Trail Running – Where to Start?

||, General Training|Trail Running – Where to Start?

Runners of all abilities continue to be drawn to the unique challenge of trail, fell and mountain races. From beautiful locations and stunning terrain to the friendly environment of competitive camaraderie, without the pressures of splits and time goals, off road racing offers something for everyone. If you are looking for your next endurance challenge, running a trail race may be it.


From elite athletes to runners dipping their toes in the water for the first time, trail races are open to everyone who is sufficiently fit to complete the course.


There is a huge range off off road events, from short 4-5-milers, to ultra events over several days in some instances! Some races have a variety of options to suit a range of abilities from beginners to experienced competitors. The races are often held on marked trails with refreshments stations so there is minimal risk of getting lost. One of the most striking things about these events is the camaraderie between competitors at all levels and the enthusiasm of the crowds that come out to support. The British Fell running scene is often awash with events that run alongside country fairs, set in picturesque venues up and down the UK helping provide entertainment for the whole family.


Here are four easy steps you can take to begin your journey into trail running.


  1. Find a Race

There are a number of websites you can look at that have a full calendar of events. It is a case of searching the internet and reading the race details to find something that suits you. Other ways are things like looking in trail running magazines or the websites of national bodies or clubs for event calendars.


There are a few things to consider in choosing your race:


  • Are you currently or able to get fit enough to complete the race safely.
  • Do you have sufficient technical skills to complete the race safely if for example there are technical challenges such as rough terrain, running at night if it is a long race, and mountain navigation, if this is necessary.
  • Spend some time thinking about what you will need to do to prepare. This includes lifestyle and time sacrifices, increased fitness, goal fulfilment, and any compromise to other planned races.
  • Invest in a suitable pair of trail shoes if you’re going to take part in multiple events. Trail shoes will help offer traction and extra support when running over different terrains. Head down to your local running shop today who’ll be able to fit you with your perfect pair of trail shoes.


Once you have found a race or races you will need to consider what you want to achieve. Will you be aiming to win or place in the race, finish in a good position or simply finish and get round as a personal challenge? Make this realistic by thinking about your current level of fitness, training facilities and whether you have sufficient time to build the skills and fitness necessary. It’s going to be difficult to train properly for a mountain race if you live in the middle of London and have limited time to train on suitable terrain.


As with road racing, it’s important to find out the details of your race. How much elevation gain the course has, what is the underfoot surface like, is it marked, are there any technical sections such as steps to over come etc. When you chose your race you will have found out a lot of this from the race sites. There are often videos of past races and you can email the organisers with questions. Remember some of the fell races in the UK are very small and often organised by the local community rather than a larger commercial organisation.


Before entering check the following:


  • What skills do you have and what skills do you need to develop?
  • Do you have shortfalls in fitness such as being able to run uphill for what may be more than an hour?
  • Are you skilled at running on trails and rocky terrain, up hill, on the flat and downhill? Downhill running on rough ground can be tricky and dangerous so be aware of this.


Once you’ve entered you can now look forward to training for your new challenge. If you don’t have much experience training or planning for this type of event you might want to get some help from someone more experienced, like a non-judgemental friend or a coach. Whatever you decide, it is good to discuss your plans with someone to reinforce the commitment and share in the experience. Sharing your plans can significantly increase your chance of success. There are lots of experienced runners out there who will only be too happy to share their knowledge and stories of trail running.


Remember whether you’re entering a fell, trail or mountain race to enjoy the experience!