There’s nothing like the freedom of getting into the mountains with minimal equipment and with few particular skills. And this is the joy of trail running. It doesn’t have the best reputation in the extreme/adventurous sporting scene but that’s because there is nothing to glamorize it like there is with many other sports where big tricks or dangerous elements make it juicy. This, however, is not what trail running is about and so you are free from comparison with others’, free from ego, and free to do as you want – which is sooo refreshing in the sporting World!!
Feel like giving it a go? Here’s my beginner guide to trail running:
How to get into Trail Running
Literally, there are two skills you need:
Method – essentially you want to be running on the balls of your feet (which can take a little practice) in order to keep your body light and flexible and not to cause repetitive injury to your knees.
Navigation – you will need to know how to navigate i.e map, compass, watch (getting lost may be adventurous but it can be dangerous – so best to avoid).
There are 5 things that you will need:
#1 Good running shoes (I can recommend Salomon and Sportiva)
#2 A comfortable running backpack (you will be going longer distances so will need plenty of water (camel back is best) and it will need to be big enough to fit all your extra kit in it, while staying close to your body when you run) (I have a Salomon one but there are cheaper options)
#3 A lightweight waterproof jacket (Packlite’s work well)
#4 Water & snacks (important to maintain hydration & sugar levels)
#5 ‘Caught-off guard essentials’ these are the things I always pack no matter what the weather is, or where I’m going, as conditions can change and injuries can happen – and you will be so happy you have them if ever you need them! The essentials pack includes suncream (little tube), head torch (with spare batteries), mobile phone, compass, an energy gel, 2x plasters (blisters), thin gloves (& hat – usually I only put one in for higher summits or UK days), & local map (the area you need).
Where to go Trail Running
Once you’ve checked off that list you now need to plan some trails.
Trail decisions are based on many things; weather, time, distance, height, fitness and knowing this will come with time, but also have a look online – there’s so many great resources for route planning and route reviews.
My absolute favourite places for trail running are: Chamonix (France), Dartmoor (UK), Scottish mountain paths (off-path running in Scotland can be tricky due to the saturation & uneven base of the ground) (UK), the Lake District (UK), Abel Tasman National Park (New Zealand), Pacific Crest Trail (US), and Colorado (UK)… but there are so many places. Chamonix is a fantastic starting location for trail running as you are never far from civilization, many routes are circular, the paths are well marked, it’s hard to get too lost and the views are breathtaking.
Take your time, and enjoy it
I have never regretted going out on the hill. There are simply no bad points. Trail running is all about beautiful views (sometimes the weather impedes this but then you just smile and carry on), good exercise, great memories, and a wonderful adventure.
I have never regretted even a second; and knowing that solidified my love of this sport. It’s not a love of running itself (although I personally love that too), it’s a love of where it can take you, how it makes you feel, and the experiences you alone (or with a couple of others’) are privy to.
I once ran to the top of a mountain. It had been a beautiful blue sky day but I was working until 5pm, so I hurried home, changed into my lycra and ran through the door & made straight for the incline.
When I reached the summit of my closest mountain I was the only one up there. And I stood with tears in my eyes as I witnessed the firey setting of the sun. Grey storm clouds cracking in the distance were tinged with silvery gold, and the mountains surrounding me were bathed in rose gold. I felt so alive. So proud and so grateful that I was right there, the only place in that moment that I wanted to be. I was the only one experiencing and witnessing the production playing out in front of me, of heart-wrenching beauty.
It was one of the most profound experiences. I ran all the way home with a happy heart and the most exhilarated soul. And the whole adventure took less than 4hrs!
Being out amongst nature is like nothing else, it fills you with freedom and the feeling of adventure, no matter how far you go. In fact, start of planning small journeys and then you will notice how enjoyable it was and how strong and healthy you feel.
Ready to get going?
Here are some top tips when starting out:
- Start off gently and work your way up
- Make sure you stretch before and after (especially calves and ankles)
- Stop to take photos, for snacks and to enjoy the scenery but otherwise, try to keep moving
- If you get tired (especially running up hill) then first try slowing down, i.e run as slowly as possible, until it gets on the borderline of being uncomfortable and then walk. Walk as much as you like but try not to stop.
- It really helps to get into a rhythm, especially with your breathing and step timing. Which is why listening to some upbeat rhythmic tunes can really help! I still do this for short runs, but for long (4-7hr) ones I normally listen to podcasts and then, as I get tired, I switch back to music. It’s amazing how far podcasts can take you! Though also take your earphones out and listen to the bird song – especially when you’ve slowed to a walk.
- Remember: Never feel like you can’t stop, or walk, or stand on a rocky outcrop taking a selfie (issued with caution). No one is watching. Running is for you, no one else.
Trail running is not about success; it is about the love of being outside and your connection to the World. If you don’t push yourself too hard you’ll find a new world of enjoyment in wild/trail running. And before you know it a half hour run will become a 3hr trail run.
Be open to the enchantment of this peaceful practice, feel the way it energizes your body & mind, and truly appreciate the beauty of your surroundings. This is the beauty of trail running. It’s what makes you fall in love with it.
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Five years ago Tansy gave up her career in London to move to the mountains. She fell in love with every adventure sport she tried from trail running to ice climbing. She is currently Managing Director of ethical jewellery brand: Lupe, a meditation teacher & life coach, and is writing a book on the protection of the Environment.