A beginner's guide to Trail Running
Fancy challenging yourself with a new sport? Try Trail Running and get at one with nature.
An introduction to Wild Running by Jen and Sim Benson, authors of the Wild Running guidebook.
This is a guest post by Jen and Sim Benson, authors of the Wild Running guidebook.
There are many different running disciplines, from road and track to trail, fell, and cross-country, each with its own set of rules. In writing Wild Running, we hoped to capture all the best bits from each discipline, finding the best running terrain in the most beautiful places without being restrictive. In short, Wild Running is about getting out and having the most fun it’s possible to have at a run.
The essence of wild running is in the excitement, location and pure joy of running a route, rather than the surface it is run upon. Freedom, fantastic running terrain and the exploration of new and beautiful places are all key to a perfect wild running adventure. Wild running takes you away from everyday life, providing the freedom to discover and explore fantastic new places. The experience of running in remote areas teaches us self-reliance, makes us fitter and stronger and encourages us to become better at finding our way. A wild running adventure can be as gentle or as testing as you choose to make it, and it can be different every time, but the key ingredients – an adventure somewhere amazing, with great running underfoot – are always there.
Running is a time-efficient and cost-effective means of getting and staying fit. It helps you meet new people, explore new places. It can fit in perfectly with a busy working lifestyle. It’s even good for the mind, with evidence suggesting that running improves both mood and mental ability. Running is also unique in its simplicity: lace trainers; open door; one foot in front of the other; repeat. No need for fancy kit or lessons – it’s something we’ve all been doing since childhood, when we ran for the pure unadulterated joy of self-propelled movement.
This simplicity lends running a freedom that’s found in few other sports. It allows us to experience our surroundings through our interaction with them: feet skipping over rough ground and along winding trails; the tough, lung-wrenching struggles of hard ascents; the liberation of speedy descents; the ease and enjoyment of bounding over flat, soft turf; the uncomplicated satisfaction of getting yourself from A to B.
One of the many great reasons to run lies in its simplicity and lack of need for complicated equipment. However there are items that will make running safer and more enjoyable if chosen with care. Each run is different, so carefully consider your requirements – and those of the run – before setting out.
A well-fitting pair of shoes appropriate to the terrain, and conditions of your run are essential. For hard-pack and road-based runs, a pair of road shoes will provide protection and cushioning for your feet. On trails and dry off-road surfaces trail shoes which combine a more rugged, grippy sole with some cushioning will give you traction and make running fast over uneven terrain easier. In wet, muddy conditions, a pair of fell shoes with deep lugs will grip the ground and stop you slipping and sliding as you run, greatly improving comfort, performance and safety. Many runs involve a combination of terrain so shoe choice is an important but not always straight-forward decision. And remember, good fit is key, so be prepared to try several.
Running generates large amounts of heat, even in cold weather, so it’s a good idea to layer your clothing to allow for easy ventilation. A lightweight windproof jacket is invaluable, as it can be worn over other clothing when required or stashed easily in a pocket. Bear in mind that in cooler weather you will lose heat rapidly if you need to slow down or stop for any reason. Other than this, dress for the conditions you will encounter and the length of your run, from tights, long-sleeved base layers, hats and gloves in winter to shorts and a vest in summer; most choices are common sense. Well-fitting, supportive underwear is essential for comfort whilst running and worth time and effort to get right.
A good pair of running socks is essential, providing warmth, cushioning and protection and wicking away sweat from the skin to reduce the chances of blisters. Make sure they fit really well and don’t ruck up in your shoes, and consider taking a change of socks on really long runs. Waterproof socks are a great investment for wet-weather running.
A light-weight rucksack or waist pack can be really useful for carrying spare clothing, food, water and safety kit. It can take many attempts to find the perfect one for you, so be prepared to try several and always take the time to adjust them to fit you properly to avoid discomfort, bouncing around and chafing. There are many different types on the market and much is down to personal preference. Those with easy-to-reach zipper pockets for food are great for longer runs. Water-carrying options range from side, rear and strap arrangements to integrated bladder pouches, all of which have strengths and weaknesses in terms of comfort, accessibility and ease of refilling, with most runners having a personal preference.
Again, the need for carrying refreshments will depend hugely on the run you are doing and the availability of stops along the way. In general it is important to take supplies if you are running for more than about 90 minutes. Many runners drink energy drinks, however these may become unpalatable on longer runs and are often expensive and sugary. Plain water is perfectly adequate in most cases and straightforward to replenish. Drink to thirst and, on longer runs especially, make sure you also replace salts which are lost through sweating, either through electrolyte tablets which can be added to water or simply by eating little and often. Hyponatraemia is a serious condition caused by over over-drinking, and a far greater danger to distance runners than dehydration. Snacks should be easy to carry, palatable and easy to stomach and can range from expensive energy bars to a handful of dried fruit, depending upon taste. In general, runners find their preference for sweet foods declines as the run duration increases, so try out different foods and see what works for you.
When venturing out on longer runs or into remote or weather-affected areas, even more careful kit consideration is required. Packing the right safety equipment can prevent a run becoming an epic one and may save your own or someone else’s life. Carrying, and being able to use, kit is an important part of being prepared. The following list is not exhaustive and intended as a guide only: route description, map, compass, mobile phone, money, food, water, warm clothing, waterproof clothing, hat and gloves, first aid kit, whistle, survival bag, head torch, sun screen. Clothing and equipment choices should always reflect the conditions and the route.
Wild Running is now available from the OS Shop. RRP £16.99
It's a 256 page paperback with with 250 photos and 150 maps showing routes across Britain, from easy to challenging. Each area includes notes on key features and wildlife and well as some amazing landscape photography.