India has witnessed a running revolution in recent years. From a couch to 5k to marathons and ultra marathons. But what’s great is that the old-school ways of trail running are also getting many takers. So what sets trail running apart from its more popular counterpart (road running) and what all do you need to know to get started on a trail? Here’s a lowdown of all you need to know about trail running.
Nothing compares to the feeling of working out amidst lush and scenic routes, breathing in fresh air. As avid trail runner Rahul Kumar from Mumbai sums it up,
“Trails are where I can be wild and free, and feel the elements in their most raw form. Exploring a trail refreshes and recharges me.”
If you’re considering getting into the sport, here are a few tips to consider.
Navigating terrain: Trail running is all about maintaining good control and stability over varied, often rugged terrain. While running uphill or downhill, short strides are best as they minimize effort and help save energy. It also means less pressure on your knees.
Food and hydration: The formula for this is similar to that of road running. It is important to carry your own hydration pack and stock up on high-energy foods like nuts and dried fruit (dates and raisins work well). And like they say for any race, do not experiment on race day; all trial and error must be done during training.
Go slow: Trails can be tricky unlike the smooth tarmac you encounter during a road run. So make sure to maintain a steady pace. Sure footed, agile and easy does it. On a trail it’s not as much about the speed as it is about the endurance and focus that keeps you going along a trail.
Safety first: Like any other sport, injuries are part of the game. Except this one doesn’t necessarily have a wide audience or a medic on call. Because trail runs tend to be long and take place in remote areas, the distances between aid stations and emergency care can have a longer response time. That’s why it’s important to know some basic first aid in case of an emergency.
Trail Running Gear:
It’s kind of like going camping or hiking. So a big part of a safe trail run is packing the right gear that will ensure you’re doing it right as well as keeps you prepared in case of an unlikely incident.
Footwear: Trail running shoes differ from regular running and hiking shoes in terms of their grip, protection, comfort and stability. A good-gripped shoe with lugged soles helps in getting a firm hold over rocks, gravel, mud and uneven terrain. Another important thing to factor is the protection of these trail shoes. On trails, you are prone to come across hard surfaces – a strong shield protects the foot, especially the heel and toe from the constant impact.
Watch: Tracking your run, in terms of pace, distance and time, is extremely important if you want to record your run as a competitive athlete. Look for a watch with a good compass, navigation and trackback option. A timepiece with a GPS feature will offer information on the elevation of the terrain and helps in planning your run better. Most crucial is the trackback navigational feature that allows you to retrace your path to the start, in case you wander off-trail.
Cell phone: Trail running is all about losing yourself in the beauty of nature, but do not take that literally. A fully-charged mobile is essential to stay connected, especially during an emergency. In case you get lost or head off the trail, you can use your inbuilt phone apps like the compass and google maps to get you back on track. And at the end of the day, this is a trail run amidst nature, you are bound to come across some beautiful frames you may want to click on your phone camera as you go along.
Whistle: Losing your way along a trail can be scary. It can get quite dark in the depths of a route in a thick forest even if you are right in the middle of the day – thus making getting back on track quite difficult. A whistle helps in signaling your group/fellow runners to your whereabouts. Blowing a whistle is a lot easier and louder than screaming your lungs out for help!
Hydration pack: Hydration is the most important thing in any kind of activity. A handheld bottle or hydration pack is a must-have. Pro Tip: Any trail that lasts over 90 minutes requires constant energy to keep going. Pack enough energy bars, gels, salt tablets, electrolytes, fruits, and dried fruit and nuts.
Apparel and accessories: Pick weather-appropriate clothing. Shorts or tights and lightweight shirt/top; preferably in dri-FIT fabric for sun-drenched runs. In cooler places, go with merino wool that warms you yet is lightweight. Remember to layer with a jacket and light gloves, if needed. In the mountains, a light buff is helpful to keep the ears and face cozy and dust-free. Shades and a wide-brimmed hat will protect you from the sun during long runs. And always trust Baz Luhrmann on the sunscreen. A waist pack is handy for snacks, cash or a phone.
Trail Running Events in India
When it comes to this sport, India has a lot to offer with its varied terrain and natural diversity.
Run the Rann: Set in Gujarat’s pristine Rann of Kutch desert, the event is five years old and has seen good participation.
Running on the white desert is nothing short of an adventure and the runners often get a chance to spot wildlife during the race.
Run the Rann offers three different races (51km, 101km, and 161km) and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. The race takes you through the salt marshes, cracked deserts and forested islands of Great Rann of Kutch where you might encounter wildlife like black cobras, monitor lizards and variety of birds. One can also spot many birds especially Flamingos around the picturesque white desert. Run the Runn 2019 has been canceled, but the team has promised to come back with a bigger event in 2020.
Nilgiris Ultra: The Nilgiris Ultra has four categories of distances of 25km, 50km, 75km, and 100km, and is a qualifier for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) race – a single-stage ultramarathon held in Europe. Set in the misty Nilgiris of the Western Ghats, the race is challenging with gorgeous views of the blue hills.
Kaveri Trail Marathon: Kaveri Trail Marathon started off as a training run for the first edition of the Bangalore Ultra. It soon transformed into a full-fledged racing event. Held at the beautiful, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary in Srirangapatna, Bangalore, and this marathon offers a tough course and scenic vantage points along the banks of the canal of river Kaveri. This is the main attraction for the runners across India. KTM, as it is fondly referred to by runners, is famous for testing the limits of runners.
Uttarkashi 135: 2019 will see the sixth edition of the Uttarkashi 135 ultra run in Uttarakhand. Considered one of the most challenging mountain trail races in India, the 135 km route takes runners on a mesmerizing journey across Uttarakhand’s quaint villages, Himalayan peaks and along the banks of the Ganges. The race starts with a 10-kilometer ascent and descent that takes the runner through quaint Himalayan villages and mountain peaks and they also run alongside the river Ganges. This race is great for anyone wanting to test their endurance level.
La Ultra: Have you ever thought of running 333km in 72 hours at an altitude of over 17,500ft? If so, La Ultra, held in mountain passes of Ladakh, is for you. From the picturesque Nubra Valley to the treacherous terrain of the Khardung La pass and finally to the majestic Indus River – completing this trail is a high of another kind altogether.
Join the Club
If you are keen to start your trail running journey, it’s a good idea to join a runner’s club or local group. If you are in Mumbai, you can join Unived Trail Runners Club, they explore beautiful trails close to Mumbai and also guide on running in the hills and nutrition.