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epending on where and when you take the plunge to run an off-road race, the terrain could vary from squelching and slippery farm tracks, to undulating fields full of rabbit holes, to a river crossing and big climbs. If you are prepared for the challenges, your first trail race will throw at you, the whole experience will be far more enjoyable. Annie Dawson, of www.AlpineOasis.com, which offers running courses in the Alps, explains that trail races can vary from 5K around a park or through woodland to more than 100K through hills, fells and mountains (such as the 166K UltraTrail du Mont-Blanc). ‘The biggest difference, of course, is racing offroad,’ she says. ‘Road racers are used to having great stability, whereas offroad you could be tackling slippery, grassy and muddy terrain.’ Like road races, trail races will be well marshalled, planned and routed, but because of the off-road nature of the course, there can be big sections where you’ll realise you are well and truly on your own. ‘At some points, you might have to make a decision on direction, so having a map is important,’ says Annie. Kathryn Freeland, managing director of Absolute Fitness (www. absolutefitness.co.uk), says the

biggest challenge for beginners is the extra demands on certain parts of your body. ‘Trail running is much harder on your ankles and on your core,’ she explains. ‘It’s also harder on your brain, so coordination and balance are more important. You have to think ahead to the puddles, tree roots and loose stones – you really do have to pay attention.’ So, what’s the best way to train for a trail race? ‘If you’re a beginner, start slowly, as your legs and ankles will be working a lot harder,’ says USA Pro personal trainer and nutritionist Lucy Wyndham-Read (www.usapro.co.uk). ‘Start off on flatter surfaces and aim for about 15 minutes on your first session, then increase the time by ten per cent weekly while upping the intensity by finding routes with more inclines.’

SHOCK ABSORBER The good news is that trail running is much kinder to your joints than road running, as the surface takes a lot of the shock from the high impact of running, but having the right footwear also makes a difference. ‘Go to a running shop and describe the off-road terrain that you are likely to be running on so that they can recommend shoes with grip that can stabilise your foot,’ says Kathryn.

Annie Dawson says there is other essential kit worth investing in if you want to enjoy trail running. ‘In the UK, if you have a typical trail race, ten per cent of the line-up is using running poles, whereas in France and the rest of Europe, there are only ten per cent without poles,’ she says. ‘Even for beginners, I would recommend them. On the flat you don’t need them, but when the gradient steepens, poles help to take the weight and protect your knees.’ Some trail races cover two days and runners often have to negotiate the track in the dark, which makes offroad hazards even more treacherous. Tara Sanders, a regular off-road runner around Box Hill, in Surrey, learned this lesson the hard way. ‘Last year, running in the dark with a head torch, I ended up going down a rabbit hole and my knee popped out,’ she says. ‘I’ve also been chased by cows and rammed by a sheep.’ You’ve got the kit, you’ve done some training runs, so how about entering a race? ‘All races give a gradient in terms of how hard or easy they are, and most race organisers will post the course map online so you can study the gradient and route,’ says Annie. ‘Many runners try out the route before the race. Race organisers will often advise you of compulsory kit that you have to carry to be eligible to take part.’ Items on the race kit list might include a backpack, water, waterproof clothing, mobile phone, food, map, first aid kit and a whistle – a bit like your first underground rave, really. It may all sound quite intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. ‘Go to the race prepared – don’t just turn up and hope for the best,’ advises Annie. ‘You don’t want to start off feeling intimidated – you have to enjoy it because you are there to have fun.’


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