Trail running is for anyone and everyone that wants to get out and enjoy a few miles in the great outdoors. It offers you freedom from the daily routine and lets you escape for a while. Not only that but it’s great for both your physical and mental well being. It opens up the world to you from a new perspective and gives you some great photo opps for your Instagram account. It offers challenges both mentally and physically and it makes every run different. Whatever your goals and motivations, if you are pursuing trail running as a new interest, or are an established off road runner, we aim to provide trail training tips, insight, advice and inspiration to help you get the best out of your time on the trails.
Why Choose Trail Running?
Why do runners choose off road running. Ask any runner their opinion and you will get many different answers:
- Because it’s more interesting than road running
- It’s easier on the joints
- The views are great
- It gets me away from suburban life
- It provides greater elevation
- Its more challenging, more rewarding…
Of course, while we are here to extol the virtues of off running off road, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and you will hear many speedy road runners scoffing at the idea of having to slow down on difficult terrain, to cross a stile or to navigate a muddy stretch. There are so many different runners that make up the world of this accessible and enjoyable sport that not everyone is on the same page but that’s OK. You love what you love and get enjoyment from what motivates and inspires you. For us, in the great debate: trail vs road, trail wins hands down.
Who is Off Road Running for?
The answer is anyone that wants to put on a pair of trainers and run and enjoy nature. The world is made up of many different types of runners of varying speeds and abilities. Some do it for fun, others pursue it as a more serious pastime. But what makes a trail runner? If you are running, and you are running off road then you qualify, end of! You don’t have to be able to run fast or far and you don’t have to be able to scale every climb like a mountain goat but you do have to enjoy yourself. OK, so enjoyment and 2,000 ft of elevation don’t necessarily equate but there’s nothing quite like the view from the top!
Everyone has to start somewhere. Even the likes of Nicky Spinks and Killian Jornet started off by putting on their trainers and heading out of the door for the first time. You aren’t born an endurance athlete. OK, there are genetic factors at play but we certainly didn’t start off as ‘athletes’. Like most runners, you decide to go for a run and perhaps take part in an intro such as Couch to 5K. Then you do more, you realise you enjoy it, you join a club or run with friends, take part in a few road races and then you hear someone discussing off road.
The first step is usually to buy a pair of trail shoes and give it a go. If you are anything like us, you will discover that you love it and the rest will be history. For me personally, I went off road to make a change to my road training for a ten mile run on the Mendips and I was hooked. All of a sudden, there were new routes, new views, new challenges and my beloved road running started to lose it’s appeal. Now, 5 miles on the tarmac is somewhat of a recovery run when there’s no time for anything else. Even our speed sessions for the club involve an element of trail training.
The Club Runner
I wouldn’t consider us to be endurance athletes. We coach athletes at local club level and understand the science behind running. We run ultra marathons but we do it because we enjoy it, not necessarily to be the best, to win events. It’s about challenging ourselves. We set ourselves a goal and then work towards achieving it. We’ve achieved 50 miles running the virtual version of the ultra we trained for, now we will go back and take part in the actual event with a field of other runners and see how we do.
Like so many, we admire, follow and get inspired by endurance athletes that take it more seriously. We study what they wear, how they run, what motivates them and marvel at how their bodies do what they do. We run with members of our own club (when social distancing rules allow) and we share adventures, entering races together, planning day trips and enjoying the time we spend out on the trails.
The Endurance Athlete
The endurance athlete will test their bodies, and their minds, to the absolute limits of endurance in some of the toughest races on earth. They want to go further, higher, cover more elevation, qualify for bigger races and defy expectations in daring feats of human endurance. They are often sponsored by brands such as inov-8, they are part of teams, they compete in worldwide trail ultras such as the Western States 100 (check it out if you haven’t), UTMB, Marathon de Sables and all manner of crazy events that we aspire to take part in.
These are the athletes that have that mental grit, that can deal with the pain cave (it’s an actual place – we’ve been there), that can summit the hills without being out of breath and that can just go on and on for hours on end. They haven’t got it by sheer talent, they work hard, they train for hours every day, they understand nutrition and it’s a way of life.
Finding What Works for You
Whether you are training for an off road half marathon, training for strength (as part of cross training) or have a more serious ultra marathon goal, we have prepared a series of training tips articles covering everything from hills reps sessions to what to pack in your kit on race day. You may not be training for a race but simply have a goal in mind to complete a certain distance. After many months of uncertainty in 2020, and many hours spent specifically training for 2 ultra marathons, both of which got moved twice, we decided to put all of this years training to use and complete those goals under our own steam.
Off Road Training Advice
There is much to consider when training for an endurance event. Anything that is longer than a marathon is classed as an ultra and is going to need planning and preparation. It’s not all about just getting out on the trails and putting the miles in, although this is a large part of it. You also need to consider numerous other factors:
- Specific training for the terrain you are going to be covering
- Nutrition – how are you going to fuel on race day and ensure you have enough glycogen to keep going
- What to wear on race day
- The kit you need to take with you
- The support you might need – who will be your crew and what will they do?
- What other training will you undertake to compliment your running?
Now there is far too much detail to go into each of the above points here but you will find more information on each subject throughout the pages of our site such as hill rep sessions to improve your hill running. The key, as with everything, is in the preparation. Even 100 metre runners don’t just run up and down the track a few times to see if they can faster just as endurance runners don’t just run long miles in some old kit and a pair of trainers from the bottom of the kit. If you’re training for a 50 mile ultra for example, you don’t just build up the mileage until you reach the magic number and then expect to pull it out of the bag on race day. No, you spend months working to weekly plans where you increase your mileage each week. Most ultra runners rarely run over 25-30 in training so as not to wear themselves out. They focus on sections and training blocks which offer focused and specific training. As we always say, it’s about “specificity of training”.
Planning and Preparation
Just like not being able to run 50 miles when you’ve only run 5 before, you can’t just pop on a pair of brand new shorts and expect them to be comfortable for 50 miles if you haven’t tested them out. You can’t run with food that you haven’t practised with (unless you have copious amounts of toilet paper and are at home with behaving like a bear) and you can’t expect to just wake up, pull on your shoes and run for 50 miles. You need to practise, train, prepare, plan and make sure that you start your event in the best shape possible. The better prepared you are for an event, the more you will get out of it and the more likely you are to achieve what you want.
The Benefits of Trail Running
Where to begin when it comes to the benefits of running off road. The number one for us is the enjoyment of experiencing new views and seeing what nature has to offer. Our Sunday long runs, as part of our own trail training, often offer up a sighting of a deer or two (six is the max we’ve seen), a kestrel or a buzzard circling overhead, the odd donkey (everyone loves a donkey) and of course the farmyard animals. We’ve seen pheasants, squirrels, rabbits, hares, wild horses and one snake (not a fan). We are no strangers to crossing a field of curious young male cows or walking through a field of sheep. Of course, be mindful that this is their land and not ours and to leave nothing behind except your footprints, also stick to the designated public footpaths!
Then there are the physical benefits – cardiovascular, strengthening of the muscles, weight loss as well as the benefits we can’t see. Exercise is widely regarded as being good for mental wellbeing. We certainly find that it helps clear the mind of all the week’s stresses. When you are out on the trails, very little else matters. It’s just you and nature. We have been known to lose ourselves for 4 or 5 hours without realising where the time has gone. The undulation of the trails and the difference in terrain means that you work muscles that don’t get worked on flat, tarmac surfaces. You build stronger muscles in these areas and can often gain a competitive edge over those that might be faster on the roads. We often see athletes that are much faster on the road, hanging off the back when it comes to climbing.
The Ultimate Trail Training
So, the more you do something the better you will get and there is no substitute for being out on the hills as your primary trail training. If you are going to learn to run up hills, tackle tricky descents, pick the right gear for your run and get familiar with routes, there really is nothing better than getting out there and doing it. Your off road runs will constitute the biggest part of your trail training however there are lots of other things that will contribute to your success and what you achieve when preparing for a bigger event. If you are training for your first ultra, don’t underestimate the task you have set yourself and give yourself the best chance of achieving your goals by not only trail training but also planning.
If you have any questions about anything that you have read her, or would like to offer your feedback, feel free to contact us. We are happy to respond to your comments and answer specific questions. We’d love to hear your experiences. If you like what you read here, there are more (shorter) articles that you can read by clicking on the links below. If you really like what you read, we’d appreciate the social media shares.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links which may provide a small commission to me at no cost to you. The products we recommend are either those that we’ve used or that our fellow runners have used.
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