Autumn is here - time to hit the trails

Running trails is the best way to enjoy this time of years, says ultra runner Holly Rush

(credit: Gareth Williams - license)

(credit: Gareth Williams - license)

Running is booming. It’s one of the most popular sports in the UK, with more than two million people in England running at least once a week, according to Sport England. For many of these two million people, weight loss or fitness are why we hit the roads or trails – legitimate and worthy reasons – but, ultimately, it comes down to the enormous pleasure it brings. Running is great; it’s simple and cheap, you can do it when and where you want. All you need are a pair of daps and you’re away.

This time of year brings a change in the weather and, therefore, an opportunity to adapt your focus. Although it’s wonderful to run on a warm summer’s day, there’s something invigorating about crisper mornings and cooler evenings. In a few weeks’ time, with the right kit, it’s hard to beat the buzz you get from braving an autumn storm. 

Like many runners we alter our training regime with the seasons. It helps keep things interesting. Over the coming months we’ll be working on our base fitness, with longer off-road runs at weekends and replacing some interval work with hill sessions. Running these sessions on trails, as opposed to roads, offers so many benefits. Trail running will transform your body in completely different ways than road running – while simultaneously lowering your chances of injury and making you faster. The stresses of running on trails improve strength, balance and coordination, and being on uneven terrain forces you to take shorter and quicker strides. You end up landing more on the forefoot than the heel, a practice that will improve your running technique – and speed – on any surface. Then there are the hills; the constant ups and downs of your local hilly loop will make you feel the muscles you had forgotten about running on the flat roads.

The changing of the clocks means you can try out all your new running toys and kit. Running into the dusk and under the moonlight make routes that are familiar by day take on an entirely new character. Well-known landscapes are suddenly more exciting and challenging to run. 

Then there is the looming cross-country season. A time to brush off the spikes and indulge in fast, furious mud-wallowing. You don’t have to be world-class runner to take part. Your local league welcomes first-timers to old-timers, and the annual English National Cross Country Championships in February is an institution that has been the bedrock of winter club running since 1876.

As well as the physical advantages of trail running during the autumn months, there are also plenty of other benefits. In this increasingly digital age, as more and more of us feel chained to our screens 24/7, trails offer runners much-needed solitude. A place to be quiet and contemplative – to simply escape the cars, pollution, and dirty streets – stressors that negate the positive effects of the endorphins running releases. Trail running closes off the rest of the world so you can just be and connect with yourself – put simply, it’s good for the soul. 

However, you don’t have to enjoy the trails alone. Running in groups is a great way to connect with others and share a common love for the trails. There is nothing better than coming back from an autumnal run to a cosy, welcoming pub and a beer by the fire. Ask your local
club if they have a nighttime trail group and, if they
don’t, why not start your own?