GB runner Lily Partridge on training for marathons via the trails

2:29 marathon runner explains her love of off-road running

lily partridge woodland woggle credit Steve Rencontre.jpg

One day this spring Lily Partridge lay breathless on the ground of an athletics track after a series of lung-bursting mile reps. Every tenth of a second on the clock mattered. Less than 24 hours later, she was running around Derwentwater in the Lake District, looking at the beautiful surroundings rather than her watch.

The contrast was stark. Times are obviously important to professional road and track runners, but sometimes the foundations are laid on the trails.

Despite her success on the road, Lily seeks out trails when she can. She estimates 60% of her training for this year’s London Marathon was off-road. She grew up running around Bourne Woods in Frensham and has competed for Britain at European or World Cross Country Championships nine times.

Based in Surrey, she spends much of her time running on the North and South Downs or the army tracks at Aldershot, although this spring much of her build-up to London was on the trails of Murcia in Spain.

However, her trip to Cumbria for the Keswick Mountain Festival, to represent her sponsor Adidas, was an eye-opener. Although confessing to not being an ‘outdoorsy’ person, she was amazed by the scenery and open space of the Lakes.

“I ran down by the lake on the first day I got there,” she said. “Obviously, where I live, close to London, even on the trails it can be quite busy, but there there was literally nobody there so it was quite beautiful.”

The people she did meet – at the trail festival – were notably different to road runners, she found. “They were very relaxed,” she said. “Road runners are so set on pace and everything like that. For instance, I would go and find trails that are flat so I can still run at pace. Speaking to some guys who run on the trails, they just run to feel all the time and see hills as a positive rather than something to slow them down, which is quite refreshing; a different outlook on it.”

Injuries in the past couple of years have led to Lily adapting her training on the trails, though. 

“When I do run on the trails it’s good for strength, good for stability and everything like that, but at the minute I have to weigh up the quality of the trail and the risk of injury.”

She added: “My ankle and my hip wouldn’t cope with really rocky stuff. We did one run out in Murcia which really was an up and down rocky and hilly loop and I spent far too long worrying about my hip and my ankle so I have to be careful.”

Lily’s love of off-road running was part of the reason she set up a trail running camp in Portugal last year. Initially over one week, the popularity has meant that this year she has extended it to two separate weeks in October.

The four-day trips at Quinta do Lago involve trail running along the coast towards Albufeira.
Co-founded by endurance runner Susie Chan, the packages are aimed at a variety of abilities.

“We come from different sides of the sport – me from the elite professional side, and her from the fun-running, trail, fitness side. We thought it would be nice to bring the two sides together and give people a bit of an experience with input from both of us. We have every base covered.

“I used the Quinta do Lago resort in my build-up for the Seville Marathon so I knew the area, the trails, and I had a contact out there, so we just tried to organise it that way.”

So what advice would Lily give to anyone wanting to introduce the trails to their marathon training?

“Start with friendlier trails and see how you respond,” she said. “Especially if it’s your first marathon, you can be a bit nervous about injuries. Start with what you’re happy with...”

You can take a few more risks with the nature of the trail earlier on in your marathon build-up, points out Lily.

“Around here I’ve a trail loop but when I’m in marathon work with five or six weeks to go, it’s too tough to run,” she said. “But earlier on in training it’s fine. One thing’s for sure: trail running takes the pounding off the legs.”

■ Lily Partridge is sponsored by Adidas. The Adidas Terrex collection is built to perform in the harshest conditions using functional materials and design. Instagram: @lilypartridge

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