If you find road running is becoming a bit repetitive, you may be tempted (or coerced by fellow nut-cases) to try running off-road. There are a wide range of runs available which fall mainly into four categories – cross-country, trail, fell and obstacle course racing (OCR). Whichever you try, running in the wild and getting away from traffic, noise and pollution can provide a welcome escape, benefitting your mood as well as improving your balance, helping develop your muscles and being easier on your joints. And mud is a great exfoliant. See – it’s a win, win.
Cross-country races are held in the autumn and winter and comprise of laps of a well-marked grassy course. These races are not too hilly* and don’t require any navigational skills – though you will probably find spikes helpful to avoid slipping as they’re generally quite muddy. The races are split by age and gender with differing course lengths for male, female and junior races.
*In comparison to, say, fell running.
Usually comprising well-packed, clearly marked footpaths, trail runs vary in length and severity. On fine, dry days, you can probably run most trail runs in your regular running shoes (though they may get a bit muddy!) On anything other than a fine, dry day, you’ll benefit from the added grip of a pair of trail shoes. The local Tees Trail series is a great introduction to trail running – it’s cheap, local and all the runs are about 5KM, but if you get the bug, there are trail runs all over the country so it’s a great way to see more of the beautiful British countryside.
Think of this as extreme trail running – the paths are less well defined (sometimes you simply pick your own route between checkpoints), the hills are steeper and you will most definitely need specialist shoes. If in doubt about which is the correct route, it’s always the smallest, steepest path or the one that heads straight through a bog. These runs range from short (5-7 miles) to anything up to the latest Hardmoors 200-mile ordeal.
Fell runners tend to be very friendly and welcoming and the races are less competitive than road races – it’s more about suffering together in the face of endless heather, bogs and hills whilst being abused by the great British weather. And celebrating at the end with cake. All fell runs end with cake and/or beer, which is yet another good reason to give them a try!
Obstacle course racing
These races are becoming more and more popular, though whether they are actually a ‘run’ is up for debate. You can run the flat bits (assuming you haven’t left your shoe behind at the last muddy obstacle) but the main focus is on the various obstacles along the route, which can include anything from water-logged tunnels to flaming hay-bales and skips full of waist-deep ice. Other, themed runs are also available such as the Rat Race, Zombie Run and various colour runs (where participants get pelted with coloured powder dyes). All good fun but not ideal for PB chasing… Though being pursued by a zombie might be just the incentive you need!