Off-road running might summon up dark memories of being sent round the school field in the cold. But there’s much more to going off-road.
Springing along a forest trail is easier on your body than Tarmac, and the world beyond road racing is packed with beautiful, friendly fixtures offering an exhilarating sense of freedom and adventure.
Once synonymous with hardy veterans in their club vests through the depths of winter, trail and cross-country running is now hitting the big-time thanks to popular trail series.
There’s plenty of opportunity to pit yourself against vertiginous mountain trails, but if you fancy easing into the world of trail running gently, don’t fear - many modern trail courses also loop through suburban parkland.
If you've stuck faithfully to the pavements or treadmill so far in your running career, your first trail run can be an eye-opener. With uneven ground underfoot and wayward branches overhead, it’s best to run conservatively and keep your eyes on your feet to avoid nasty falls.
Rough ground and increased twists and turns can seem tough at first, but regularly heading off-road will help you cultivate stronger ankles, knees and quads, solid core stability, and a sharper running technique.
Although your usual road shoes will be fine for suburban park paths, they won’t cut it in the mud slicks that some off-road races can become.
With increased traction or large studs on the sole, toe bumpers and hard-wearing fabric to keep mud and water out, specialist trail shoes are designed to withstand all conditions. You’ll notice a lower heel designed to give your ankle more flexibility, and reduced cushioning, since trails are much softer than concrete.
Clothing-wise, make sure you carry a protective layer with you in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. If you’re heading to more remote areas, tell someone about your planned route and think about carrying a mobile phone and ICE (In Case of Emergency) information with you.
The soft surface of trails can be a welcome relief for legs used to the bone-shaking impact of concrete or Tarmac. The uneven ground will also work your ankles and knees harder than road running, so if you're planning a taxing route or race, make sure your legs are ready for the challenge with ankle-strengthening cross-training (hill-walking for example) and leg-specific exercises.
Enjoy yourself! Don't get hung up on how fast or how far you're running - instead, take the time to fully appreciate the best the British countryside has to offer!
Find Out More
- Top 10 Running Surfaces
Not all running surfaces are created equal - we've rated the top 10, from asphalt to woodland.
- Q+A: When should I start running outside?
Even newcomers to the sport are sure to enjoy the sense of freedom trail running offers - here's how to ease the transition for those more accustomed to running on a treadmill.
- Gear: Off-Road Shoes
Our Gear section is packed with expert and reader reviews on shoes from all running brands.
- Events: Find a Race
Our events listings include hundreds of off-road numbers across the length and breadth of the UK.
- 60-Second Guide: Fell Running
Looking for an even more exhilarating running experience? From planning your routes to staying safe in all weathers, it’s the perfect introduction to running on British mountains.