From Tarmac to Mud – First Steps in Trail Running
It’s easy to get disheartened as you continually run along pavements and roads, cars whirring past and impromptu hurdling sessions when unstoppable runner meets immoveable dog. Parks are better, but can be busy and far too manicured if you’re hankering for some wilderness. The only option is to get muddy and start trail running. If you’re already a keen runner, then you can be out there trail running by following a few easy tips.
Suitable Kit. If you run then in all probability, you can get away with easy trail running with the kit you already own, especially in dry weather. The one bit of kit that’s worth investing in is a decent pair of trail shoes, with good grip being essential.
If your’re going to find yourself far from civilisation on your run, then you may need a waist-pack with a few essentials. I find that a thin Paramo Quito waterproof and pertex wind-proof trousers are insurance enough, adding a very lightweight down jacket if it’s especially cold or I expect to be waiting for a lift or bus at the end of the run. This might seem like being overly cautious, but I was on a trail run recently that at the furthest point I was a good 7 km from the main road. Had I sprained my ankle (again!) then I’d be looking at an hour and a half walking back at a fast pace, or much longer depending on the sprain, making an extra layer essential.
Beyond that, your usual shorts and base-layers will do the job. along with anything else you’d usually take on a run at that time of year (gloves, hat, etc). Though you may wish to invest in waterproof socks. You may also need a map and compass, and the ability to use them. A smartphone can come in handy, for navigation as well as to take photos. Essential if you want to smugly post your run all over social media!
Navigation and Where to go? One thing about trail running is that you need some navigational skills, or prior knowledge of the route. An ideal situation is to choose a route that you’ve already walked, which gives you a clear idea of how tough it’s going to be and how to find your way around. If you found yourself puffing and panting the route while walking it, then it’s probably too hilly for a first trail run! Start off with something reasonably flat and build up. This Belan Bimble is a great example of an easy trail run.
Coastal paths are excellent options, as they’re usually very easy to follow and tend to be easy underfoot. Well they are when they’re on the coast and not detouring miles inland to avoid someone’s luxury pad. Any other way-marked trail is ideal as well, minimising any thinking and navigation you have to do, such as Around Llyn Padarn where you can follow coloured posts. If you think that running over some farmland is an easy option then think again. Arable land tends to be ploughed and rough, while cattle churn up fields into quagmires at exactly where the right of way exits the field. This is what I looked like last time I thought that!
A smartphone with an app such as Back Country Navigator installed is a great backup plan. I tend to use it almost exclusively these days as the paid for app costs the same as an OS map and allows you to view the maps when there’s no signal – e.g.every time you actually need to use it.
Another option is to do multiple circuits of a short local trail. Once you’ve done a couple of loops, you should be comfortable finding your way around. This also helps if you don’t know how far to run. If you’re used to running no more than 5km, then depending on the nature of the trail, you might find 5km a bit much as you’ll be bringing into play muscles you don’t usually use running on roads.
You’ve got the shoes, you’ve got your route. You’ll just need to find a comfortable pace. Any up-hills will naturally slow you down, and if particularly steep or relentlessly long then it’s no shame to walk these. You can just push yourself to run a bit further without walking next time!
Running on tarmac is easy in comparison to keeping your ankle un-twsited and your body upright when travelling over rocks, mud and roots (been waiting 24 months to get that line in an article on here!) Super-grippy shoes do help, but you’ll need to slow down at first, until you get used to running on trails. Forestry tracks and well maintained trails are a good place to start. Simply put, if it’s easy to walk on, then it’ll be straightforward running.
If you’ve got a lot of downhill running, then be ready for those quads to scream at you tomorrow. If you decide to run off a mountain then if you’re not used to it, you’ll be stiff all week. Running downhill is a skill in itself, and you need to be careful you don’t get too excited and pick up too much speed!
So get some decent and grippy shoes, choose a route and get out there. And, above all, enjoy it.
Missed anything? Any tips to add? Comment below!