So you’re a runner? You love nothing more than lacing up your trainers, stepping out of the front door and nipping round the block to crack out a mile or two, or maybe more! But could your running routine do with a bit of a shake up? Could you broaden your running horizons?
I’m a runner. I’ve been running for around 9 years now and I’ve completed numerous 5k’s, 10k’s, and half-marathons as well as 13 marathons and 4 ultra-marathons. But there’s one thing that 95% of them, and most of my training, have in common, and that’s tarmac! I’m a tarmac-loving road-runner you see, I live in an urban area after all and have become used to simply heading out on my local routes. Even when I venture into the surrounding countryside I wind my way around the maze of lanes.
Recently though, I decided it was time to freshen things up. Whilst I love (pretty much!) every run that I do, it was starting to feel like something was missing. I felt I needed more of an experience from my running, more reasons to keep getting out there, more of an adventure perhaps? So I decided the time had come to broaden my running horizons and dip my toe into the world of trail running.
I’ll be honest, I was nervous about it! Despite having thousands of running miles in the bank, I still felt like I was venturing into a world of the completely unknown. Where would I run? What should I wear? What do I need to take with me? How would I cope without that familiar solid surface beneath my feet? I had so many questions I felt like a beginner all over again!
I won’t lie, trail running is very different to road running, not in a negative way, but in a wonderfully liberating, inspiring and adventure-filled kind of way! So I thought I’d share my ten top reasons to make a move from road to trail.
1. Get close to nature – leave the traffic, exhaust fumes, pavements and buildings behind and breathe in the fresh air of the fields, forests, hills and mountains whilst you enjoy being amongst the trees, flowers, lakes and green open spaces.
2. Push your boundaries & challenge yourself – it’s almost certain that the terrain will be more challenging than what you are used to, the ground will be uneven beneath your feet and there will be obstacles aplenty with tree roots, rocks and even animal burrows to be avoided, but that’s part of the fun and it will challenge you mentally as well as physically while you run!
3. Buy some shiny new running kit – if you really needed an excuse to treat yourself to some great looking new gear, you just found it! Obviously most of your usual kit will be multi-purpose BUT you will need to invest in a pair of trail running shoes. There is a huge choice out there with varying options of grip, toe protection and ‘waterproofing’, so take a bit of time to do your research and visit a specialist trail running shop. Also, as you need to carry items with you for safety such as water, food supplies, a mobile phone and a map, then a hydration vest or small backpack is essential.
4. It’s kind of like a mobile picnic! – take all of your favourite snacks and treats with you and enjoy them as you go! It’s important to keep well-fuelled, as well as well-hydrated, so whether flapjacks, peanut butter wraps or even Percy Pigs (!!) are your thing, it’s all good, just pack them up and take plenty of breaks to enjoy them!
5. It can lead to the most wonderful adventures – when you become more confident you can get off the beaten track and explore new places, both at home and abroad. Trail running can be done the world over in some of the most beautiful destinations, so use it as a way not just to broaden your running horizons but maybe also your travel horizons too.
6. Share your adventures – whilst many of us road runners simply head out alone as we try and fit our run into our hectic work and family lives, trail running is definitely something which should be shared! Run with friends, run with club mates, run with your partner, but don’t run alone. The shared experience is a huge part of the joy!
7. Become a stronger runner – notice I said stronger and not faster! Speed and pace are less important out on the trails. It’s not about how fast you go but where you go and how much fun you have. So leave the GPS behind and just enjoy the experience. And don’t be afraid to walk when necessary! It's also a good idea to work on improving your core strength which in turn will help make you a better balanced runner on the uneven terrain, and ensure you can be out for longer and enjoy more of what your chosen run route has to offer.
8. Helps reduce injury risk – following on from the last point, it’s generally accepted that trail running is much kinder to your joints and soft tissue with a lesser impact than road running. Plus, as the ground is uneven, it’s less repetitive than the flat straight road which will mean your muscles, tendons and joints are challenged in different ways, reducing problems with overuse injuries.
9. So much variety & choice – flat or hilly, forests or fields, mountains or valleys, there is so much variety to enjoy and to keep your adventures fresh and exciting. And the views are often spectacular and breathtaking too!
10. Fun and enjoyment, guaranteed! - I had the most awesome trail running experience with the girls from The Adventure Running Company on their Essential Trails weekend in Chamonix. We made our way across valley pastures, through forest trails and up and down mountain paths. I was a total trail novice and yet they made it such a welcoming, fun and enjoyable experience I felt like I’d been running trails all my life!
So if you are thinking about giving trail running a go my advice is just go for it. You won’t regret it and you never know what adventures await...
Nikki Chamberlain is a two-time finisher of the South African Comrades ultra-marathon, has just completed the Boston & London marathon double, and is an all-round lovely lady and super-strong runner who doesn't know her own strength.
thoughts, feelings and tribulations about running by runners.