I love taking part in organised Ultramarathon events. I like the research, course recces, looking at the entry lists to see if I recognise any names, testing new gear and different nutrition options, the anticipation as the event draws near, the camaraderie on the day – the whole thing really.

I also like following the training plan I’ve designed for myself – there is something quite satisfying about the weekly mileage cell on the spreadsheet going green when I enter the distance of my Sunday long run – thank you Conditional Formatting!

Planning Trail Running Adventures

However, when I’m not training for an event or just want to do something different, I will often reach for the Ordnance Survey map (the real one you can unfold on a table, not the on-line version) and start looking for the magic green dotted line that goes to places where I have not previously explored.

This is often followed by a phone call to my running buddy, which goes something like “have you ever run around (insert random wilderness place), I’ve spotted a 20 mile trail we can try out, are you up for it?” Fortunately this is usually followed by an enthusiastic “Yes, see you on Sunday at 8:00”, then after a pause “Is it hilly?”

I think that we’ve both found that this DIY approach to trail running is giving us a much pleasure these days as running the organised Ultramarathon events.

I should also point out that I accumulate Ordnance Survey maps. I’ve got the local ones that cover my part of the world and I also buy maps that show an area where I am visiting family or going to on holiday. I will then spend some time planning a number of routes that I intend running when I am in the location.

Barrows, Hill Forts and Trigs

I am fascinated by ancient monuments such as Barrows, Hill Forts and the sites of Roman Villas and I will often try to plan a route that takes in a number of these. I have found that the sight lines from Hill Forts often line up and I would imagine that a large column of smoke from one could have been seen by the next one.

We have also planned runs that take in multiple Trig points as these often have some of the best views from different aspects. If you are interested in visiting Trig points yourself, there are a number of websites out there that provide details of all the Trig points in the UK.

black down trig a popular off road running spot

Another area that interests me are the historic trails, paths and bridleways that exist in this country. There is something quite special about following a route that countless people have taken over hundreds of years. Some of the best routes can be found on the Walking Englishman website.

Whilst a lot of these routes have GPX maps that I can download onto my Garmin Fenix 6X Pro, I always cross reference an Ordnance Survey map before I start for orientation and perspective purposes and I will often carry the map with me as a back up.

A useful skill is understanding Map Reading and Compass Bearings. We have provided some guidance here, which you may find interesting

A Great Alternative to Ultramarathon Events

One other type of run that we have tried is to take a bus or train ride for 20 miles then run back on a trail route that you have plotted on the map.

What we are trying to encourage is the idea that whilst Ultramarathon events are great for all of the reasons that are set out earlier, there is a whole world of trails out there to be explored. One of our favourite sayings is “I wonder where that goes?”

Before you set out exploring, please ensure you pack the correct kit and nutrition for the day. Tell someone of your plans and make sure you have the means to communicate in an emergency. Aside from that, enjoy the adventure.