Let me tell you how I became addicted to trail running. I’d just taken up running back in 2016 and I was searching the internet for races that were close to me. I found one which was a trail race and I thought ‘oh that’s interesting I could totally run in the woods I am a nature lover’. I signed up straight away for the 10k and eagerly awaited race day.
Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul
The day before my first trail race, I received an email from the race organisers who advised that we’d had a lot of rain over the past couple of days and trail shoes were strongly advised. I started to panic because I didn’t own any trail shoes, this was my first outing into the trail world and I wasn’t about to invest in some shoes that I might potentially only wear once if I hated the experience!
Luckily for me, the weather stayed dry enough for us to run without getting wet and the trails weren’t too wet or muddy and I was absolutely fine wearing my usual running shoes. Yes, trail shoes would have been ideal for the conditions and the terrain but they weren’t absolutely essential for me to be able to run and enjoy the race.
After running this trail race I was hooked on trail running and signed up for several more that year. Having one trail run under my belt I felt pretty confident that I’d be able to run other trail races with confidence and would eventually invest in some proper trail running shoes in good time.
I signed up for around 4 other trail races throughout the year and they were each very different with equally different challenges. Once you sign up for one, you can’t help but sign up for more! Trail running is unlike road running where you’re pounding the pavements and you’ve got your eyes firmly on your goal finish time. For me, trail running is more about the scenery and the challenge aspect of it that you just don’t get from running on the roads.
Some of my less than proud moments during a trail run include me falling over. A lot. Sometimes in quick succession. I’ve also stood at the top of a very steep embankment and said to my fellow runners ‘what is the best way to get down this hill, roll down’. And roll down I did, by accident and make a total spectacle of myself. At least I managed to get a third of the way down the hill with very little effort even if my body and ego were a little bruised. It’s all part of the trail run experience. Another time I was running through a very dense part of forest with very thick and wet mud covering stones and tree branches. I mused to the other runners that I was pacing with that I felt sure I was going to fall over. Seconds later, I did indeed fall over. I managed to pick myself up and then as soon as I was upright, I fell over again. I felt some frustration that I was never going to make it out of the forest and I was in fact going to have to suck it up and become a woodland creature because there was no way I was getting out of here alive.
While falling over isn’t the best experience, I still love it all the same. I like crossing the finish like with muddy hands and a muddy bum and recalling the stunning scenery and wishing that I could share the experience so they would know how great it is to get muddy too.
I promise I’ll get to the tips in a moment but I can’t help myself from talking about my trail run experiences and how much I love it! One of my favourite trail runs to date has been the Brecon Beacons 10k (it’s definitely more than 10k). When we reached the top of the beacons everyone stopped to take photos of the stunning scenery and not one person seemed overly concerned about their finish times (bear in mind I’m not at the front of the pack where I’m sure those people do concern themselves with their finish times). A lady offered for me to pass her on a narrow part of the trail but I exclaimed that I wasn’t there for the PBs I was there for the experience and that’s how I feel about trail running.
I’m sure I’ve convinced you enough to try trail running and I really want you to have the best information on how you can get started and things that I’ve learned along the way.
Not every trail run I’ve completed has been forest and mud (the majority have been) some of them are more gravel and stone based with some grassy sections and pathways. For these runs you can totally get away with running in your usual running shoes as you won’t need a much grip across this terrain.
My first tip is going to be, make sure you read the course description and course information before signing up. This is going to be invaluable to you as to whether you think you have enough skill and determination to complete the course. I would suggest that the first race you sign up for isn’t described as ‘technical’ which is a word that strikes fear into my very heart and translates to me ‘you’re going to fall over a lot more than likely’. If you’re feeling brave and want to sign up for a technical race perhaps sign up for the shortest distance on offer so you can get a taste for what trail running is really like.
In addition to this, make sure you look out for any updates on the race organiser’s website or via email as they’ll often advise you closer to race day whether trail shoes are an absolute must, whether the race is going ahead due to bad conditions and any other information provided for your safety.
Safety is absolutely paramount at an event like a trail run. People fall over all the time and sometimes they can end up with serious injuries that you can’t spring back up from. Make sure you are carrying around your emergency contact information or that this is written clearly on the back of your race bib and pay attention to the race briefing at the beginning of the race where they’ll give you any tips or details about problem areas on the course.
Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt
I’ve mentioned trail shoes already in this post but it’s worth giving them
In addition to your footwear, you need to pay a little more special attention to your outerwear too. If you’re running in the wet or cold weather you’re going to want something that keeps you dry and warm enough to get around the trail. Have a look in your local sports shop for running specific clothing designed for rain and sweat which will help keep you feeling more comfortable.
While a good base level of running will help you while trail running, you’ll need to add some extra training into your routine to keep you ship shape for the terrain.
There have been times where I’ve had to run through a stream, I’ve had to navigate wet leaves across wet stones downhill, I’ve had to use my arms to balance myself out as well as climbing up steep hills. You’re going to need to work the rest of your body with some strength training which will help you navigate the trails. Sometimes you’ll be jumping over tree branches, or your feet will slip away from you without warning and any training you can do to help you with these unexpected challenges will be a huge benefit. One thing I’m very diligent on doing if I have trail races pending is to work on my ankles. If you’ve got weak ankles you’re going to find it very difficult to cope with changing directions at a second notice or landing into an uneven muddy puddle. I’d suggest some of the following to help you condition your body: –
Hill running on your usual pavements is going to be a must for trail runs. The more work you can do on a hill, down a hill, around a hill the better. If you’re not sure where to start with hills check out these tips for running up and down them effectively. Don’t be afraid to walk up a particularly steep hill because sometimes it will be more efficient for you to walk rather than try and run them.
While you might be tempted to try and push for a PB make sure you’re keeping to a slow pace if you’re new to trail running. You’ll need to make sure you’re as safe as you can prepare yourself for and you need to give yourself plenty of time to deal with any challenges that may befall you. If you’re going down a particularly steep hill, try taking some smaller steps if the terrain feels uneven and you feel a little unbalanced. Accept that your time is not the most important part when you’re starting out and just enjoy the race and try and stay upright.
I hope this post has inspired you to add some trail running into your running repertoire I promise you it’s tons of fun and absolutely worth the mud, sweat and tears.