Sunday, 20 July 2014

A rambling run

I can only think of three times in my running career that I've run off-road; I like the idea of it, but I've always harboured a fear that my delicate ankles and inflexible calves wouldn't be able to cope with more varied terrain.  However, the past year has been all about breaking through physical and psychological barriers so today, after months and months of promising myself that I would do it, I finally took myself off to do a trail run.

I loaded up the car with my long run equipment (Camelbak, bottle of Lucozade, jelly babies, banana, sunglasses, running hat, phone, iPod, and camera) and drove 45 minutes to the Wellhill car park of Culbin Forest.  It's a place that I know fairly well in a walking sense, including knowing that the trails are more or less flat and well maintained, and it seemed a logical place to test out whether this trail running lark is for me.

It occurred to me, as I drove into the car park, that I had never been there in the summer.  The sheer number of shouting parents, shrieking children, and snarling dogs reminded me of why I had always given it a miss during this time of year.  However, operating on the maxim that the majority of people don't wander far from the car park in any given outdoor situation, I optimistically set off on an eight mile run.  And sure enough, as soon as I turned the first corner, I left everyone behind me and didn't see another soul until I was back in the car park at the end of the run.  Bliss!

I had my route mapped out - it's one that I've walked many times before - and I thought that I knew where all of the turnings were.  I even had a map with me.  But the forest looks different at a running pace and I got a bit disoriented, went straight where I should have turned left, and then had a not unpleasant five miles of wondering where the hell I was.  The wide forestry road that I thought I'd be running on had morphed into a lovely narrow trail, so no complaints there, and I figured that I'd eventually come across a junction that was on my map.  I didn't, not until I surprisingly ended up back at the car park, but it all felt very adventurous in a safe and contained kind of way.

I was a bit disappointed that the beach with views across Findhorn Bay that I had planned the original route to take in wasn't on my alternative route.  In fact, there were no views at all, aside from the trail and trees.  There were, however, lots and lots and lots of flies.  It wasn't too bad while I was running but, when I stopped for a drink or to dither over the map, they pinged off my head and tried to climb behind my sunglasses and a horsefly bit me twice on the arse through my tights and they generally made it so unpleasant that running was a relief. 

Culbin Forest:  trees, trees, and more trees
Findhorn Bay:  what I had hoped to see
So, what's my verdict on trail running?  I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought that I would but that could be because it was so hot (22c) and I am definitely a cool weather runner.  I wish that I had seen the bay and been able to run a bit on the beach.  But then, I liked venturing away from my usual running routes, I liked being out in nature, and I liked not having to dodge 4x4s, boy racers, and tourists driving on the wrong side of the road.

On balance, I think I'll try it again.  But next time, I'm definitely going to the beach!


  1. Way hay, glad you enjoyed your off road adventure. I love having trails as a mentally and physically refreshing change from road running. And I think there is actually less risk of injury. How about trying those trails from Cromarty that we walked along?

  2. I'm enjoying it more now that it's over! I think that it'll be good for me (and hopefully fun too) to get off-road more often, especially as the first half of Aviemore is on trails. I wasn't sure that I could cobble together 8 miles on the Cromarty trails, and I didn't fancy heaving myself up that hill either, but I've got the maps out so that I can have a look at what might be possible closer to home. And Aviemore is only an hour away, so that's always an option too...

  3. Speaking of Aviemore - I've entered my local Wirral Half Marathon, on 12th October. So we can "enjoy" another few months of training in solidarity for a race on the same day. :-)

  4. We're such running machines! Yay us!!! I bought a Scottish trail running book & got all excited at the various trails that are within a reasonable drive from me. I also realised that all of my favourite hill walking routes could actually be done as trail runs - a whole new world is opening up!

  5. I thought you'd enjoy it more too but at least it hasn't put you off trying again. Hopefully it's better next time.

  6. It wasn't that it was horrible, more that I was a bit bored. And very hot. I just need to find somewhere with nice views and a breeze!