I’ve done a lot amateur sport type stuff. I’ve played rugby, mountain biked, road biked, surfed, swam and even featured in a wiff waff tournament as a 9 year old. I thought the pinnacle of my amateur and terrible sporting career was completing Ironman Wales for the 2nd time but I was wrong. It transpires that Ironman, together with every other sporting thing I’ve done has just been a stepping stone to becoming a terrible trail runner.
There are multiple reasons why trail running is the most superior of all sporting pursuits, below are the reasons why it’s better than your current rubbish sport of choice.
Before you read on, bare in mind that this is written from the perspective of a working dad of two young children. I don’t like to spend too much time away from the family so I like to get the most from the few hours a week I have to exercise.
Feed your soul
I get that at some level exercise is exercise and pushing yourself hard on a road run is just as rewarding as pushing yourself running in the woods, but that’s only part of our running stories. We all run for different reasons, but broadly speaking its to get our arses off the sofa, try and stay healthy and try and focus on something different for a while, a bit of an escape. It’s the later of these reasons, the escape, where trail running offers a bit more. Running in the woods, hills or coastal paths is far better for the soul than plodding along the pavement of your favourite B road. I’ve had genuinely euphoric moments running across the hills in the mist or during a heavy rain shower running in the woods. It’s not something I’ve ever experienced on the road and it’s probably something you’re not going to experience unless you give up your asphalt addiction.
You need to get over a bit of a hump with trail running, a speed hump. The bottom line is its slower, you need to accept that, your Strava average pace will drop, probably by a lot. It’s slower because…
Trail running is harder than road running.
Mile for mile you’ll need to put in more effort on a trail run.
1. The hills are steeper – roads are limited in steepness because a car has to be able to get up it. No cars, no limit. A proper trail hill requires the use of your hands.
2. The terrain is varied – it can sometimes (almost always in West Wales) be wet, muddy and slippery. There is a sweet spot in the weather which makes the mud in our local woods behave like GLUE.
3. You’ll rarely be able to get into rhythm, trail runs have a habit of sucker punching you when you’re just getting comfortable – nice crisp single track? Bam! Now you have to run up a boggy field.
Harder = Better for your fitness. I have a sneaky feeling that road runners know that trail running is harder and are a little worried they’ll see a dip in their 10km speeds. This leads me to my last point.
Nobody cares how fast you are. Seriously, nobody cares. My experience of mixing with other trail runners has always been positive, 100% of the trail runners I’ve become friends with are brilliant people who are super supportive. They will (and have) give you every bit of support you need to get around a route.
Cycling – Road
The dicking about ratio
90% of my running is done straight from my house and into the local woods. This mean that 100% of the time I’m out of the house, away from wife and kids, I’m earning my endorphins. No digging the bike out of a shed, no oiling chains, no pumping up tyres, no dicking about. I just find my kit (OK, I admit, that can take a while) and I’m off. The dicking about ratio is low. I’ve also yet to get a puncture whilst running.
When you’re running you are working 100% of the time. Ever tried sitting down whilst on a downhill without a bike? I did, I didnt move. In Pembrokeshire where I live it’s quite hilly, this means a lot of the time when I cycle I’m not pedalling, not much to be gained in that. Admittedly on a turbo you work 100% of the time, but that’s a pursuit spawned by Lucifer himself.
Because you’re working more of the time and because running is generally harder than biking you can get more exercise packed into less time. More bang for your buck. A decent run takes 2 hours, a decent bike ride takes 4+ hours.
A level playing field at 10% of the cost
You can get a decent basic running kit together for around £100. A basic decent bike setup is £1000. But the good news is that if you spend £200 on some running kit you’re not going to get much benefit from it in terms of speed. Spend £2000 on a bike and you’ll probably notice a big difference from your £1000 set up. Basically, William Wide Wallet ain’t going to get up that trail faster than you. Ain’t no such thing as Carbon trainers.
Taking away the kit factor means that if you happen to pass a runner out on the hills they’re more likely to look you in the eyes and not at your trainers. Biking can be a bit ‘my bike is better an yours’ or even more accurate ‘my bike cost more than yours’. Put your knob away mate.
Before we start, I love sea swimming. I’ve had similar euphoric moments swimming in the sea in the summer than I have running on the hills. The problem is that these moments are few and far between and you’re likely to spend 70% of the time in a pool with a load of other swimmers. Sea swimming feels pretty natural and on a sunny day where there hasn’t been much wind you can see the sea bed when swimming, it’s amazing cruising along above it.
The problem with living in Wales is that if you want to dedicate yourself into becoming a good swimmer then you’re going to have to spent a lot of time traveling to and being in a swimming a pool. Swimming pools are brilliant places where you can get an all over workout for minimum expense, but they are artificial, man made environments which when busy can feel pretty overwhelming. Swimming in a pool is a means to an end, to get fitter and better and that’s the point, the good bit of a trail run is doing it, the good bit of a pool swim is the gain in fitness.
So, there you go, just my perspective on things. It’s all a bit tongue in cheek but maybe something to think about. Whatever your opinion on this you should definitely give trail running a go if you haven’t already. Some people love it, some people aren’t so keen, but for me its the most natural environment in which to keep fit.
Tim – Nobbler