Laura Hill spoke to ultra marathon champion Kellie Emmerson about why trail running is the perfect way to run outdoors, safely. Cheap, accessible, physically challenging but mentally meditative, she makes a convincing case for taking your next run off the asphalt.
During the past couple of months, it has been drummed into us that one way to slow the spread of viruses, such as coronavirus, is physical distancing.
The more space between you and others, the harder it is for the virus to spread. But if you’re finding it hard to keep 1.5 metres away from others when you’re jogging, then perhaps it’s time to take your running off the beaten track, literally.
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Trail running is trending
Trail running has exploded in the last decade. It used to be a grass roots sport with a small community of dedicated fans running through the bush. Nowadays, trail running is very popular and the big outdoor, adventure and running brands such as North Face, Salomon and HOKA ONE ONE are investing heavily in the sport.
Interestingly, event participation numbers and social media data reveals that more women are making the move to trail running. So why?
Kellie Emmerson is well-known on the domestic and global ultra and trail running circuits. She has represented Australia three times at the World Trail Running Championships and says she loves trail running for so many reasons.
“Trail running gets me out in nature and constantly challenges me with different goals and terrain,” says Emmerson. “It has brought me to some amazing friends and has enabled me to travel to so many countries that I only ever dreamed of.”
Trailing running is addictive – in a good way
She says the sport’s growing popularity doesn’t surprise her. “Trail running is booming because everyone is finally realising how rad it is! It appeals to many people because it is generally cheap – until you become a gear addict. It can be very sociable, but at the same time, solo outings are relaxing and meditative,” adds Emmerson.
She believes one of the biggest reasons for people heading to the trails is that there’s less pressure than road running.
“Pace is not important because every run is different, depending on the weather and the terrain. You are allowed to walk and so people of all ages, of all body types, can be a trail runner and enjoy doing so,” says Emmerson.
She says that aside from keeping fit and strong, trail running enables you to find a different kind of flow state amongst nature.
“Some call it moving meditation. You need to be strong to manage different terrain and are constantly using different muscle groups that can help avoid overuse injuries that you might see in road running,” adds Emmerson.
Besides the views, Emmerson says the biggest differences between trail and road running are the self-pressure, the community and the terrain.
“There are so many variables in trail running that impact performance including the weather and the terrain, so the pressure to achieve certain goals is much less than road running – where people often aim to achieve a consistent pace or time goal,” explains Emmerson.
“The trail running community is amazing. I will never forget my first trail run at Two Bays many years ago. I couldn’t believe how friendly everyone was and I had certainly never received so many high fives before!
“Since then, this sport has taken me all over the world. As trail runners we get to see the views from the highest mountains and from the most beautiful places of which many people will never get to see. You don’t get that in road running.”
If all this talk of views and friends has you toying with the idea of heading to the hills for a run, then Emmerson has the following advice.
“Just get out there! It helps to go with someone who knows where they are going so you can just focus on the trail, rather than navigating,” she says.
“Be sure to pack a first aid kit and be prepared to fall over when you first start out because trail running involves learning a new neurological skill and it can take a while to learn to anticipate the terrain and obstacles. And lastly, run when you can and walk when you feel like it.”
The essential kit
The good news is, not much. As a newbie trail runner, you only need a good pair of trail runners, which are designed for the trail and will give you a great stable ride on various terrain. Plus, having a pair of trail runners allows you to rotate your shoes and keep your road runners nice and clean!
Emmerson’s go-to trail runners are the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoats and the newly released Torrent 2, which features a speedy low profile that’s light enough to keep things simple, yet cushioned enough to race long and steep.
As you get more into trail running you might want to invest in a running vest that allows you to comfortably carry safety equipment like a phone, rain jacket, water, food and a first aid gear.