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Trail Running – Just like Running, Only Better!

Wondrously soft forest paths, peppered with roots and fragrant coniferous wood, which gently cushion your every step. Ice-cold, refreshing mountain streams and breathtaking alpine paths framed by colourfully blooming mountain flowers and breath-giving views. City parks, fields and forest roads. Stones, beaches and deserts. Trail running is hard to define but can be experienced almost anywhere. Learn here what you need to keep in mind off the road so that you can dance like a light-hoofed mountain goat over the trails, what equipment is really worthwhile, and much more!

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Trail Running – Just like Running, Only Better!

Pleasure in Motion off the Road

The first rule of the trail running club is: There is only one rule! Enjoy your time in nature! It doesn't matter whether you run on local dirt tracks or forest roads, in the neighbourhood park, around the nearest quarry pond, in the Sahara Desert, across the golf course (please don't run across golf courses!) or through the Alps. Whether flat, hilly or high in the Alps, whether 5 km or 100 miles, the main thing is to run in varied terrain. This not only challenges and protects your joints at the same time, but also gives your lungs and head time to breathe. 

Nevertheless, it can be helpful to have a rough overview of the different disciplines, common distances and types of competitions, and especially of the necessary and helpful equipment.  

Pleasure in Motion off the Road

Speed Hiking, Skyrunning, Ultras and Co – The 101 of Trail Running

Ultras: With the trail running boom, the trend to run longer and longer has also increased in recent decades. Technically speaking, any run longer than a marathon counts as an ultramarathon. However, a few popular distances have emerged: 50 k, 50 miles, 100 k and 100 miles. Distances beyond the 100 k and 100 miles are also becoming more popular and the rush for places at the start is getting bigger. 

The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) is probably the largest trail and ultra-running event in the world. In the outdoor and running mecca of Chamonix, almost 10,000 runners gather every year to tackle the 7 breathtaking routes. Almost twice as many supporters and about 50,000 spectators join in to cheer on the athletes. With a course length of 172 km and more than 10,000 metres of altitude, every bit of motivation can be put to good use. But the "shorter" distances of 145 km (TDS), 101 km (CCC) and 56 km (OCC) are also quite challenging.

If you would also like to battle your way around the Mont Blanc massif, you are not alone. The demand is huge, so you need to get qualifying points at excellent mountain races for the chance to take part.

There are many iconic ultras (Zegama, Leadville, Transvulcania), but definitely worth mentioning is the Western States Endurance Run, widely regarded as the oldest 100-mile race in the world, which originated from a horse race. In 1973, the horse of Gordy Ainsleigh was lame and so he came up with the idea of running the entire distance on foot and successfully completed it in 1974 in under 24 hours. 

Speed Hiking, Skyrunning, Ultras and Co – The 101 of Trail Running

Skyrunning describes a whole range of disciplines defined by the International Skyrunning Federation. The ISF organises over 200 races worldwide, most of which are technically demanding and almost always reach an altitude of at least 2000 metres. Trekking poles, crampons and gloves may (and often must) be used. The routes must have an average gradient of at least 6% and 5% of the route must even have a gradient of 30%. Skyraces are definitely a breezy affair that often leaves you breathless. But the reward is fabulous views and less than 15 % asphalt. The range of distances goes from a few kilometres (Vertical with 1000 metres of altitude) to 20-49 km (Sky) or even 50-99 km (SkyUltra). 

Vertical: The Vertical Kilometre is about running or climbing 1,000 metres of altitude (over a distance of no more than 5 km) as fast as possible. The first official event was launched in 1994 by the Skyrunner founders in Cervinia. The fastest time back then: 40 minutes and 44 seconds. Now the record stands at 28:53 minutes for the men (Philip Gotsch 2017 in Fully) and 34:44 minutes for the women (Axelle Mollaret 2018 in Grand Serre). The best times are often achieved on climbs between 35-55%. 

Speed or power hiking is not a discipline in its own right, but it is one of the most important elements in trail running, at least when you are running in hilly or mountainous terrain. This means hiking fast, especially on steep sections. This should also be practised in training, as it puts a different strain on the muscles and can be just as fast and more economical than running uphill. If you also rest your arms on your thighs, you can pack even more power into each step. Depending on the length of the run, it makes sense for most runners to switch to power hike mode from about 10% incline. 

Trail Essentials for the Trails – Shoes, Clothing and Equipment

Trail Essentials for the Trails – Shoes, Clothing and Equipment

The most important "tool" on the trails is definitely your trail shoes. Unless you want to float across the ground barefoot or in sandals. Then we tip our hat (or trail cap) to you! For everyone else, it depends on both your personal preferences and the trail conditions which shoes with which cushioning and which profile you should choose. You should feel comfortable in them, have good grip and be able to feel the ground sufficiently. Especially when the going gets steeper and muddier, you will be happy with an aggressive lug profile. For longer distances, shoes with generous cushioning are becoming more and more popular, as they are more forgiving of missteps when fatigue sets in. 

Trail or trekking poles are a good option to generate extra security and support, especially on steep climbs and downhill, while at the same time taking the strain off your legs and making trail running even more of a full-body workout. But be careful: at some events, the use of trekking poles is prohibited or only permitted on specified sections.  

Trail running in the great outdoors always involves a certain amount of risk, but if you are well prepared, you can plunge into the adventure without fear. We recommend that you carry basic emergency equipment or a first aid kit in your running or hydration backpack (which is often already equipped with an emergency whistle). Depending on the weather and the expected duration of your run, it is also advisable to carry headlamps and warm or waterproof clothing. A rain jacket, hat, gloves and a change of shirt can save the day.

Trail Running - Shoes, Apparel & Accessories

Especially if you are in exposed or unfamiliar terrain, it can help those who are unfamiliar with the area and those who often have problems with orientation to download the planned GPS route onto their running watch. This way you can make sure that you can fully concentrate on the trail feeling. Modern sports watches even show you colour maps and the altitude profile of the route. 

If, as is so often the case, the sun hangs ever hotter in the sky and really heats you up, then sunscreen and sunglasses are not only a good idea, but directly necessary to avoid skin damage and falls. Self-tinting Reactiv lenses are particularly suitable for wooded trails. 

Especially for the longer distances, it is more than recommended to bring your own food and drink. If you want to be able to drink according to thirst, then you will be particularly pleased with a full soft flask. Whether it's pure water or carbohydrate and electrolyte powder, the main thing is that you don't run out of energy. The best way to carry your food, such as bars and gels, is in one of the super-flexible and comfortable running backpacks or running belts. Then you will also have enough space for the rest of your equipment and apparel.