The London parks are fine, but sometimes it's nice to escape from the city centre and train in greener, more peaceful surroundings. A trail run takes place along footpaths and tracks, over the fields and through the woods out in the countryside. There is an informal Serpie group that meets up usually a couple of times a month to take a train out of London and do a trail run – either as individuals in an event, or as a single social group. It's a great way to do your long run and enjoy a scenic day out of town at the same time. Trail runs tend to be quite long, often around marathon distance, but due to the low intensity and forgiving terrain under foot usually feel less than the equivalent distance on the road. So they are a relatively painless way to pack in some miles, and often pass through beautiful and interesting places into the bargain.
About Trail Events
There are trail races, just as there are road and cross country races. A few good ones easy to get to from London are the Orion 15 in March, North Downs Run in June and Fairlands Valley Challenge in July. Many trail events, however, are non-competitive and the object is simply to complete a given route in your own time. The atmosphere therefore tends to be laid back and sociable, and Serpies often run them together in a group. The main organiser of non-competitive trail events is the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) – but despite the “Walkers” in the title, about half the entrants typically are runners. These are low key events, cheap to enter, and often have remarkably good refreshments!
Things You Should Know
Most trail events are not marshaled. Instead, you navigate from a route description, which gives detailed instructions on how to find your way around the course. It is recommended to carry the relevant Ordnance Survey map and compass as a backup, though most of the time the route description is all you need. If the navigation bit seems a little daunting, look out for those events listed as Serpie social runs, where someone else will do the navigating for you.
Trail running requires you to watch out for yourself a bit more than in road racing. The course may well include hazards such as uneven or slippery surfaces, tree roots, steep drops, etc. and it's up to you to look out for them – don't expect to see warning notices at every turn! Likewise road sections are generally open to traffic and un-marshaled so take care here.
On the LDWA events, HQ is usually in a village hall with limited changing facilities so it's best to come changed ready to run, and you may have to wait until you get home for that shower afterwards. On most events you can just turn up and enter on the day but please enter in advance if you can. You don't wear a race number but instead carry a check card, which you need to pick up at registration and get clipped at each checkpoint.
What to Bring/Wear
- Basically your normal running clothes, but err on the warm side as at slower speeds you don't generate as much body heat.
- Shoes: ideally trail shoes, which look like road shoes but have more grip. Some have water-resistant uppers as well. In summer you can get away with road shoes but please take care on slippery mud. Don't wear cross country spikes as the routes are on mixed surfaces and often include some hard tracks and road.
Unless it's a marshaled race you'll also want to carry:
- Water: it is a good idea to carry a little water with you as checkpoints are sometimes quite widely spaced.
- Rain jacket: if the forecast suggests.
- Spare warm layer: especially in winter – bearing in mind that if you have to slow down, perhaps due to getting lost, injury or fatigue, you may be a long way from civilisation.
- Clear plastic bag (or better, a map case) to keep your route description dry.
- Mobile and cash for an emergency taxi, just in case you should get hopelessly lost...
- A small rucksack to carry the above items (in summer you may only need a bottle belt).
Some events require you to carry additional items for safety so do check their web pages.
Self-supported Trail Runs
The Serpie trail group does self-supported social runs from time to time. These aim to be novice friendly, so unless a particular guide pace is given slower runners are welcome: people will wait for you! All we ask is that you can run for the nominated distance without recourse to walking. These runs are similar to the organised events, and often use the same routes, the differences being:
- You have to carry all your water and food with you.
- There's nowhere to leave bags at the start, so wear your running kit on the train and carry only what you will take with you on the run.
Please note that everyone participating in these runs does so at their own risk and is expected to be self-sufficient.
The majority of Serpie trail runs are within easy reach of London, usually no more than an hour on the train, but occasionally we venture further afield to undertake mountain challenges – for example, the Welsh 3000 foot peaks, the Yorkshire Three Peaks and the South Wales Three Peaks have all been done in recent years. There are also sometimes weekends away and longer running holidays, such as the Cape Wrath Challenge in 2009.
Finding Out More
Unlike the other Serpie training sessions there isn't a fixed meeting time and place, as we like to explore different parts of the countryside and link in with LDWA events when we can. One week we could be in the Surrey hills, another in the Chilterns, another one in Kent. To receive regular updates on the programme, please opt in to the “Trail Running” email list. To do so you need to be a Serpentine member (you can join here). Log on to SerpieBase, click Email preferences in the left hand panel, then tick the box for "Trail Running" and Save. There is usually a summary of forthcoming trail runs circulated every 1-2 months, and then a more detailed email shortly before each run with details of where to meet, train times etc. There are also announcements of occasional weekends away and similar trips. You can go back and un-tick it on the same page any time you want to turn it off.