Getting into nature with trail running
Trail running is where nature and fitness meet. As a species, humans evolved to run on softer, natural trails. It’s only in our very recent history, relatively speaking, that cities and roads have appeared and changed the way many of us run. But just because you live in a city, that doesn’t mean you’re restricted to running on busy pavements and breathing in the fumes of idling buses and cars. There are some beautiful trail-running routes to be explored even in the UK’s biggest cities, which makes trail running in nature an option for everyone.
Why should you start running in nature?
Whoever you are, and wherever you live, you can benefit from trail running in nature. A 2015 study by Stanford University found that people who exercise in a natural rather than an urban setting reported fewer depressive thoughts and reduced anxiety. They also exhibited decreased neural activity associated with mental illness. Why? Well, the researchers suggested that natural settings have the ability to turn off our evolved stress response. However, there could be more to it than that. Given the fluctuations in the terrain, trail running demands 100% of your attention, which helps to make it the perfect mindfulness exercise.
The benefits of trail running in nature are certainly compelling, but before you grab your running shoes and head out there, there are a few essentials we want you to consider.
1. Safety first
If you’re planning to hit the trails, we always advise that you run with a friend whenever possible, or at the very least, tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back. You should take a phone with you at all times, with location services activated, and make sure it has plenty of charge. If you’re not familiar with the area, you should also plan your route beforehand and take a good trail map with you.
2. Keep your eyes on the trail ahead
Running on trails can be tricky, with roots, rocks and other obstacles requiring your constant attention. With so much to look out for, the temptation might be to either look down at your feet or gaze at the beauty around you. However, to reduce the risk of a trip or fall, you should focus your full attention on the trail approximately two to three metres ahead of you. That will create a safe line of travel you can follow. When trail running in nature, it’s important to take the time to enjoy the sights around you, but always slow your pace to a walk or stop completely before doing so.
3. Find trails in your area
Modern technology means that finding a great running trail near you is just a quick internet search away. Switching your location on and searching for ‘running trails near me’ will provide you with plenty of different options in your area. Websites like RunTogether and Run and Become can also help you find popular local routes. Alternatively, if you’re struggling to find ‘running trails near me’ using those methods, you could get a bit more creative. Just use Google Maps to search for green spaces in your vicinity. You can then head to the websites of those parks or green spaces for more information about potential running routes.
4. Wear appropriate shoes
If you want to start trail running in nature, we always advise that you first invest in a decent pair of trail-running shoes. Trail-running shoes differ from road-running shoes in a number of ways. They provide much more stability and traction so you can better handle the rugged and often slippery terrain. They also have a lower profile to reduce your risk of ankle rolls and other injuries. A good pair of running shoes should fit snugly in the heel but provide a little room around the toes to keep you comfortable on longer runs.
5. Take plenty of fluids
Taking plenty of hydration on a trail run is an absolute must, as you never know how long even familiar routes will take. Rain, mud, snow, high winds, tree falls and more can make routes more complicated and treacherous than they might otherwise be. If you’re going off the beaten path, even if you take all the necessary precautions, there’s also the risk you could become lost, which is why it’s so important to carry plenty of fluids with you. Handheld bottles, multi-bottle waistbelts and hydration packs are all easy ways to stay hydrated on the go.