Maybe you run on trails because you’ve read that it’s better for your joints. Perhaps you crave the challenge of the mud and hills against the often monotony of road racing. Or is it the tranquility offered from making your way across a field with nothing but the sound of birds in the distance; just you alone against the elements? For whatever reason, trail running has been very quickly growing in popularity over the last few years with well planned events appearing across the country.
If you live in London trail running can be a bit tricky though. Parks like Hampstead Heath and Wimbledon Common are perfect to dip your toe in and tally up some miles, but to really experience the trails you need to get out of London. Not that easy to do if you haven’t got a car as some of the best trail locations tend to be in places that aren’t particularly well reached by public transport.
Hills are part of the trail experience, as is the mud, and branches you can’t quite see until you step on them
This is where the Rail to Trail series come in. Four races, all within an hour of Central London on the train (that’s about £15 return). Each event is designed for runners of all abilities and levels with distances covering 10k, half marathon and pretty taxing full marathon.
However these aren’t just nice easy cross country races designed for the city dweller to have a relaxing weekend away – they’re tough. Really tough in some cases. The locations, dotted across the four compass points around London, weren’t chosen for their flatness, and although the elevation differs across the four locations, none of them are for the faint-hearted. By the end of each race you’ll understand the difference between a road race and a trail run.
But hills are part of the trail experience, as is the mud, and branches you can’t quite see until you step on them. As any trail runner will tell you, it’s an entirely different skill. You can’t zone out like you would in a flat road race and hit a pace that you hold for the duration. You have to concentrate on what’s in front of you, you need to modify your running as you go along to account for the varying landscape. If you relax and don’t pay attention to the ground, then sooner or later you’re probably going to fall over. It’s unlikely you’ll ever hear a trail runner say they get bored.
The event locations for the series are in some of the south of England’s most picturesque areas. You may be running through a boggy field one minute, cursing the rain as your feet squelch in and out of the brown clay below you, or your lungs may be crying out in pain as you reach the top of a one hundred metre hill. But, whatever you’ve gone through, all is immediately forgotten when you step out out to a view that reminds you what trail running is really about.
Unlike some of the more established trail events, Rail to Rail is a comparably small affair. Numbers for the events are kept to just a couple of hundred which means that not only are transport and registration relatively painless, but the race itself retains the quiet and often solitary elements that most trail runners enjoy. You’re unlikely to be jostling past people and as a result, once you’re a couple of miles in and the field has spread out, the experience becomes wonderfully serene.
For runners and spectators alike the event is carefully prepared and planned to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible. There are safety briefings before each wave and the race HQ, normally held in a village hall, is dotted with information about each route. There’s even a ridiculously large selection of homemade cakes to choose from.
Entries for the 2015/2016 events are now open with discounts available when signing up to the whole series. Click here to get involved.