It's autumn - no better time for experimenting with your normal running routes and heading for one of Scotland's many trails. River walkways, canal paths, parkland routes and forest paths all provide opportunities for trail running. A few simple steps will soon have you enjoying a whole new dimension to your favourite sport...
Trail running can be great fun but it's challenging. However with a little preparation and foresight it can be really pleasurable. As the name suggests, trail running typically involves running on trails instead of roads or pavements. These trails are usually unpaved and meander through woods, forests and parks although they can be located anywhere and may come in a variety of different forms.
So what are the pluses? Top of the list has to be the appeal of Scotland's beautiful countryside which can make even a short trail run a very positive experience. Many runners cite one of the main attractions of their sport as its 'stress-busting' quality. Running is a great antidote to the worries and woes of everyday life. Modest start, get your heart pumping, your head begins to clear, push a bit harder near the end, and then that pleasant feeling of being nicely exhausted. When you add great views, fresh air and the country ambience to all that - you do genuinely get a deluxe experience.
As they say 'variety is the spice of life' so the change of routine from your normal routes can give a real boost to your motivation. And remember those brilliant autumnal back drops and crisp winter scenes will provide the alternatives that can maintain your enthusiasm during the darker months.
Trail runs tend to be on undulating ground (although river banks and canal paths can be the exception to this) and offer a variety of terrain that can augment your fitness regime. Uphill stretches can develop strength and power and are a useful part of a training programme.
A further advantage is that trail running is usually on soft or at least yielding ground and therefore more forgiving on hips, knees and ankles which many runners, particularly older ones, really appreciate.
There are certain aspects of trail running which do, however, require some thought. The uneven terrain on trails is one of the obstacles which is difficult for many runners who are used to running exclusively on roads. This may include paths which have holes, tree roots or rocks. Or ones that are rather narrow and twist and turn. This type of terrain can be difficult to navigate largely because of the unevenness. Those who are unfamiliar with trail running will likely learn very quickly that twisted ankles and knees are common.
There are, however, a few tips which can help a runner to prevent these types of injuries. Specifically keeping an eye on the trail is very important. This may sound simplistic but it can actually be very effective for avoiding injuries. Runners who are used to running on roads may not be used to watching the path this closely but paying close attention to the trail will help the runner to avoid stepping in holes or on rocks or roots. Runners who are cautious about their foot placement while running on trails will likely find they are less prone to ankle and knee injuries.
Another great tip for staying safe while running on trails is to select shoes which are specifically designed for trail running. Trail shoes typically have soles with treads which are more aggressive than ordinary running shoes. These give the runner greater stability and can help to prevent slipping on surfaces such as loose soil, wet grass or sand.
When shopping for a trail running shoe, it is a good idea to head to a specialist running store - the staff will be knowledgeable about trail running shoes and can help you find the shoe that is right for you.
Lots of trail runs have steep climbs and descents and these can be a challenge for runners used to the flat. Most trail runners find it is easier to navigate uphill climbs but they also find these climbs to be more taxing. Running uphill on trails can be strenuous and requires more exertion than running on a flat pavement.
Experiment before you hit the trails with a hill near your home - this will give you confidence before the real thing. This type of work-out helps the runner to develop the muscles necessary to run uphill. It also helps the runner to build up endurance.
Running downhill on trails can also pose a problem. Some runners actually find running downhill to be more difficult than running uphill. This increased difficulty occurs for a number of different reasons. Some runners find running downhill to be quite hard on the knees. A few tips which can make running downhill more comfortable and less likely to cause knee strain include running with the body perpendicular to the hill, taking shorter strides, striking with the ball of the foot instead of the heel and remaining cautious of obstacles. Additionally, the runner should be careful to avoid letting themselves run too quickly downhill. They shouldn't fight gravity but neither should they let it make them run too fast.
Runners may find navigating the course to be one of the more difficult aspects of trail running. Runners who do not have a great deal of experience with trail running should take precautions to avoid getting lost during trail runs. Some of these precautions include staying on clearly marked trails, carrying a trail map and following it carefully, running with a friend who is more familiar with the trail and carrying a mobile phone in case of emergency. Running with a buddy or in a group is the key piece of advice. As mentioned earlier it's not uncommon for trail runners to go over on an ankle, and sometimes even get lost, having someone with you offers reassurance and support.
Beyond getting a decent pair of trail shoes, trail runners should invest in one or two basic pieces of equipment. A bum bag which will fit neatly around your waist (my own is a New Balance one which is padded and comfortable to wear and also quite spacious) lets you include a wind-proof jacket if the weather turns nasty and some sustenance - glucose tablets or an energy gel - and maybe even a whistle for an emergency.
So trail running throws up problems that include uneven terrain, steep hills and running in remote areas with limited signposting however it's possible to overcome these difficulties and with the proper preparation and equipment you'll soon enjoying the joys of the great outdoors.