Trail running FAQs answered by an expert

If you’re new to trail running, but you’re wanting some beginner training tips before giving it a try, we’ve got Simon James, the founder of Run the Wild, to answer all the key questions. Simon is an experienced trail runner, having completed some of the world’s most prestigious multi-day ultra marathon events, including the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc and the Marathon des Sables. Beyond Run the Wild, he also organises charity projects in the UK and Tanzania. 

Why do trail running?

Trail running is probably one of the most liberating sports out there. The total freedom of stepping off the pavement and onto countryside footpaths is an experience that everyone should try at least once. I grew up running trails as a child. Living in the remote areas of South Wales with no public transport or even street lights in our village, running on trails was part of my everyday life, just a quick way to catch up with my friends at the beach or getting home in time for dinner.

Roads and pavements in towns are getting busier as more people live and work in urban areas, particularly London. This, combined with the increased popularity of running and cycling to and from work as well as at lunch times, makes for busy pavements. If you are tired of running the same old route or losing your mojo to pound the streets, perhaps it’s time to have a look at trail running to escape the crowds and get back to the true freedom running provides.

Where to try trail running?

The route options are limitless and all within just a few hours from London; from the wild areas around London, like the Chilterns and South Downs to the Alps in France. The key thing is to have an adventure and really enjoy your running.  Don’t forget that over 80% of the UK is considered to be ‘rural’, so you may be surprised at how near you are to finding some trails. Even if it requires some effort to get there, it is certainly worth your time.

Is trail running good for you?

There are many health benefits to trail running: improved plyometrics (speed-strength) and proprioception (sense of body position), stronger core, and less impact on joints. It’s also a very easy way of burning calories whilst having fun! But preparation for trail running is just as important as heading off on the roads or track. Building up core strength as well as overall strength conditioning is key to remaining injury free and getting the most out of your runs.

Getting into trail running is easier than you may think and a countryside path, or trail around a city park is a good place to start. These changeable surfaces can build up strength and refine your technique, avoiding the more repetitive actions of road running.

Trail running can also be a stimulating, 3-dimensional experience. Watching out for the different surfaces, steep ups and downs, the scenery, the peace and quiet, all add to an experience that is both mentally and physically challenging.

What are the challenges of trail running?

Within the world of trail running, it’s not always about speed or distance -sometimes the terrain itself or height gained is challenge enough. But it really does offer something for everyone, whether you’ve never even walked a footpath or you are aspiring to run a mountainous 100 miler.

Having been fortunate enough to race as well as take on some personal challenges in many of the mountainous areas of the globe, or indeed climbing I find that many of the highlights of my life have been found right there. There are many races, from club cross-country runs, fell runs, ultra runs and everything in between. Each of them provide their own challenges, but are equally rewarding in their own way. 

Nutrition: What to eat on a trail run

Eating right is such a big focus in society whether you are involved in sport or not. Nutrition is a key element in remaining strong and focused for the trail ahead as well as helping your body recover post run. Hydration and salt replenishment is particularly key on longer runs.

If you want to get more out of your run then take some healthy snacks, such as flapjacks, nuts, and salty snacks such as crisps and salted peanuts for the route. These will help you keep focused as well as maximise the quality of your run.

Flapjacks and trail mix (a mix between sweet and savoury snacks) include complex and simple carbs, fats, and protein, which are great for providing and storing energy as well as repairing muscles. You can make these at home to suit your own needs, save money, and avoid using excessive packaging. If you can’t make your own, then consider buying local and fresh where possible.

After your run, the current school of thought recommends refuelling within 20 minutes, which can often speed up recovery by a few days!

What extra kit is needed for trail running?

Key bits of kit for running trails in the UK are: trail shoes, waterproof jacket, lightweight running pack or vest (to pop in some food and water) and a head torch for dark evenings!

Some of the well-worn footpaths in the English countryside can be run simply with road trainers but as soon as the terrain becomes wet or rough, then trail shoes are definitely worth investing in, even arguably essential. There are many options, each with their own advantages.

Kit for trail running has become a very large market as endeavours become more challenging and those at the sharp end seek out more challenging environments. The wealth of experience at Run the Wild can help give you some guidance on what to buy from navigational tools to head torches.

How do you prepare for a trail run?

By stepping off the asphalt and onto the trails you will need to prepare a bit more for the run ahead. What’s the weather going to be like? When will it get dark? How technical is the route and how long will you be out for? Consequently, preparation is key.

You will need to learn new skills, like navigation, and also spend a little bit of time doing your homework on what the route ahead will entail. Then you’ll need to decide the amount of food to pack and weather to bring a warm layer and head torch. But this is one of the many reasons which make trail running much more exciting than road running, as it’s by its very nature an adventure!

Trail running is running in its truest and most natural sense, the adventure and the outdoors bring together so many aspects that make this sport so rewarding and it’s much easier to get involved than you may have at first thought. So, take a step on the wild side, you might like it!

What is Run the Wild?

There are plenty of trail running events across the UK and indeed the world. But there is another option too, why not head to the trails without racing? Run the Wild is the UK and Europe’s premier running holiday company. Set apart from races, it’s purely about running adventures. It takes a less pressured approach, helping people to rediscover the spirit of adventure within in a team, running wild places and along the way learning about trail running techniques and the environment. (“Exploring places… not running races.”) 

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