With the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) taking place this weekend, with arguable the best ever line-up, we have put together this guide on how you could start your own trail running adventures.
Trail-running is basically off-road running. Organised or competitive trail-runs take place in natural, non-urban areas like mountains, desert, forest or plains. The aim of the race is to include as little paved road as possible. For a Marathon to be officially classed as a trail-race these sections should not exceed 20% of the total course.
The terrain can vary (dirt road, forest trail, single track, open fell) and the route must be properly marked which means that the runners will receive enough information to complete the race without getting lost. That includes physical markings (flags, tapes, signs…) or GR permanent markings or GPS tracks or map indication.
The race is ideally – but not necessarily – in self-sufficiency or semi self-sufficiency which means that the runner has to be autonomous between aid stations, regarding clothing, communications, food and drink.
Why Trail Running?
• Go back to our roots, run through nature and experience views from a trail not just a road.
• A good variety of distances ranging from 4 miles up to Ultra Marathon
• A Global sport – great range of trails from the muddy trails of the Lake District to the single track trails in Europe and beyond.
• Trail running can be as fun or as challenging as you want
• Places less demand on our joints than road running
1. Trail Shoes
Typically Trail running takes place off road on potentially undulating terrain which can be muddy, slippery or rocky. Regular road running shoes are not designed to perform well on these sorts of surfaces. It is therefore advisable to invest in some special Trail-Running footwear.
Regardless of the type of terrain the shoe is designed for (fell, mud, mountain trails, sand), most trail running shoes have a number of features in common like: aggressive tread, reinforced foot protection and better protection from the elements (some even have a Gore-Tex lining which really comes into it’s own in snow).
As the surfaces are generally softer, you will not need as much cushioning like you do when running on paved roads. This means that Trail shoes are lower (unless your looking at Hoka’s – their solution is somewhat different), which in turn means that your foot is closer to the ground so you are less likely to twist an ankle.
2. Rucksack or bumbag
Depending upon how far you intend to go (and how remote), you might need a small rucksack or bumbag. There are various options open to you, from small packs for carrying essentials (phone, keys, wallet, gloves, etc), to larger packs suitable for longer days out. Many of them have built-in bottle holders or water bladders to help you stay hydrated, as well as being extremely useful for storing some of the following items, should their need arise.
3. Waterproof Jacket & Trousers
Both these items are mandatory for any long fell races in the UK. Why? If it feels cold when you’re running in a town or city, imagine how cold it gets when running on the hills or on any exposed piece of terrain. Also you lose heat up to 25 times faster when you are wet so that’s why you should carry a fully waterproof jacket & trousers with you. And because mountain weather can be unpredictable it should be “with you at all times”.
4. Tights or shorts?
If it’s winter, then a decent pair of running tights won’t go amiss. Not only will it keep the chill off your legs, but it will protect them from any foliage scraping against them. If you have never worn them before, you might seem uncomfortable wearing something so tight. However run through some cold/bad weather and you’ll soon forget what you look like and you’ll appreciate the warmth.
There are loads of options when it comes to shorts and it’s simply about finding something comfortable for you. If you would like the anti-chafing benefits of tights, but want to hide your modesty, then there are twin skin shorts that offer you short tights interwoven with normal shorts.
5. Hat & Gloves
Both these items are also mandatory if you wanted to run a UK fell race. Whether you choose a wooly hat (not great if it rains – but great in dry cold conditions), fleece beanie (good in the rain), a peaked cap or a buff, some sort of head wear is a good idea. Even though the myths surrounding the potential 75% loss of heat through your head have been debunked, it’s still reassuring to have something to keep the grey cells warm!
Traditionally used by hikers, poles have become a must for a large number of trail runners. Generally only used for the longer events, they really come into their own when going uphill. Almost every runner apart from the Elites will need to start walking on a 1000 metre climb, so if you use poles correctly just like you would in cross-country skiing they can really help you power up the climbs. But like most things, they need practice to get the most out of them.
7. Watch with GPS
It’s always a good idea to have some form of watch when you’re on the trails – if anything, simply to ensure that you can keep track of how long you’ve been out. Some of the more advanced watches have a GPS function that not only tells you your altitude, barometric pressure and pace, but can also help you navigate back to the start – a very useful function if you don’t have a map or tend to rely on your smart phone’s Google Maps.
8. Mobile phone
Speaking of phones, if you’re going anywhere for the first time, then take one with you. You’ll be surprised that in most places (especially on the hill tops) you’ll actually have a really good signal. And even if you don’t have much signal, texts can still reach your family/friends/emergency services if you need some help.
9. Food and water
Ensure you take enough food for your race or training run – be that a few energy gels, energy bars or sandwiches if you prefer – basically, something to nibble on little and often to spot you running out of energy. And if you’re going out for more than an hour, then either take a hydration bladder or a small bottle of water with some electrolytes.
If you’re looking for a bit of inspiration, then these guys very much live and breathe life on the trail, leading the way when it comes to pushing their bodies to new heights. And although you might never have heard of them, if trail running was an Olympic sport – they would be on the podium.
Known to the Spanish as “El rey de las montañas”, the king of the mountains, Kilian Jornet has won more than 80 races in the space of eight years. Hailing from Spain’s Catalonia, he’s won the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 3 times (it will probably be 4 times come Saturday), Hardrock (probably the hardest 100 miler) 3 times, is a winner of the Western States 100 (the original 100 mile foot race) as well as being a six time Skyrunning World Champion. He’s got an astonishing VO2 Max of 89 (one of the highest ever recorded) and is only 29 years old.
Last year’s winner of UTMB, Caroline is going for win number two this year, after winning Hardrock 100 earlier this year. After a successful career in Canoe slalom, Caroline switched to trail running relatively late in 2010. Now 40 years old, shes proving that ultra runners can improve with age.
Training for a Trail Race
Everyone knows training is hard, but training for a trail race can also be fun. Trail runs offer a variety of different tasks and obstacles. These can range from flat fast running to steep uphills and exhilarating downhills (not quite to the extreme of the fells – don’t worry!) Training for this kind of running means you need to do lots of different training to keep it fresh and keep you interested, for example some smaller hill work, longer runs out in the hills for strength, road work to bring up your speed and gym work for general core which will help a lot when running around in the trails.
Sports Tours International running manager, Julie gives us here quick first tips for running a trail event:
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