Trail running is a great way to experience the outdoors, and can awaken an entirely different mindset from road running. And Dorset is the perfect place to take your first tentative steps.
After railing against the intrusion of tech on our enjoyment of the great outdoors, I found myself last week with a couple of days to kill and the opportunity to enjoy some glorious tech-free(ish) North Dorset scenery in the un-seasonally warm weather.
To my great annoyance, I’m extremely un-gifted athletically. I’m never going to win a sprint, or smash a 5k. I’m never going to crack a sub 3 hour marathon. I’ve never dazzled the opposition with my fancy footwork on the football pitch, or wowed the crowd whilst wreaking havoc in rugby. I’m very much a trier. And very much middle of the road. Mediocre. Unremarkable. But maybe that’s ok.
Maybe a sport doesn’t always need to have a competitive edge. Maybe it’s ok just to go out of your front door and run for the hills without worrying about PBs, or smashing the opposition, or turning yourself inside out. Maybe it’s ok just to plod, unencumbered by the weight of your expectations, aims, times and targets. Just get out there, run or walk as fast as you feel like and simply revel in the freedom and exhilaration of being alive and outside.
In perfecting the art of the outdoor plod, maybe I’ve finally found my perfect sport.
Wild running, running wild, trail running, off road running, whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t have to be a vast wilderness under huge open skies. Sometimes it’s just nice to discover what’s out there, beyond the edge of the city limits, following those magical, green-dotted lines on an OS map, or discovering your local woods and footpaths, getting away from traffic and enjoying the silence and solitude.
Running is good for the soul. Surely as beneficial to our mental health as it is to our physical health. A long, slow run can become an almost meditative state, where nothing else crosses your mind or seems to matter. This is particularly true of trail running where your mind is required to focus on where you’re placing your feet much more so than in road running. It seems easier to let the miles slip by and your mind wander.
It’s simple, cheap to get into, and needs very little in the way of specialist equipment or initial outlay. Simple lace up your trainers, perhaps grab a cursory glance at a map and set off. Settle into an easy lope, walk up hills if your legs are protesting. Stop to take pictures or just drink in the views. For the most part it’s a simple, unbridled pleasure.
Of course, marketers would have you believe you need a whole raft of specialised equipment for trail running, but that’s not really the case. Ordinary roadies will be fine for most gentle off road trails or gravel tracks, although you might want something gripper for the muddier months of the year. In most cases the extra grip of trail-specific shoes is rendered non-existent when you’re ploughing through mud so think it clings to your shoes like glue. You may as well be running in wellies. Just prepare for the odd wet foot and occasional banishment from the house. An outside hose can be handy, as well as a garage in which to serve your mud-splattered sentence.
The tracks and trails of north Dorset are one of my favourite places to run. The hills around Blandford and Cranbourne Chase are criss-crossed by countless bridleways and footpaths, for the most part navigation is easy and clearly signposted. Ancient hill forts such and Hod Hill and Hambledon Hill offer superb views, whilst long distance footpaths such as the Wessex Ridgeway can take you as far as the coast at Lyme Regis.
On any given run you can find yourself threading through tunnel-like single track, pounding hard-packed gravel, along high ridgeways under huge skies and far-flung views, plunging into hidden valleys, slopping through thick mud, fording streams, leaping logs, scrambling down loose, rock-strewn descents, kicking sheep shit, losing a shoe in the slop. It’s all part of the experience.
Maybe for too many years I’ve been approaching sport and particularly running the wrong way. It doesn’t always have to be about smashing segments or beating yesterday. It can be enough to just be. Be at one with nature, with yourself. Be comfortable enough to just plod. Plodding so often has negative connotations, but sometimes being a plodder can be a wonderful thing. It allows you time to clear your mind, soak up the views and enjoy your surroundings.
Of course, there are no magazines to attest to this. You won’t find me on the cover of Trail Plodders World. I’m not starting a movement. Many others have known for years what I’m just figuring out; that perhaps being outside and enjoying the view is enough.