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THIS IS THE GEAR YOU NEED TO START TRAIL RUNNING
Why do you and I trail run? What is it about it that has drawn and continues to pull many into its winding forest paths, breath-taking descents and rewarding climbs? In an unprecedented year that has seen varying restrictions on life, at the height of which just one bout of outdoor exercise per day was allowed, the value placed on simple fresh air has never been so high. The escapism offered by trail running has even seen the devoted roadie switch out their trainers for a pair of trail shoes and turn off the tarmac to keep their motivation alight during the months of no racing. Starting out in trail running is not only about finding the fun off the pavements, it is about finding the fun in running.
With future events in uncertainty, there has been a steady release from the common obsession with mileage targets and many have come to discover and appreciate simply seeing where the off-road path leads. This is particularly pertinent for newer runners who can often fall, understandably, into the trap of doing too much too soon and risking injury. One of the several benefits of trail running is that it quite simply takes more effort for a given time. The ever-changing terrain tests numerous more aspects of the body than when on road, positively impacting overall strength and fitness. Benefitting not only the body, there is a reason why the trails lure us back time and time again. No science required, in greener spaces away from the hustle and bustle of the urban environment the feeling of release is never more apparent. Plus, you get nicer pictures! In difficult times such as these, the necessity of fresh air and a break from it all has never been so important. It is only natural then that more of us think about heading away from the roads.
To that end, if you’re now searching for your nearest turning off the tarmac, here’s where to start with kit. To the relief of any road shoes you have, find yourself a pair of off-road specific trainers, as the demands of the trail are unique. From grippier outsoles to keep you from spending time on your bum to protective uppers saving your toenails, this is when you should start thinking about where you will most likely be running in your new shoes. What sort of terrain will your routes comprise? Will it often be muddy? Are there harder paths or rocky terrain? Do you need to run on road to and from the trails? Your answers to these inform the type of trail running shoe that will best suit you.
Generally, if you will be getting stuck into muddier landscapes, a shoe with a more aggressive outsole will help keep you on your feet, whereas for a mix of path and softer ground, one with more cushion and a less aggressive outsole will be more suitable. Lace up a shoe such as the Fresh Foam Hierro v5 from New Balance for those mixed terrain routes. Featuring a plush cushion platform and protective upper, it’s a great option for technical, rocky trails where added security is needed, and the Vibram MegaGrip outsole provides the versatile grip needed when the trail gets more gnarly. Heading from road to trail then back? A Fresh Foam More Trail feels more familiar to those used to a road shoe, yet includes the key features you’ll need to turn off the road: a versatile durable outsole for good trails and a more protective upper, all while remaining light and agile. In the New Balance Summit Unknown you will find a nimble and grippy shoe ready to hit muddy terrain and steeper ascents and descents. It’s important in a trail shoe to allow your feet to move naturally as this promotes better proprioception while running on uneven terrain, and shoes such as these offerings meet this requirement, balancing width and flexibility.
Now, back to those routes you’re planning. Using online mapping tools such as AllTrails or a paper map of your area can reveal hidden paradises of trails you may not even have known about (London LOOP anyone?). Don’t be afraid of getting lost either, it’s actually no bad thing (to an extent!). Start out by planning the start of the route then see where it takes you – you can always turn back – and you’ll quickly build up a good picture of the local trail network. When setting out on your first trail run, keep the route low level and on well-marked, trodden trails if you can, with the aim of progressing run time and trail technicality over several weeks. Also keep in mind that your weekly mileage won’t be as high compared to running solely on roads, but that’s ok! Once you’ve found your trail running addiction, a useful piece of gear to consider is a GPS watch. Not only can you keep track of progress but on uploading your runs you can see where your next one could take you, and where you recently got lost! On some mid- to high-end watches, such as the Garmin Forerunner 945, you can even download routes onto the watch itself to follow during your run.
To start off, and on those intro trail routes, a versatile trail shoe such as those discussed and your usual running clothes will suffice, however with winter setting in and once you begin to head further and higher, consider some extra pieces of kit for both comfort and personal safety. 2XU Compression Tights, a thermal layer, and waterproof jacket are essential for protection against the elements and keeping you safe should an emergency occur. A phone is not only useful for taking photos but is also a point of communication if required, along with a map and compass and the knowledge to use them. More useful items such as a Salomon Running Pack to carry items and water becomes necessary, and why not fill their capacity with some snacks as well to keep you fuelled through your trail adventures! Heading in to the colder, darker winter months you’ll find layering up your clothes vital for comfort, and a headtorch is a bonus for early morning and late evening outings.
You will not spend a day regretting the decision to step onto the trails, and with just one or two specific pieces of kit it’s simple to find your feet and start discovering the freedom of trail running.