FionaOutdoors reveals her own love of off-road running and races – and encourages you to enjoy an few off-the-beaten track runs and adventures. Find out how to get started, what to wear and the events to try.
Crawling on my hands and knees over coarse, loose rocks half way up a 500ft scree slope strikes me as ridiculous enough. Doing it in the dark while wearing antlers and a head torch could easily be classed as insane. But when you’ve spent the previous 90 minutes running The Mighty Deerstalker anything seems entirely plausible.
From the outset of the unique annual 10k adventure run at 5.30 on one cold Saturday March night at Traquair House, near the Borders town of Peebles, it was clear that this would be an event like no other.
The run is closer to 17k than 10k, and takes participants through rivers, bogs, over obstacles, via steep forest tracks, up and down a couple of major hills, through more river and is generally pretty mad.
As race director Gary Tompsett, of Details Events, puts it: “The Mighty Deerstalker is meant to be something very different, an adventure run but with lots more fun.
“These days there are lots of runners going through their paces on the streets but most of them stick to the same routes and the same road-based races.
“By launching two adventure runs we knew we could tempt a whole host of people to get out of their comfort zone and into an adventure zone. And this is what we have achieved. The appeal for our adventure-style, fun-filled races just keeps on growing.”
The Mighty Deerstalker and it’s shorter sister race, The Deerstalker, have become hugely popular in recent years and have partly to thank for an increased participation in a wide range of new adventure runs and events.
Across Scotland, and the UK, new adventure runs and races are springing up like daffodils in springtime. Some events focus solely on off-road running, some incorporate obstacles or challenges, others introduce complimentary sports such as kayaking, mountain biking and swimming.
The appeal of an adventure run or race
Running is accessible to all. It can be done at every level but after a while running for its own sake becomes a bit dull. Taking part in a race offers renewed motivation and an end-goal. But then runners begin to look for new challenges: Longer races and off-road events.
Off-road running is also claimed to be better for the body. A terrain that is rough and uneven requires the feet and joints to move in a range of different ways, rather than the solely repetitive movement of running on tarmac. Many people find that although trail running is tougher it is less damaging to joints and muscles.
Running off-road also takes you to wilder and more scenic places. While I like a city run I absolutely love running in the countryside, whether it’s along a canal, river, up a hill or even to the summit of a Munro.
Adventure races also tend to be a bit muckier! You might not like mud and puddles but many, many people do and it’s the chance to do something totally different in a challenging environment that attracts people to a variety of less formalised races.
The range of adventure runs and races is incredible. No one race is the same (ok, so one 10k road race might have a few more hills than another but essentially a 10k road race is a 10k road race, except in a different location). Adventure runs are unpredictable and all the more fun and challenging.
These days you’ll see more and more longer-distance adventure runs spring up, and a number of events that add lots of other sports.
The events are also spread more widely across the seasons. While you’d imagine that off-road challenges should be reserved for the spring and summer only, the adventure race calendar goes into the winter and autumn in 2012.
Some adventure runs also take place in parks and urban areas. You’ll usually find that there is an added element, such as a sprint section or obstacles every 1km or so. The adventure element is in the obstacles, while the running is more likely to be on tarmac.
There are multi-day adventure races, too. Some require you to carry all your own kit while you run, while others give you the freedom to run and then be reunited with your kit at each overnight spot. As you’ll now begin to understand, it’s the challenge that appeals to so many people and the more adventure races they do the more they look for in an event.
How to get started in adventure running
Training: If you’re already a road runner, you’ll have the fitness but you need to test yourself on off-road trails. Build up your distance and choose routes that include a range of flat and hilly terrain. Don’t expect to be as fast on the off-road trails. While you’ll have the downhills to look forward to, going up hill on a rough track is exhausting. Build up your time off road at about 5 to 10% per few weeks.
Join a club: There are hill running clubs (like road running clubs but in the hills!). Or sign up to an off-road running holiday. I now this seems like a strange kind of holiday but there is demand for it and there are companies such as Running the Highlands that offer it! They are highly recommended.
Buy the right kit: Off-road trainers are different from on-road footwear. They tend to have less cushioning because many off-road runners prefer to be able to feel the ground beneath their feet and because the trails are more forgiving to the joints than running on tarmac. Off-road trainers came in ranges of grippiness. Soles vary form quite grippy for dry tracks to extremely grippy for muddy, slippery, hilly and icy trails. Check out some of the footwear in the Inov-8 rnages and other trail running footwear brands such as Merrell, The North Face and Salomon.
Personally I can’t get over Inov-8s. I love the fit, the range of styles and my current favourites are the Goretex versions of Inov-8s.
Trail running clothing is similar to on-road running clothing except you might want to think about buying a good waterproof and breathable running jacket. I love Goretex’s new Active Shell fabric that has been used in a number of running jackets, but there are others on the market that claim to do a similar job. When you’re running off-road you are more likely to be removed from civilisation and it’s not so easy to return home if the weather suddenly changes. Think how cold you could get if you’ve being running a remote hill and the rains starts.
For this reason, too, a running rucksack is vital. You can stow extra layers, a map and compass, snacks and water. The more you get into trail running the further you’ll push yourself and the more kit you’ll need to carry. It is the same principle as training for a road marathon, except you could easily find yourself in far more remote places.
If you become hooked on multi-day events that require you to carry your own food, clothing, tent and sleeping bags etc you’ll probably want some advice from other more experienced participants about lightweight kit. A larger race rucksack will be required. It’s the sort of thing that people become obsessed about but when you’re running for many miles and carrying all your own stuff you need it to be lightweight, yet still practical.
Accessories: A GPS watch, hats, gloves etc. Weather is far less clement and far more changeable in the countryside. If you become a hill or mountain running nutter, you are also more likely to become cold and lost. Make sure you have the sort of safety equipment with you that you would for hill walking.
Enter a couple of events: Start with shorter events, perhaps aiming for a hill running race but making sure you pace yourself. The Scottish Hill Running calendar calendar is a good place to start. Then add in a fun element, if you like it, and start pushing the distances and the challenges.
You could also add in your dog! Cani-Fit is a great website full of ideas and encouragement. There’s even a Jog Scotland Canicross Running Group. It’s not difficult to see why people become addicted to off-road running and adventure racing.
Off-road and trail running/ adventure events to try
Another turbo charged roller coaster of fun. There is a 5k-ish Deerstalker at an earlier time o the day and a 10k-ish Mighty Deerstalker. See above.
April 14 and 15
This two-day run or hike takes participants on an adventure into remote Highlands countryside. While navigational skills are required, there are entry classes to suit most abilities and participants work in teams of two. An overnight camp also includes a communal feast and a ceilidh dance. The location remains a secret until close to the event but participants can be assured of stunning scenery and a great atmosphere.
July 14 and 15
Drumlanrig Castle and Country Estate, Thornhill, Dumfries-shire
Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by the Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie.
Various events across the country
TURBO X is pure filth! The maddest, muddiest run of the Salomon Trail Running Series, this race will not disappoint. There is 10 miles of the gnarliest mix of mud, sweat and trail to satisfy the most hardcore of off-road desire. The infamous natural assault course of water, sand, marsh and muck has a hidden twist: The X ZONE. This is a 1 to 2 mile section of the craziest terrain to push your stamina, agility and perseverance to the limit. Go on… it’s fun!
Just to show how popular off-road events are, this one is already full, but perhaps there is a waiting list – or you can book in for 2013! The event takes place near Ellon, Aberdeenshire, and is similar to The Mighty Deerstalker. There’s natural and manmade obstacles over10k-ish. The day before, on June 27, there is a Junior Challenge for teams of eight youngsters accompanied by two adults.
September 15 and 16
Following the success of the Deerstalker, Detail Events also launched a Coast to Coast event, which traverses one of the most famous mountain landscapes in the world by bike, foot and boat. The journey covers 100 miles, including a marathon on foot, in some of the most iconic locations and amazing views in the Scottish Highlands: Loch Ness, the Great Glen, Ben Nevis and Glen Coe.