why. Pounding the streets. Traffic fumes. Injury. Heavy breathing. Boredom. Lots of grimacing.
I’d do it a few times but never really got it. It felt like a chore. Not particularly fun but something I should do as it’s good for me.
On paper, running is a terrific idea. You don’t need lots of expensive kit – a pair of trainers and you’re away. It doesn’t take much time – 30 minutes is enough to get changed, run and get on with your day. It’s an efficient workout and gets you fit.
So I’ve always admired those who can get on with running and was almost jealous that I couldn’t make it work for me.
But what if there was a way you could enjoy running even if you think you don’t enjoy running? A way you could give it another go without experiencing the downsides.
Welcome to the world of trail running.
See what I did there? Inspired isn’t it? Because that five-letter word changes everything. Trail running is very different from normal running. And here’s why:
- Running off-road is kinder to your body. The softer ground means less stress on your tendons, joints and bones. Each time your foot lands it’s in a different position, so you are bringing all sorts of muscles into play. Running on the road is a case of repeating the same movements, over and over again.
- The terrain is different every time you go out. It can be dry. It can be muddy. Nettles grow over paths. You get to splash in puddles and leap over stiles. Skip over tree roots and across sandy beaches.
- It sharpens your mind. Running off road requires constant adjustments in your footing and lightning-fast reflexes to avoid lumps and bumps in the trail. You forget about your troubles as you focus on the immediate task of not falling over.
- Running near roads means traffic. Breathing in fumes is never fun.
- The views are better. Tarmac is grey. The countryside, the mountains, the local park, even the canal path introduce different hues and change across the seasons.
- It’s peaceful. I’ve never felt the need to run with music off-road. Listen to the sounds of the wild instead and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. I’ve seen hares, red kites, buzzards and deer on my runs. Getting away from the relentless hum of the city is good for the soul.
- You’re allowed to walk. Walking when road running always feels like cheating. It’s perfectly legitimate to walk up hills or over trickier terrain when trail running. It’s not cheating to stop and admire the views. Even the pros do it.
- Routes become more creative when you aren’t confined to roads. Explore your local area with renewed enthusiasm as you find new tracks and work out where that overgrown footpath leads.
- The trail running community feels accessible to newcomers. Road runners can become obsessed with speed, distance, pace and lap times, which can be intimidating for the beginner. Trail running is more about the simple pleasure of being outside, enjoying nature and using your incredible body to move through it.
- Although you can get started with just a pair of trainers, for the kit junkie there’s a world of lightweight waterproofs and hydration packs waiting to be explored!
I’m still a beginner when it comes to trail running but having another excuse to spend more time outdoors is becoming addictive. It’s a fast-paced adventure in miniature, perfect as the days get shorter and work gets busier. It’s much easier to haul myself from the sofa knowing I get to run across fields and jump in muddy puddles.
If you’d like to give trail running a go, here’s what I’ve learnt as a newcomer to the sport:
- Take it easy. Although kinder to your body than road running, you’ll find it more tiring at first when muscles you didn’t know you had are asked to perform. Even short distances can take longer than they would on the road so don’t expect to set any records on your first run. Use it as an excuse to slow down and enjoy your surroundings.
- Buy some trail shoes from a proper running shop. Visit when it’s quiet and explain the terrain you want to run on. There’s a lot of choice out there and you’ll need some guidance on the best option for you. Don’t be swayed by what the pros are wearing or how funky a shoe looks either. Like choosing a wand, you have to seek what’s right for you. You’ll know it when you find it. (Mine are bright orange, though, which is a bonus)!
- If you still truly don’t like running, think of it as an adventurous walk instead. Find a wood and stride out on the flats, skip down the hills and splash in streams. It’ll feel less like you are ‘going for a run’ that way and you’ll soon naturally want to go faster and see more.
Finally, I think this short video by Alastair Humphreys perfectly captures the child-like enthusiasm hiding deep within us all to run in the hills.
You’ll also find a load of information in Trail Running Magazine, plus check out Claire Maxted’s excellent Wild Ginger Running website.
With that said, I’m off for a run…