15 good reasons to try off-road
From escape and sheer enjoyment to a reduced risk of injury, there are many compelling arguments to get off the beaten track - here are 15 of the best from some of the UK's finest off-road runners.
"The best piece of advice I've ever been given for running off road is: 'If you’re not enjoying it, you are running too fast'. I still use it now. In races, if I feel like I’m struggling I just slow it down just a tiny bit, and you’ll soon be going at the same pace again but finding it much easier." Marco Consani [pictured above], winner of Lakeland 100 and Barcelona 24h – runs for Scotland and GB, Inov-8 ambassador and supported by Team Mountain Fuel.
Sense of discovery
"Fell running has taken me to places that I would never have imagined I’d ever visit. I’ve seen glorious sunrises, breath-taking sunsets, stunning views and beautiful wildlife. I’ve also been fortunate enough to run with the legends of the sport and shared precious moments with like-minded friends that I’ll remember for the rest of my life." Ben Mounsey, the UK Inter-Counties Fell Running Champion 2016, who has represented Yorkshire, England and Great Britain at mountain running and is supported by Inov-8 and Mountain Fuel.
"My kids are instantly so happy when we go off track – they love the idea of an adventure. And don’t worry about getting lost – take an unusual turning and see where it takes you. These days it’s pretty straightforward to relocate yourself in most places." Damian Hall, long-distance walker and GB trail runner - top 20 at Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc and set the fastest known time on the 630-mile South West Coast Path in 2016. The author of ‘A Year On The Run’.
"Although I train hard to try and get the best out of myself for races, running is really my escapism from work or any stresses I might encounter. Going off road allows you to feel like you’re getting away from it all." Dave Archer [pictured above], marathon, cross country and mountain runner. Represented England in 2016, Inov-8 ambassador.
"Going off-road encourages you to travel to different areas and appreciate how amazing our country is. And not just the more obvious places like the Lakes or Yorkshire - anywhere and everywhere." Rupert Bonington, off-road and ultra running guru who runs Mountain Fuel, a balanced sports nutrition system.
Easy to get involved
"Fell running encourages athletes of all abilities to take part and it’s really easy to get involved. The fact that it’s not elitist means you’re just as likely to share a post-race pint with the winner as you are with the person who finishes last. It genuinely feels like you’re part of one big family and that to me is what makes our sport is so unique and special." Ben Mounsey, pictured below at the Snowdon International Mountain Race.
"Even if you don’t want to be a 24/7 trail runner, combining off-road with road training is still a great injury prevention strategy. Soft trails reduce impact stresses, the varying contours and underfoot conditions will also challenge your core and stabilising muscles in a way that a predictable surface such as road or track would not. Over time this should make you more robust." Dave Archer.
Trail runs Cross country runs Fell runs Multi-terrain runs
Big views - whichever way you choose
"When I did long-distance walks, I would see fell runners and think they were rushing through these dramatic landscapes. But they said you see twice as much and travel twice as far in the same time. That made sense to me – either way, you're taking in the big views - hills, fells, mountains, woods and wildlife - rather than running through a city centre and looking at cars and shop fronts." Damian Hall.
"The landscapes when you head off the road can be stunning, and I like to stop now and then when out training to take in my surroundings. And no one cares if you want to take a few pictures." Marco Consani.
Living in the moment
"When you are trail running, you've got to think about which direction to take, where to put your feet and you're also keeping an eye on the weather, so you're very much more in the moment, which I find very therapeutic. When road running those moments are fewer – so you start thinking about the past or the future." Damian Hall.
It's more relaxed
"People would be up in arms on the road if a 10K was actually 10.1K – off road it’s a different story. A trail marathon might be 25 miles, or a half could come in at 14 miles, that’s the nature of it. And it’s not about pace per minute and running flat out so you can barely talk. You’ve got the chance to chat and encourage others – even if it’s the leader coming back down past you!" Rupert Bonington
"Fell running is very cheap compared to road running. A typical race costs around £5 and you can win anything from a bottle of wine to vouchers for your local running shop. One of my most memorable prizes was a 4 pack of toilet roll, for finishing in 2nd place in the Blackstone Edge fell race! Proof in itself that fell runners compete for the love of the sport and not for the money!" Ben Mounsey.
"A fell, trail or cross-country race is a tactical battle, which may see many twists and turns. I find it much more exhilarating compared to the time trials we have now become accustomed to in road and track races. This was my main motivation for switching focus to off-road racing, I had become obsessed with times, and it had become detrimental to my training and enjoyment of running." Dave Archer
"It's a proper community. Everybody knows each other and is really supportive, whatever your age or ability. The elites are still very good, but there's a camaraderie there too." Rupert Bonington
Now get started!
"It doesn't have to be running, and it doesn't have to be the Scottish Highlands - you can find little pockets of wildness wherever you are, where you can feel miles from anywhere and have that wonderful feeling of exploring new places. And don’t think off-road running has to be long distance. You’ll be amazed at what you can discover in half an hour, even from a town, and there are lots of 5K or 10K trail races to get you started." Damian Hall
Trail runs Cross country runs Fell runs Multi-terrain runs
[Thanks to Thomas Loehndorf for the photos of Marco Consani, and to Ben Mounsey and Dave Archer for the other images]