What is trail running ?
Whether is called fell running, mountain or trail running it’s one of the fastest growing running sports.
Taking place on hiking trails (as opposed to surfaced roads or paths) it’s probably the most enjoyable way to go running and can take place anywhere in the world.
Yes it’s often in hilly or mountainous areas where it can be called differently. For example in parts of the UK it might be called fell running but is also known as hill running in Scotland or mountain running in the USA.
But trail running can take place anywhere where you can run ‘off-road’.
It’s a bit like cross country but…
If you did a cross country run at school then you will have a ‘rough idea’ as to what is trail running all about. Across fields, over fences and through the countryside.
The difference is that a cross country run is usually less than 12 km and much more competitive. A trail run is a sport that combines running and hiking over trails over longer distances.
So why is it so good for runners ?
There are 4 main reasons why trail running is a much better option than simply ‘running around your neighbourhood’ :
1. Your mood & brain ..
According to a study by the University of Michigan doing exercise in the countryside had similar effects to meditating – where the interaction with nature improved peoples short-term memory by 20 percent. (Compared to people going down city streets)
2. It’s easier on the body
A trail surface will have more ‘give’ than a road surface – so that when you run there is less force transmitted to your ankles, knees and hips. As a result you could end up with less injuries related to regular training.
When runnersworld compared the top 10 running surfaces it put grass first and woodland trail second. (With concrete only just above snow as the worst)
Especially woodland trails were deemed very easy to run on.
3. Helps your shape..
Especially trail running on hills or mountains will help your shape, as you will be using more muscles than simply running along a pavement. It’s been shown that running uphill will help beat a runners plateau as well as burn more fat.
In addition running on uneven surfaces will make you stronger, as you are using stabilizing muscles that will help with your balance.
4. It’s more sociable
Trail running competitions tend to have fewer entrants (often due to the limitations of the narrow trail, safety and environmental issues.
The advantage of fewer entrants is that they are a much more sociable affair, with more interaction between participants. (as opposed to the thousands taking part in most marathons)
How do you start ?
Take it one step at a time..
1. Start slowly
Trail runs can involve runs of 250 miles or longer (see our ultrarun guide)
But if you are starting begin with a short run, slowly building up your stamina and training. If you are already running simply incorporate one trail run into your weekly running plan.
2. Start locally
Simply find a non-paved surface (like in most parks) such as a dirt road, woodchip-covered path or even grassland walk in your local area. Ideally start on a flat trail before moving onto uneven surfaces or hilly areas.
3. Build up expertise
Don’t underestimate how different trail running is from normal running. The positives of running in nature, on a more giving surface will lead to a much more enjoyable running experience. However you will also need to focus more as the uneven surface can make it harder, and include the risk of injuries such as sprained ankles. Which is why you need to build up expertise before going onto more challenging events.
4. Get the right equipment
4a – shoes
When you start consider using trail running shoes – they tend to have more knobby soles so giving better grip and support than normal running shoes.
For example the salomon trail running shoe (shown right) is a specialised running shoe ideal for all surfaces
4b – survival equipment
Not essential when you first start trail running in your local area but for many trail running events you will need survival equipment such as water bottles, sunscreen, sunglasses, insect repellant spray, ivy block, etc.
In addition you will probably need navigation equipment for longer events – when you sign up for a trail running event the organiser will provide a list of required equipment.
4. Sign up for an organised trial run
There are trail runs throughout the UK (and world) in great locations. Simply follow our links below for more details
Why not try it ?
Starting is quick and easy – simply incorporate a local trail run in your running training plan.
Or for more organised runs have a look at :
The easiest way to start is to join a parkrun event.
The parkrun organisation holds 5k runs throughout the UK every weekend – usually in open spaces on non-paved surfaces.
If you are new to running they are a great place to start – the downside is that they are quite competitive and you won’t get the full feel of a trail run.
With the peace and quiet, more sociable atmosphere, etc. But they do give a great impression of an alternative running experience.
Cross Country Events
Or a more ‘challenging’ option is to join a cross country event. Usually a bit shorter (4k ) they are over a much more uneven muddy terrain.
There are events throughout the UK, usually in the winter months.
Like above they are immensely competitive, but the challenge of the muddy track is great for training.
Track run & ultra run events
Or alternatively have a look at our ultrarun events. They are simply longer trailruns, but with the same benefits. Especially the first one (the ultrarun site) also has a list of shorter trail run events.
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