By far the best idea I’ve had in my short triathlon career was to listen to a colleague at work when, to my whinge that I was bored of normal training, she said, “…go running in the woods, you’ll love it!”.
And, she was right. I did.
I’m now loving a bit of the old ‘off road’ running. I can’t get enough of the woods.
Take this morning, it was early, it was pitch black, it was pissing it down and yet, I knew as soon as I got out into the mud-fest that is the sodden forest tracks, I’d be in my element.
Thankfully for me, I am lucky enough to have a couple of intrepid’s who’ll put up with me and my little adventures, which helps in the general encouragement/motivation department.
Between, Rob, Jase and me we’re all now hooked.
To be fair we got the bug pretty instantaneously and now we’re out in all weather, we will not be deterred.
Anyway, the point of this post is to provide some useful tips to make your first couple of forays into the dark and scary forest a little less daunting…
Here’s my top tips for getting the most out of your first few off-road running experiences:
1. BE brave but don’t expect to have a clue where you’re going.
The simple back-to-nature joy of being out in the wilderness (I’m calling it the wilderness, you can call it the woods or whatever) is as much about getting out of a rut as it is trying something new. A change is a good a rest and all that.
This is what I’m discovering Ironman is all about – conquering the unknown, experiencing a new environment, stepping out of your comfort zone.
Note. Until you’re happy you know where going, I would suggest you go with someone who knows the area.
2. Go early enough to beat the majority of the MTBers, Horsey-types, doggers and dog walkers.
There’s nothing like believing you’re the only one in the forest (except for your running chums that is).
We get a great sense of space, freedom and solitude. Okay, that sounds fairly wanky (soz), but it’s a completely different experience from running on the road.
Not necessarily better, although not having to keep an ear open for oncoming cars is good, its just different and in a good wholesome way.
From a practical point of view, if you go out early enough, you’re less likely to get in anyones way which means you can concentrate on where your putting your feet.
3. Where appropriate footwear – and I don’t mean welly-bobs.
Don’t be tight, go and buy some trail running shoes.
I don’t want to sound like your mum but I’m guessing some of you will have very expensive, glow-in-the-dark running trainers.
Do you want to have to clean those bad boys every weekend?
Honestly, especially when the ground is wet, soft and muddy you’ll be glad of your new trail shoes.
Your fancy pants running trainers will get trashed, you’ll slip all over the okey and you’ll weep like a two year old who’s had her dolly taken away.
I bought a pair of Salomon trail shoes [see pick above], they work a treat and were less than a £ton.
4. Adjust your running style to suit the terrain.
The forest presents all sorts of challenges not least just trying to stay up right.
I’m no coach, lets clear that up once more, so any tips I give for running technique and style take with a pinch of salt.
For me, running off-road requires a different spatial awareness, more self-preservation than style.
Take with you a little more concentration, have a little less emphasis on pace and maybe focus on time rather than distance eg. run 30 mins out and 30 mins back rather than aiming for a target distance.
There are plenty of hidden obstacles too, from branches that whip you in the eyes, to puddles that are deeper than they first appear, to protruding tree roots that are ridiculously slippery, to hidden animal holes in the ground.
Keep your eyes on your surroundings, especially around each foot strike area and also be mindful of those to your sides and behind you too.
Only other technique I would suggest is to take quicker, shorter steps when going up the inclines and take it easy too down the other side.
It’s great fun hopping, skipping and jumping over all the obstacles, but be ever present to the danger of ankle twisters as they are a plenty.
5. Be safe, and remember there is no Blair Witch.
Again, realising that I sound like a nagging parent, it may be a good idea to take your smartphone with you.
At the very least you’ll be able to make a short video of your last moments before you starve to death, having tripped, broken your leg and fallen into a thicket, whilst a fox eats you for dinner.
There are other beastly creatures that you could get you too, from angry rabbits to psychopath squirrels and hi-vis jacket wearing westie’s but to be fair the most danger you are likely to get yourself into is being a teenyweeny bit lost.
And to that end my advice would be to take your phone and a small whistle (yeah, right. Where do you even buy a whistle from?) and maybe a small, blunt pen-knife (where legally allowed) so you can hack a trapped limb off.
Get out there, enjoy your training. A simple break from the tedium of road running maybe all the inspiration you need. And expect to come home happy, just not very clean!