Being a relative newcomer to my area I'm often asked ‘But how do you know where to run? How did you know this route was here?” Born into a family where there was always a map out on the table if we were going somewhere and to a father who always wanted to see what was around the next corner, I was lucky to develop both a desire to explore and a great sense of direction from a very young age. Wherever I am, I want to see more, especially when I am out on the trails.
For many budding trail runners, the desire to explore is there; it’s the not knowing where to run that hinders. The UK has an intricate network of paths and tracks and trails that make for great trail running; no matter where you live, rural, town or city, there will be off-road options near you. But how do you know where they are and whether they’d make a great run? Here are my top tips for finding routes near you, ideas that will take you off-road and into a whole new world of running…
Keep your eyes peeled at all times! When you are out and about, on foot, in the car, on a bus or a train, look. Look for footpath signs, bridleway markers, signs for a nature reserve or city trail – they’re all indications of possible places to run. Make a mental note of where they are so that you can investigate later on, and ask yourself where they might lead. Then return with your running shoes on and explore, or find the path on a map and see what scope there might be for starting a route from there.
Magazines can be a great source of ideas, especially as you can tear their route pages out and take them with you! Running magazines, such as Trail Running, are a great starting point, but it’s also worth looking in walking magazines too, as walking routes are often off-road and therefore work as good runs too. Trail magazine is the one to look at for mountainous routes, and perhaps Country Walking if you’re not yet ready to scale the highest peaks. In recent years, trail running route books have started to appear on the market. If you’re looking for route ideas around the country, Wild Running might suit your needs, with options all over the UK; for runs in specific parts of the country, publishers such as Cicerone and Vertebrate Publishing have recently published running guides to places such as the Lake District and Peak District, packed full of suggestions and graded by difficulty. Walking route guides are, of course, another source of ideas, including those that cover the National Trails.
The internet is packed with ideas for trail running routes near and far. From large organisations such as the Forestry Commission publishing running and walking routes on their land to county councils who often have local walk ideas on their website, plenty of ideas are there for you to pick and choose. Google ‘walks’ and the name of a town or village near you and something suitable is bound to pop up. Looking up the routes of local trail races often gives great ideas for runs, and if you are lucky, there will be a map or directions you can print off too! And if you’d like to create your own route, signing up to an online map facility, such as Ordnance Survey, can prove great value; you can look at any map you like, plot, save and print out routes, all for a very reasonable sum of money indeed.
Local running clubs will often have a great knowledge of routes in your area, so signing up could lead you to many exciting adventures. If you’re visiting somewhere new, most will happily give you some route ideas or invite you to join them for a run; runners usually love to show off where they live! Search them out via social media and ask! Guided running is another option, and becoming increasingly popular in some areas; pay a few pounds to a local coach and they’ll take you out onto some of their favourite routes with a group of other like-minded runners – it’s a great way of running off-road somewhere new without having to find your own way, and you might make some great new trail-running friends too!
Once you’ve found a route or two and got to know them well, think about joining them up; one or two short routes on the trails can soon become a whole network of options if you can discover some paths that lead between them. If you’ve seen a path branching off your favourite route, try heading that way for a change and see what you find; you can always turn round and head back if it doesn’t work out.
Armed with a little knowledge and a desire to explore, you’ll be all set to find some beautiful places to run; places you may not have even known were there! But a word of warning! Most of the time, you’ll love what you find, be it stunning countryside views, a soft woodland path or a green urban trail; your run will be awesome and you’ll head back for more. Sometimes, however, your best laid plans won’t quite work the way you had wanted. Whether it’s an overgrown, brambly path that you just can’t get through, a ploughed-up field that would test even the best mud-running shoes, or a landowner having blocked the right of way so that you have no choice to turn around, occasionally an obstacle will force you to change your plans. It happens to us all. Smile, turn around and make a mental note to cross that route off your list, maybe permanently. There will be a better option out there, and with your new-found route-finding skills, you’ll be sure to find it!