Taking a break from Tarmac to run on trails is a great way to invigorate your running routine. The scenic vistas you don't normally encounter on your everyday road loop stimulate both your mind and body. To get the most out of your trail running adventures, you just need to know where to go, how to ease into it and a few simple points of etiquette.
Where to go
The term 'trail' can mean anything from an easy-to-navigate, flat dirt path to a rock-strewn mountain climb. Bridleways and fitness trails are generally flat or gently rolling, and are made of dirt, gravel or wood chips. Double-track trails, created for vehicles, are found in forests and multi-use areas, often have a gravel surface and may feature steep climbs. Single-track trails are narrow dirt paths and often have roots, rocks, stream crossings and steep pitches. England and Wales together have 4,000km of designated National Trails, which link together footpaths, bridleways and some minor roads. Visit the website (nationaltrail.co.uk) for routes that take in areas of outstanding natural beauty, including the Cotswolds, North Downs and Hadrian's Wall.
How to do it
Gradually introduce yourself to trail running by starting on mostly flat, level, dirt-packed paths. Scan the trail ahead of you to work out the best footing, slow down and keep your stride quite short for better balance.
What to expect
Your muscles and tendons must continuously adjust when running on uneven surfaces, so it's common to feel some soreness in your ankles, calf muscles or shins. As you'll need to slow your pace over off-road terrain, expect to take a longer time covering the same distance that you'd normally run on the road.
If you need to pass a hiker, horse rider or another runner in front of you, call out "On your left" or "On your right". For safety reasons, it's wise to run with at least one other person and carry a mobile phone as well as some ID.