It only dawned on me as the train pulled into Dorking for the start of the Bacchus half marathon last September what I had signed up for. “Oh my god, we are actually in the countryside”, I said. “Yes, it’s in Surrey… on a vineyard… 48 minutes out of London, what did you expect?” was the response. Oh.
As much as I loved running it with so many friends, in fancy dress, in the summer, with loads of amazing food and wine, it still wasn’t my favourite race. I just can’t seem to fall in love with running through woods.
I love walking in the countryside – when there’s stunning views and the feeling of clean, fresh air filling your lungs it is fantastic. But running? Urgh. You don’t have time to appreciate the views because you’re too busy looking at the floor trying not to trip over tree roots. It’s really bloody hilly in the countryside (unless I’m running in my native Norfolk in which case it is just too damn flat). There’s no interesting buildings, no tourists to dodge, no street signs to help you navigate.
Despite the fact that I had come to the conclusion that country running is not for me, I asked two lovers of hitting the trails to try and convince me otherwise. Admittedly their photos are speaking just as loudly as their words…
I was once like you, eschewing dirt for Tarmac, worrying about even the dust of the Tamsin Trail in Richmond Park ruining my sparkling white trainers. But after training for my first marathon I wanted a break from the roads and tried a trail half marathon.
As it was actually longer than a half marathon, and I wasn’t quite recovered from the marathon, I took it easy and stopped regularly to take photos. It helped that it was a beautiful day in Devon but even so, you might be able to see the appeal.
Since then, I’ve sought trails as much as possible. Not only are they easy on the eye but they’re also good for your running. Invariably there are hills which provide a great workout and the uneven surfaces force you to use muscles that normally wouldn’t get used. My weak ankles are now a thing of the past.
I can’t recommend it highly enough. And depending on where you are, you might even see a bear.
If you told me I had to choose between city road running or not running again for the rest of my life, it would be a relatively easy decision to hang up my beloved-but-muddy trainers and find another sport. Now maybe that means I just don’t love running enough, but a huge part of the joy of it for me is that it takes me out into the countryside and green spaces. It helps that I live on the edge of Winchester, with access to some amazing trails and forests.
I didn’t start running that regularly until I was in my early thirties and had had a baby – I tended to favour trails just to minimise the impact on my knees and hips, but found as I got stronger that I just prefer to run in the green. The benefits of being in the countryside are well documented and in Japan, they even have a word for a therapeutic visit to a forest – Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing). As well as enjoying the beautiful views, I find that running on trails and tracks means I’m thinking about where my feet are going which distracts me from concentrating on pain or tiredness.
The peace and solitude is pretty special too (and especially important to me as a busy working mum), some days I might only have the birds or an occasional dog walker for company and on one memorable run, a family of deer ran alongside my husband and I. As ultrarunner Jenn Shelton said “That’s what I love, just being a barbarian, running through the woods.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love the buzz of a big city race, but since the majority of my running time isn’t spent racing, I’d rather be training on a beautiful forest trail, next to a river on a springy path made of pine needles, rather than slogging it out on tarmac next to duel carriageway being splashed by inconsiderate drivers!
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So, join in and tell us – what do you prefer, dodging bollards or dodging branches?