My first trail run was up a Munro – Ben More, on the Isle of Mull, part of the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. With an elevation of 966 metres1, underfoot is either loose rock, boulders, or grassy meadows. I did it wearing my usual running clothing including road shoes. I did it because I wanted to join my husband in his training for an off-road triathlon. Most of all, I bagged Ben More as a trail run because I wanted a new challenge and I had grown bored of road running.
What you’ll be lacking in speed you’ll make up in the full body workout you’ll get from the undulating trails, skipping over rocks and tree roots, and climbing great hills… Underfoot will always be dynamic, which requires more effort from your core, quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Like me, perhaps you too are looking for a new way to challenge yourself both physically and mentally. You’re a road runner looking to kick up your running game a few notches. Trail and fell running is a great activity to do once you’re properly informed. It’s also going back to our primal roots, covering new land in ways our bodies have moved for centuries. This article details everything you need to know to get out on the trails to conquer hills and see new remote land.
Anywhere there are trails really! An urban park with a short 5km loop or a series of forestry tracks out in the countryside. Rural running groups will also dabble with trail running. Yes, my first trail run was up a Munro but that was a by choice. You don’t ever have to run up a Munro if you don’t want to. You also don’t have to dive in head first like I did.
Before splashing out on new running gear I suggest going out for an initial trail run in road shoes to see if you like it. Then, if you’re going to commit to running trails and hills every now and then you should buy appropriate shoes.
Initially, when I looked for trail shoes online, I became frustrated because I couldn’t find trail shoes that were supportive; all pairs I came across were for neutral support which wouldn’t do for my over-pronating feet. So I went into a running shop and spoke to the sales clerk who informed me that all trail shoes are neutral because of the dynamic surfaces on which you will run. A highly supportive shoe, like road shoes, are too rigid which can cause injury. You need to feel what’s underneath you when you’re on the trails. Again, a more primal concept.
All major shoe brands make their own trail shoe. These are distinctive by the more chunky soles with some kind of rubber protrusions. There are also more specialised brands like Inov-8, Hoka One One, Merrell, or Salomon for trail shoes – I wear Salomon Speedcross. It really depends on comfort, terrain, and budget. The only must is larger treads on the soles which are great for running in wetter, stickier conditions.
Trail shoes are the only essential, after that you can wear your regular running tops, tights, and jackets. If you branch out to longer trail runs, over the 90 minute mark and plan to do these often, I suggest buying either a waist pack or hydration pack to carry water, snacks, a phone, a map, and even layers of clothing. Hydration packs are like small backpacks that fit closely to the body and resemble a vest top. They always contain a bladder with an attached tube, to be used as an efficient way to drink water while moving. Also they have all sorts of pouches to store your essentials for the day.
Finally, I would suggest a Buff – this versatile piece of outdoor clothing can be worn as a beanie, ear band, or neck warmer depending upon the weather. It’s great to carry, just in case weather conditions change.
What to Expect
Trail times won’t equal road times, but don’t worry. It makes sense that your run will be slower due to the constant changes in terrain – don’t let this deter you. What you’ll be lacking in speed you’ll make up in the full body workout you’ll get from the undulating trails, skipping over rocks and tree roots, and climbing great hills.
You will get dirty and the sooner you accept of this fact the better. Yes, your new trail shoes will be unrecognisable from the caked on mud, but this can be easily sprayed off with a hose. Remove the insoles and let your shoes air dry until your next run. To speed up this process stuff them with scrap paper which will absorb any excess water.
It will be difficult. Trail running is a far greater workout than road running because of the challenging terrain and elevation gains and losses. Underfoot will always be dynamic, which requires more effort from your core, quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Stop and walk up long hills, steep hills, and at first possibly steep downhill sections. This is okay. I did it up Ben More, and to this day with really steep hills. Especially on longer runs, it’s better to walk uphill to conserve energy. Ultra-runners do it.
If you’re running alone always tell someone where you’re going. Always take a mobile phone with you, even if you’re with others. Take water and easily digested (Paleo) food for longer runs. Don’t run in low light levels because you won’t be able to see underfoot – especially in thick forests. And always check the weather before you head out and dress accordingly, even if this means taking extra layers (a thin jacket, buff, gloves, even a micro-down jacket) in your pack. This is for longer, more extreme runs.
Look for trails and hills to run! Look for local running groups, trail races, and hill races – look for your next big challenge.
Embrace the challenge of trail running and be daring. It’s a fantastic way to see the country and allows you to see parts of the world that are accessible by all, but only seen by few. Be one of those few!
- [Anonymous].[n.d]. Ben More (Mull). In Walk Highlands. Retrieved 22 August, 2015, from http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/munros/ben-more-mull.