Trail running has always been a bit of a Catch-22 for me: I didn’t do it because I didn’t really have suitable shoes, and didn’t buy suitable shoes because I never did it. But despite that, the idea of a trail run had a certain appeal. I knew that heading off-road would be much kinder on my injury-prone body, and loved the idea of disappearing off into a forest or following a lung-busting uphill trail to be rewarded with stunning views, but was reluctant to run alone in isolated and unfamiliar areas where getting lost was a real risk and it wouldn’t be as simple as just following a tarmac road or ringing someone to come and get me. So when Steve suggested taking me out for some hilly trail runs, I quickly agreed. I still don’t have quite the right shoes (my trail shoes are much better suited to a muddy parkrun than a proper off-road technical trail) but I’m a stronger and more confident runner than when I last had a go at running on this kind of terrain years ago, so was keen to try it out as I knew the uneven terrain would strengthen my ankles/feet and lifting my knees to climb the hills would make my hips much stronger. All things I know should be a priority for me right now to help guard against injury.
And so a couple of Sundays ago we headed off on a path just two minutes from our front door along a route we had walked one evening during the summer, but which I had never run on. The first part, popular with dog walkers, goes quite steeply uphill along a well-maintained path through dense woodland before coming out to follow a more rutted path between a golf course and the motorway. It had been a little wet in the preceding days, but not too cold so the path was in decent condition which gave me a bit more confidence in my footing. We also weren’t running too hard, just enjoying running along and chatting, with a couple of stops for photos.
At one point the path crosses the motorway then heads up into the woods again (another area popular with dog walkers) and along by some fields up to a mast. The mast isn’t the most photogenic, but it’s a nice high point from which to view the outskirts of Perth. This was our turning point and rather than exploring other parts of the path that might make the run a little long (I haven’t run long in a while and was tired from playing in my symphony orchestra concert the night before) we simply retraced our steps back to the house to make it a 4 mile run in total.
I really enjoyed this run as it gave me something new to try, adding variety to my running routine. I have been doing some hill reps (on the pavement) lately which have definitely helped with strengthening my hip and revelled in the fact that a few weeks ago my hip would not have been capable of this run, whereas now it feels strong and ready for the challenge. I was also amused throughout by the fact that I had worn Chanel No. 5 for the concert the night before and there was still a whiff of it lingering about me. I suspect I was the most fragrant runner on the path that morning (and certainly smelled the most expensive lol!)
Last weekend, Steve invited me to join him on an easy road run with a couple of others, but when they pulled out at the last minute (I’m not sure whether or not the party they went to the night before was just an elaborate excuse to avoid running in the sub-zero temperatures and on icy pavements!) Steve suggested taking me for a run around Deuchny Woods and Kinnoull Hill instead. For him, this is a favourite route as it’s near where he was brought up, but much more unfamiliar for me and definitely not something I would do alone. I’ve run around here a little when Steve previously had a Saturday morning running group back in the pre-parkrun days, and most memorably back in the pre-blog days of late 2010 when some rather thrilling thundersnow (yes, it’s a real thing, although I had no knowledge of it until that time) led to the most unbelievable, unprecedented snowstorms that kept the schools (and just about everything else) shut for a week. After a couple of days I was getting cabin fever so we layered up and headed off for the most fantastic run up the hill in the thick, soft snow. We felt almost invincible as the snow was so thick that we couldn’t really hurt ourselves if we fell over so could really let go on our way back down. Best experience ever!
Here’s a flavour of that day which we were reminiscing about on our run last weekend:
There has been no snow yet this winter, but there have been some pretty low temperatures and prior to last weekend there had been a hard frost for a few days with temperatures not really getting above freezing to melt it. Add to that some freezing fog and we’ve had some interesting running conditions, beginning on Saturday when Steve and I managed to go to parkrun looking like a page from a running catalogue in our “his and hers” outfits!
If anything, Sunday was a bit colder. We were up quite early and got ready with some suitable kit before getting into the car to drive over to the car park where the woodland trail begins.
As we began it was chilly and the floor was just a carpet of golden leaves, yet we were not the only ones heading out as we saw some other runners returning, some people heading off to walk their dogs and others getting mountain bikes organised (there is a designated MTB trail in there too). Part of the initial path was really icy and my shoes weren’t quite up to it, but soon we were on the trails and noticing the beauty of the winter sun trying to burn through the cold mists as it peeked through the trees.
The paths through the woods are a mixture of hills and flats, and we ran a combination of narrow, technical trails and wider, more robust paths where we also met some horse riders. Towards the end of this part of the run Steve asked me if I wanted to take the “boring way” or the “fun way” back to the car. I knew he wasn’t really offering me a choice as I was already being steered towards the “fun way”, which turned out to be running through the MTB trail. This was definitely an “interesting” route!
But once we were within sight of the car, Steve had another suggestion – to go for a run to the top of the hill as well. I was nice and toasty in my winter kit and had a drink with me, so decided to keep on going.
Our run up the hill was similar terrain, but it was beautiful as the trees were full of frosty spider webs and there were pieces of gossamer-thin web and frost floating down to look like snow. This put me in mind of Frozen and the lyric in Let it Go about “frozen fractals all around” which floated around in my head for the rest of the run!
Kinnoull Hill has a false summit by the tower and we stopped here for some photos before running on for a couple of minutes to the real summit at the tabletop then ran past the trig point to start our descent.
We stuck to the main paths for our run back down the hill as it was a bit slippy, but we still met plenty of others heading to the top – mainly dog walkers and families. I smiled and said good morning, but felt like I was getting odd glances from people. When we finally got back to the car I realised it was probably because my hair was frozen and I had no doubt looked like a total lunatic!
After a chilly 5 mile jaunt it was great to get home for a nice hot cup of tea and a shower, but I have to say I have really enjoyed my trail runs over the last couple of weekends – so much so that I have now ordered a much more suitable pair of trail shoes to make this more of a habit. Switching my Sunday long run to a trail run until the end of the year seems like a great way to build up strength ahead of spring marathon training, as well as being a good way to make sure I can get a quality run even in frosty, icy conditions.
Do you like off-road running?
Any tips to help me improve my technique?