Trail running: what's all the fuss about?
Trail running is a term coined to describe just about any run which is predominantly off road, basically covering anything and everything from a jog around the park to a 90km mountain ultra and beyond.
Last weekend saw the mixed ability Cham gang team of five (plus one moccasin wearing supporter) head out to Chamonix to check out a festival of trail running known as the Marathon du Mont-Blanc. Whilst the marathon itself has only been going since 2003, the shorter distance 23km du Mont-Blanc, which uses part of the same route as the marathon, has been run annually since 1979. Known as the Marathon du Mont-Blanc weekend, it has now grown into the most incredible celebration of trail running, with distances and events ranging from the KM Vertical (1,000m of climbing under the Brévent bubble) to the 90km ultra marathon, as well as a race for kids, all set within a stunning backdrop of soaring snow capped mountains centred around the electrifying party atmosphere of Chamonix town. We were a group of amateurs taking part in a variety of events and I have to say it was the most accessible friendly atmosphere. It also feels inclusive and joyful.
Our favourite festival event had to be the Duo Etoilé, where teams of two set off from the centre of town in the early evening before climbing/scrambling up 1,450m of elevation then hopping and skipping down the same, having run 21km by the time they return in the middle of the night. There is little more magical than watching the runners’ twinkling lights slowly traverse across the mountain above us, as we waited for our friends to come home. Teamwork really does make the dream work. A lot of the races run through the town and are heralded by cow bells and vuvuzelas as they pass. But it is not for the faint hearted. As you can imagine, virtually every race includes a hill, and a steep one!
Whilst the only piece of gear you need to trail run is a pair of comfortable running shoes, Chamonix’s race weekend expo was also a good excuse to check out the latest innovations in technical kit. Let’s start with trainers - a hot and much discussed topic amongst trail runners - with fierce loyalties and general over excitement about new colour launches and redesigns. As far as I can work out, as a newbie to the tribe, the brands my more experienced friends like best are Adidas Terrex, innov-8, Salomons, HOKAs and ONs. Even though I wear Brooks out on the trail, innov-8s got my vote in Chamonix because they let you borrow a pair for a run, to properly put them through their paces.
The other essential pieces of kit to my mind if you are running any distance at all is some way of carrying water (plus whatever you want to put in it that helps you get to the end) and some nutrition. Tailwind caught my eye as a friend uses them – always like a personal recommendation – providing a simple carbo plus electrolyte combo that is gentle on the stomach. Don’t want to get caught short out on the trail, though most of us have a story to tell on that one ….
Two of the kit innovations that caught our eye were ON’s super light vented caps and how running shorts have developed: ON’s loose shorts with tight under liners are apparently very comfortable and don’t rub (my 10k fellow runner wore them, for a totally chaff free trip). Still on shorts, a brand called WiSe have developed a nifty integrated hydration belt within their Sherpa Max style running short. They also offer to repair or exchange your product for free for the next 10 years (according to their website).
Unsurprisingly and encouragingly, there were certainly many initiatives around sustainability, the most obvious being the focus on reusable hydration systems, rather than relying on plastic bottles. A particular favourite though was Salomon’s stall complete with sewing machines, offering to repair your old running shoes and other kit. Team Cham gang’s 23k competitor tried it out with a modification to the way her running poles attached to her bag, giving new life to old kit.
Yes, sure there is always a super steep hill if you are running any distance in the Alps but what a high, the view certainly made it worth it. But you don’t have to run a mountain or go anywhere exotic to have a good time, just lace up some trainers, head outdoors and start exploring.
So are we hanging up our running shoes and taking the rest of the summer off? Hell no, we’ve just signed up for the Salomon Skyline Scotland – high-octane sky running in September. Always good to have a goal!