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With London marathon over and done with, my plan has been to prepare for my upcoming ultra marathons by getting out on the trails and running less on the roads and asphalt surfaces.  As a man in his 40s who has been running marathons for over 15 years, I think I owe it to my legs to run on softer surfaces, even if there are going to be a lot of hills along the way.

This year then, I plan on discovering the joy of trail running. I’ve joined online forums, Facebook groups, subscribed to magazines, bought specialist gear and am heading out to explore different parts of the world when I run.

…. So a week after London marathon, I had five full days off running, then a recovery run on Saturday morning before I planned to head out into the hills and countryside for my long run on Sunday. I have looked at numerous apps for satellite navigation and settled on Viewranger, I then downloaded a route from another runner on Strava and used the GPX file for me to follow myself that morning.

It was an 18 mile route, circular, running through the beautiful Purbecks here in Dorset. Starting in Studland, the route would take in views of Durdle Door, Harry Rocks, cliff top views and sprawling hills with more hares, cows and sheep than people to encounter. I drove out to my start point, got there for 6am and hoped to be home via the Sandbanks Ferry by 9-9.30am as I had to make a roast lunch f0r family who were coming that day. I had it all planned.

My plans went slightly awry. I actually ran (and walked) 25 miles and I returned home at 11.30am.

Firstly, up on the clifftops, the exposure was full-on. The rain and wind blew in hard. There was also a mist present up the top which made visibility very challenging (the anticipated and usual stunning views from the Purbecks were non-existent on this day). Secondly, it was the first time I was actually using the viewranger app on my phone and I had not worked out how to use it properly. The route kept pausing on my phone when I had not realised and so carried on running in a particular direction thinking I was on track, when in fact, I was not. The long and short of the matter is that I took a number of wrong turns and got lost on several occasions, adding several miles to my run and giving the entire run an air of adventure and jeopardy to say the least!

I thought I’d record a rather ironic video clip while at the top of one of the cliffs:

You see, I had this vision of me leisurely running and skipping through hill tops, humming merrily to myself, giving the wildlife a neighbourly nod as I glided by, soaking up the scenery and having a very joy-filled time, enjoying running, soft underfoot, without being sidetracked by my watch telling me my pace, time or other technological distractions. My first long trail run did not really end up like that, and when I tuned into reality FM I always knew trail running was not an easy option, of course not.

Joking aside, and just to show that I was not really all doom and gloom, I took some picture of a couple of the trails when the weather eased up at times:IMG_4912

This (above) is crossing the old line of the Swanage railway and below is heading along the Great South Coastal Pathway:


Trail running is going to benefit me and my running performance in a number of ways:

1. Differing and stimulating scenery – good psychologically for distraction and dissociation as much as it is also useful to aid mindfulness and absorption (association strategies) when running.

2. My entire body, not just my ankle and knee joints will benefit from the difference in surface underfoot, as well as deriving proprioceptive gain in a variety of areas.

3. It is healthy to be out in nature. Studies show this to be true. Not just the obvious gains made from running and the associated fitness, but the psychological gains from connecting with nature and being away from the usual urban sprawl and clutter.

4. It is something new to me, something to have a new interest in. Here on the South Coast of England, there are so many wonderful trails to go and explore and enjoy. I get to plan my runs, seek out new routes, revisit favourite ones and who knows, I may even learn how to read maps (paper and electronic) one day if I continue to get lost as often as I did last Sunday.

Therefore, I will be back on the trails very soon having learned numerous lessons. One of my upcoming ultra marathons is a trail race, so I need plenty of training on the same type of terrain. I was delighted that my new Altra (Superior 2.0) trail shoes got a good work out too, they were awesome and are still drying out on an old bench in my garden:

If you’d like to see that route I went on, and the wrong turns I took and the slovenly pace (compared to my usual pace anyway) I ran and hiked it all in, here you go:

I shall be back soon with some more psychological focus for running here on the Hypnosis for Running blog very soon.