Why you Need a Trail Running Holiday

By Damian Hall

How to relax, enjoy and reap the many health and fitness benefits of trail running.

At the end of the next paragraph, take your eyes off this screen, turn to look out of the window and allow yourself to daydream.

Think about the pure and simple enjoyment you get from running… at a relaxed pace, in a scenic place… on easy trails, in the sunshine. No time or pace pressure… just you and perhaps a friend or two… It could be the dramatic but intimate World Heritage-listed coastal scenery of the South West Coast Path, perhaps, or the cartoon-green of the curvy Cotswold Way, maybe the much-mythologised fells of the Lake District…

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Any runner will know how incredibly healthy the activity is; how fulfilling the post-run feeling and flood of endorphins is, the therapeutic, cleansing sensations and how addictive all that can be. A giddy sense of achievement can be had too, in covering a new distance or completing a long trail, especially something such as Wainwright’s Coast to Coast – going from one side of the country to the other. You’ll be exploring new parts of the country – and the prettiest parts at that – and are likely to meet like-minded people (and like-minded people are the best types of people). Plus all that calorie burning means you can eat lots of cake.

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“One of the best things about trail running is that it takes runners to exotic locations that most people won’t see otherwise,” says Ian Sharman, the US-based, British online coach and professional ultra runner. “It’s a lot more fun to go farther than the average person is willing to travel. The crowds thin out, there’s a proper connection to the surroundings and a more relaxed sensation, getting away from the modern distractions that bombard us all 24/7.”

There are many benefits to trail running holidays. “Firstly it’s likely to be a great stress reliever and break from work and modern demands on a runner’s time,” says Ian. “It can also provide a boost in overall fitness and endurance by having a larger training week, with the possibility of some degree of super-compensation, which is more likely to help someone on relatively lower typical mileage for a short burst of more training (if the runner has a low propensity to injury).”

“As long as the meals during the trip aren’t too unhealthy and the days and weeks after the holiday don’t include eating more than normal, then there could be a little weight loss immediately and this could kick-start more training, a healthier lifestyle and a greater love for the trails.”

Those who aren’t used to running all day, or over consecutive days though, shouldn’t be put off the idea of a trail running holiday. No one says you have to run every step – even the top trail runners tend to hike steeper uphills during races. If the idea is intimidating, a run-walk strategy is a good tactic, and there are no rules about not stopping for ice-creams, milkshakes and two-hour lunches. In fact, the beauty is, there are no rules.

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How ambitious should you be with mileage? “Someone who is at the more recreational end of the spectrum would get more enjoyment (and training benefit) from avoiding overdoing things each day, so that the entire trip is sustainable and isn’t just a prelude to overtraining and injuries,” says Ian. “Generally, for any fitness level, there should be some degree of comfort and a relaxed atmosphere for a trail running holiday.”

“A good rule of thumb is to allow the first day to be a little more casual, to build up to the rest of the trip and to get a sense of whether the other days in the original plan are realistic. Keep things light-hearted with plenty of time to chat, take photos and enjoy the views instead of rushing through and missing the best features of the (hopefully) spectacular locations.”

A trail running holiday is also a great way to prepare for a multi-stage (i.e. multi-day) race such as the popular Marathon des Sables (MdS). The 2015 MdS women’s winner Elisabet Barnes, also a coach, co-owner of myRaceKit.com and RaidLight-sponsored ultra runner, highly recommends trail running holidays – for both getting healthier and fitter and for preparing for bigger running goals. “A trail running holiday is a lovely, active way to spend a holiday,” says Elisabet.

“If you have a race planned, I recommend picking a place where you can run in terrain that is as similar as possible to any upcoming races in order to gain confidence, skill and specific fitness. If you are training for a multi-stage race in particular, it allows you to simulate the race experience without the stresses and distractions of everyday life. You get a better understanding for how your body reacts to the back-to-back running with adequate recovery and you may be surprised how well you cope.

“If you are not training for a specific race, just choose a location that inspires you!”

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Who is Ian Sharman?
Ian is a USATF-certified online coach and owner of www.SharmanUltra.com (which includes several other coaches such as Ellie Greenwood). He’s also a professional ultramarathon runner for Altra Running, has been selected for England and run over 200 ultramarathons. Ian’s won Leadville Trail 100, Rocky Raccoon 100, has the record for the fastest Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (Leadville, Western States 100, Vermont 100, Wasatch Front 100) and has finished in the Western States top-ten seven consecutive times.

Images by Summit Fever Media

Originally published 24/08/16

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