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Trail Running by Mary Marshall

Trail Blog Post

First, I would like to say a BIG hello and introduce myself; I am Mary, the new Trail leader at Best Athletics. I will be your go to girl for all things trail related!

Why trails?

Why not I say. No, seriously trails are the reason I love to run so much and I hope to pass this passion on to you too. If like me you grew up in the countryside, rambling around, climbing trees, and building dens, or if you grew up in the urban jungle but want to escape the city for a bit, trails are an excellent way to explore, adventure and add flavour to your training.

Running in nature can give your mental health a boost and can also benefit your physical health too! Forest trails and other countryside-based routes provide a softer surface for your joints, meaning less injuries, and they also keep you on your toes. With more natural obstacles, running in nature means you need to concentrate more, watch where you go and keep good balance. These added elements will help you develop those much-needed leg muscles and help you tone and strengthen your legs all at the same time.

Let’s look at some of the health benefits

In a world full of smart watches, tracking devices and countless other expensive gear to help you achieve those essential seconds, for that all important PB you have been sweating your ass out for, one of the most potent adaptations you can make for free is the ability to train your breathing through trail running. Needless to say the air is significantly cleaner and with the amount of oxygen you breath in, it has been proven to help athletes perform even more effectively.

As running trails can often be at an ‘easy’ pace or through undulating passes, there are plenty of opportunities to test and trial you breathing techniques, from nose breathing to high altitude training… because there is so much of that in London…

The mental health benefits

According to studies, running on trails outdoors can improve your mental wellbeing, social inclusion and help to alleviate the winter blues. Research has found that almost 1 in 3 people in the UK suffer from seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that usually occurs during the winter months and can leave people with a persistent low mood[i].

Depression and anxiety cost the UK an estimated £70-£100 million a year[ii], and studies have shown that spending as little as two hours a week in nature is an effective strategy for maintaining good mental health[iii].

Physical benefits of tail running

Running on trails can be better for your overall fitness than the pavement. Andy Brooks, professional coach at Peak Running explains: “The resistance of running uphill improves leg strength. Uneven ground improves ankle strength, flexibility, and balance. Having to vary stride length to deal with roots and rocks improves agility and coordination. Running down steep hills improves leg speed and conditions muscles against impact...” the list goes on. “As well as making you a better runner on the trails, your performance on the road or track will massively benefit. You have only got to look at elite Kenyan and Ethiopian runners to see this.”[iv]

Basically, trail running is a lot of fun and a good change for you mind, body and soul after you have been hammering the road and track for a bit. It helps to unleash the inner child within us as we splatter through mud, jump over rocks, and bound as fast as we can downhill, (screaming as we run…).

If you’re thinking about giving it a go, or you’re a seasoned pro with UTMB under your belt, come along to the new trail sessions every other Sunday, and don’t hesitate to drop me an email or WhatsApp if you need any advice or suggestions.

Watch this space for exciting adventures and trails coming up in 2023!

[i] The Weather Channel and YouGov research – 2014 [ii] O’Brien Liz, Ambrose-Oji Bianca, Wheeler Benedict, "Mental health and wellbeing: The contribution of trees and forests to diverse populations in Britain", Santé Publique, 2019/HS1 (Special issue), p. 163-171. DOI: 10.3917/spub.190.0163. URL: [iii] White, M.P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J. et al. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Sci Rep 9, 7730 (2019). [iv]

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