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Trail Running - What, Why, How?

What is Trail Running? 

Trail running is a term used all around the world and can mean very different things to different people. It can be applied to any off-road running and usually would be a route that follows some kind of defined path/trail. This can mean the 2km loop around the park, exploring into the local woods, massive ultra-endurance long-distance trails, or taking to the mountains and fells.

Why should I try Trail running?

Trail running means no tarmac, no roads, no treadmills. Under our feet, the ground is constantly changing. Sometimes it might be smooth and fast, at other times it might be muddy or rocky, rooty or sandy. The trail is rarely flat for long with subtle changes in gradient following the shape of the ground, or it might have steep climbs and technical descents.

All of this means that no two steps are the same, our feet and bodies are constantly adjusting and adapting to the trail. Shortening our strides when there is less grip, using our natural agility to dodge rocks and avoid the puddles.

This is the terrain that we have evolved to run over, it forces us to run in tune with the trail and the variety gets us away from the monotonous repeated impact that we feel when running on an artificial surface of tarmac or treadmill. One result of this is a reduction in the repetitive-impact injuries that plague road-runners.

Most importantly it is more fun, adventurous and rewarding.

The view is constantly changing and our route takes us into more natural surroundings. We leap bound and splash as we explore the environment around us.

The varied rhythm of the trail allows for a balance of steady effort, hard work and recovery, breaking the monotony and fighting fatigue.

Also as every step is different, every run is different, so comparison becomes meaningless. We don’t judge one run against another because the trail isn’t the same. This releases us from the pressure of speed and pace, 5k efforts or target distances. All that matters is that we are out running, and enjoying it. The best runner is the one having the most fun!

How do I start Trail Running?

So if you are a seasoned road runner or totally new to it, what do you need to start trail running? Well in the beginning, nothing! Just get out and explore, experiment with new routes from the house, or a new way home from work. If you don’t know where a trail goes, go and find out. It might go nowhere and you will have to come back, it might be boggy or too steep, but that is all part of the fun!

As your sense of adventure takes you further afield then other skills and equipment will become more important.

Navigation - Being able to navigate, with a map and compass or using your phone will help you to plan new routes and give you the confidence to explore new areas.

Running technique - Running over rough terrain forces you to adapt your style but there are tips and techniques that can help you to find grip on loose surfaces, flow smoothly over lumps and bumps and increase your running efficiency.

Training - Off-road running places different demands on the body because of its variety, so some specific flexibility and strength training will have huge benefits in terms of performance and injury prevention.

Equipment - As your runs take you further from home and further away from roads and people, you also need to consider your safety. What equipment should you have with you? Is a water bottle and a mobile phone enough, or do you need to start thinking about some food, a map, some waterproofs and emergency equipment?

Footwear - The one piece of equipment that will make the biggest difference to your off road running is your footwear. A road running shoe has only one main purpose and that is to provide some cushioning for your foot as it lands. Depending on your point of view, and the marketing you read, you might want a lot of this or a little.

A trail running shoe has a much more important job; to provide grip and traction on a variety of surfaces. They can be extremely specialised to a specific type of terrain, the Inov-8 Mudclaw with its aggressive studs are perfect for muddy trails and mountain running. Other shoes are designed to give grip on wet rock or dusty trails. When choosing a trail running shoe the important thing is to match the shoe to the type of trails that you run. If you want an all-round shoe that can cope with a bit of everything on your local trails then you find that easily, but just remember that on the more difficult terrain it will not perform as well as a specialist shoe.

So what are you waiting for, grab your shoes and get exploring. And if you need some help and advice on anything on this list then get in touch, join one of our runs and who knows where it might lead…..

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