Sometimes going outdoors for a day is just not possible, let a lone a few days – family, work, or other obligations can keep you tied to home more then you want. What I found over the years to work is to go on a trail run.
Wait, before you leave this post because “you are not a runner,” let me tell you something – me neither.
I see trail running as the world of the outdoors enthusiasts, and we let runners get a taste sometimes, and not the other way around. But lets take a step back. When we go outdoors we seek three things: be in nature, do some physical activity and play with gear. On a long weekend in the backcountry you get all three in abundance, but when time is short the trick is to compress it all – intense activity, very little but very specialized gear and being outdoors for a few hours, all by yourself (turn your phone off). Now it makes sense – running is a backcountry weekend in a few hours. So now what – I’m not a runner, how do I do this?
First: 5 minutes of planning
Planning here is very simple and doesn’t require much:
- Go to Google maps and find the closest green spot around you
- Find a couple of trails in that spot (give yourself a few options), memorize them
- Decide how you’re getting there
- Check the weather
That is all the planning, now moving to getting ready for the run.
Pre-run at home
This is a simple process that requires the following:
- Load on carbs. I usually have a run like this on a Sunday, when we have pancakes as a family, so this is a great pre-run food.
- Hydrate. Don’t go wild, but just make sure you are drinking throughout the time you are packing and getting ready.
- Pack. You don’t need much for a few hours’ run, but no matter where you go, it will still be outdoors so all the regular rules for gear apply (emergency kit with you, as your insurance). Here is what I pack:
- Lightweight pack, one that won’t chafe your back. A 10-20L is more than enough.
- First aid kit
- 1 litre of water (enough for me for a 2 hours run)
- A warm jacket (it is winter now) for the ride to and from the trail head
- Snacks. It can be some trail mix or a protein bar, I made my own bars from dates and some nuts in the house.
- Neck gaiter
- Wind jacket
- Extra pair of socks (if you missed why, check here)
- Running gloves
- Emergency gear: pocket knife, space blanket, flint and a headlamp
- Every day carry: wallet, phone and keys
- Dry bag to store the more sensitive things in
As you can see, packing is simple and you don’t need much.
- Dress to match – it is winter now and the day is supposed to be cold and dry so I’m going for all synthetic; I want it to dry quickly when I stop. On this run, I’m using a Polypropylene zip top (North Face), Synthetic boxer shorts (Under Armour 9″ boxer briefs), Lycra tights (Proskins men’s tights), old Under Armour shorts (I’m shy…) and Icebreaker Merino wool PHD running socks. Footwear is tricky here as you want a best of all world shoes – good on packed trails, loose trails and mud. I’m using the Inov8 Trilroc 235, but if this is your first trail run – use what ever you have and upgrade when you get the hang of what you are after.
- One last thing before leaving – empty your bowels. Really important to comfort levels when running and you don’t want to be improvising a toilet break when spending a couple of hours outdoors.
As I mentioned, I’m not really a runner, I’m more of a walker who runs sometimes. By now that sometimes has moved to twice a week, but I still don’t really see myself as a runner. I won’t go into all the aspects of running and how to do it and so on, but let’s just agree that you need to know how to run and feel comfortable doing so sometimes. The twist about trail running (or mountain running, fell running and any other name) is that it is all about going slow and steady. Think about it this way – when you walk, you aim for a good 3-4 mile an hour pace, so your trail run should be probably around 50% faster than that – a nice 4.5-6 miles an hour (7.5-10 km/h) – slow. Keep it steady and comfortable. You should make sure you use a technique that works for you, just slower. I use the Alexander technique as I’m a minimalist footwear kind of a guy – just make sure that whatever running form you use, you are more careful than usual due to the less even surface. I find that the best is going for shorter strides and higher cadence; it reduces the chances of losing balance on hidden things in front of you. So there you are – running, outdoors, breathing the fresh air, getting rid of the stress and forgetting the noises at home. Keep your phone off (or at least silent in the pack) and enjoy your surroundings. I prefer running without music and being fully outdoors, but I know many trail runners love some music or a good podcast or an audio book, it’s up to you. Another important point about your time on the trail – don’t let mud, puddles or grime slow you down, it is a short run and at the end there is a shower and fresh clothes, not the tent, so blast through it and enjoy. Also don’t worry about wet feet, you have that spare pair of socks for later…. The run should be as long as you feel comfortable – there are several ways of running, depending on the trails you have:
- To and from a starting point – run until you are just about ready for a rest, stop, take a breather, and run back, no need to push it and then dread the run back.
- Circular – pick a short route with breaking points, run half way and if you still have energy, break to another trail to add distance, if not, just stick to the shorter one this time.
- Straight trail with breaking points – start running until you had enough. This is personally my favourite and it is great if you have someone to come and pick you up or you have public transportation points along the way (that is my method right here – from station to station)
Even if you only run for 20 minutes this time, next time aim for longer. In any case, when you are done running, you are still outdoors, so lets move to the finish line:
Three things here: food, water and stretching. It doesn’t matter if it is a picnic spot at the trail head, at a tube station or near a cafe at the edge of the park, you need some fuel, some water and a stretch. Food and water are pretty straight forward – do your thing, it is your body’s reward. Stretching is where most of us fail, especially if we are in a public place, but it is vital – who cares what those cool mountain bikers think, they still need wheels to move. Have a good amount of stretch time, get some more fresh air and quiet from home, don’t leave it till you are back. My solution: stretching in the train car on the way back!
Back at home
That is it, you are a better person now. You got the stress out, you got some green and fresh air into the system, so go head and hug your partner, kiss your kids and remember why you love them. Until the next time you need to escape….
What is your local outdoor running escape? Mine is Epping Forest in north east London.