Mixing backpacking with trail running

Thinking of planning a trail running holiday? Sam Brooks of The Adventure Running Company offers some advice

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The sun was shining, we had leftover pizza in our packs from the night before, and as we reached the top of a long climb, the stunning views stretched for miles in all directions. It took our breath away, suddenly stopping the flow of conversation, replacing it with open mouths and muttered “wows”. With Mont Blanc in the distance, Gran Paradiso behind us and a stunning, technical, narrow ridgeline dead ahead, we spun around 360 degrees, quietly looked at each other and smiled. It was a trail runner’s paradise.

The thought of allocating precious annual leave, or even weekends, to time spent lying on a beach or ‘relaxing’ doesn’t float my boat. I spend hours sitting down at work every day, dreaming of heading to the hills, so the last thing I want to do with my time off is be inactive. I want to get out there and make the most of every minute, go on an adventure with my mates and come back with stories to tell.

 A few years ago, I took four weeks off work to run the Everest Marathon in the high mountains of Nepal. A handful of us decided to take on this challenge together and explore a country that
had been on many of our bucket lists for some time. The trip was quite an experience for all of us. We had an emergency evacuation from Everest Base Camp due to adverse weather conditions and suffered some of the worst sunburn ever, after getting caught in a blizzard during the hike down. But it didn’t put us off, and since then we’ve participated in several multi-day events and even organised our own trips. Time away was no longer a ‘holiday’ it was now referred to as an ‘adventure’.

 So, what does it take to enrol in one of these events, or even to plan your own? It isn’t as difficult as you think.

Enter a race

Multi-day competitive events are rapidly growing in number and popularity, all designed to test the determination of a runner. Some of the most famous foot races in the world are multi-day events, like the Marathon des Sables – 250km through the Sahara desert over six hot and very sandy days. Highly regarded by many as the toughest foot race in the world, it’s a self-sufficient
event where all competitors carry everything they need (other than water) to survive almost a week in the desert.

 If sand isn’t your thing, you could try your hand at the Transalpine-Run, one of the toughest but equally most spectacular trail running events in the world. This phenomenal race is 255km long with 17,000m of ascent over seven days. It’s one of the few global races that takes you through three countries, crossing over some stunning European alpine passes.  

Plan your own trip

Competing isn’t for everybody, and you may prefer to simply explore a region. Deciding to organise your own multi-day run – solo or with friends – isn’t difficult and can lead to a fantastic sense of achievement. As with most organised trips, planning and preparation are vital, and safety should always be your top priority. Here are a few tips for planning multi-day runs:

  • Choose a route that’s easily accessible throughout. We recently organised a multi-day trip across the Haute Route, from Chamonix in France to Zermatt in Switzerland. Choosing to travel fast and light meant it wasn’t an option to carry enough food for the full six days of the trip. With this in mind, we planned our route to take us through the picturesque towns dotted throughout the region, making restocking far easier. It also enabled people to join and leave partway through the trip.

  • Race ‘recces’ can make a brilliant multi-day adventure, and there are some insanely beautiful courses out there that you could familiarise yourself with before toeing the start line. As an example, the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) circumnavigates the Mont Blanc range over 170km with a whopping 10,000m of ascent. It’s home to quaint alpine refuges, easily bookable online, which offer traditional food and comfy beds. Or perhaps the UK’s famous Bob Graham Round, that summits 42 of the Lake District’s fells (see page 14).  

  • When planning a team multi-day run, or when considering the challenge of a competitive multi-day event, each member of your group should be upfront and realistic about their fitness levels and skills. Always be prepared with the correct kit and maps required for multiple days out, come rain or shine. You also need a thorough understanding of what the course or chosen route involves regarding distance, weather and terrain, as well as saving the number for Mountain Rescue in your phone. Everybody should be expected to pull their weight for the sake of the group, and appreciate that group decisions need to overrule their own.

Pack the right kit

Obviously kit varies depending on the season, weather forecast and sleeping options, but you should also pack for unexpected eventualities.

For example, in mountainous regions it isn’t uncommon to get rained, hailed and snowed on – even in the height of summer. Mountain weather conditions can change in an instant, which makes careful preparation and the correct kit absolutely invaluable. If the weather turns and you aren’t carrying waterproof layers and an emergency shelter, you leave yourself at the mercy of the elements. If you get delayed in the mountains by bad weather or injury, without the right gear to keep you safe, the consequences could be disastrous.

Always pack for hot, cold and wet weather. Sunscreen, cap, sunglasses, warm hat or buff and gloves. Don’t scrimp on waterproofs – a light, windproof jacket won’t cut it in a torrential downpour, and waterproof trousers make a huge difference to your body temperature when it’s cold or wet. Generally, though, you want to go fast and light where possible. Leggings double up as pyjamas for high-altitude sleeping; a quality thin thermal layer can be used to keep you warm or keep the sun off. Underwear can be rinsed and dried overnight or worn inside out the next day! Nobody smells great in a refuge – you’ll be in good company – so don’t be too precious about multiple changes of clothes, unless you’re prepared to lug it around with you for the duration.

 It’s a good idea to check that refuges provide food and that shops will actually be open
when you’re planning to pass through. Bedding and stoves are required if you’re camping out, or if there’s a possibility you may get stuck on the hill. At the very least I’d always recommend packing a decent warm layer, plus an emergency blanket or bivvy bag in case you decide to camp or don’t make it to your bed for the night.

Essential emergency items should be carried at all times, without question. A decent first aid kit and knowledge of how to treat common running injuries should be top of the list. Maps, compasses, GPS devices, chargers, spare batteries, a head torch, survival blanket, local and international rescue numbers, insurance details, a working phone, your passport and some cash –
it all sounds so obvious but make sure everyone is carrying them. Your life could depend on the actions and kit of other group members.

Anyone can complete a multi-day route, all you need is the will to challenge yourself and to step out of your comfort zone. Preparation and proper planning are key to success, and
if you mix that with a bunch of great friends and the great outdoors, you’ll be ready for
a most excellent adventure!  

If you feel inspired to take on your own multi-day trail running adventure, contact
Sam at
The Adventure Running Company.