Trail Running: How to run a 10km trail route

Trail running in Scotland

Trail running in Scotland

I’m no expert on this, but 10k routes are what I aim for on a daily training run – it’s not always possible, but it’s the distance I like to do to maintain my fitness, anything less just doesn’t feel enough.  However, when I talk to people about running, lots of them are really keen to run their first 10km route, but just aren’t sure how to up the distance, or find the time, can’t fit in regular training to allow for the progression, or whatever – I’m sure there are a million, very valid reasons.

Steep, rocky descent off Auchterhouse Hill towards Scotston Hill

Steep, rocky descent off Auchterhouse Hill towards Scotston Hill

It got me thinking about how I managed to get up to 10km, and I don’t think I really had a plan – that’s really my approach, I prefer to just go with the flow and see what happens.  But there was definitely a lot of perseverance and patience involved, and essentially coming out of a long-term illness forced me to take things slowly – which I suppose is the key to increasing any running distance.

As I said, I’m no expert, but, assuming you’re already running 5km, here’s a few things I came up with that might help you get to your 10km target:

  • Increase gradually – the guidance seems to be a maximum 10% increase for each run, if you’re running 5km four times per week, it would be reasonable to increase your distance by 1km per week.  For example, Day One – run 5km, Day Two and Three – run 5.5km, Day Four – run 6km, and so on…
  • Plan your runs – your shortest run of the week should be on your busiest day (probably Monday for most people), and the longest on your day off (the weekend for most people).
  • Pick a route – find a route you really want to run, for me it was a local hill.  I mapped it out and knew it was 5km to get out there and the same back (obviously!), and I worked my way up to it.  So, for ages I was running half way and back, then a little further, and a little further, until I got there.  Some days I was ready to hang up my runners – it did get a bit boring, but when I finally made it to the top of that hill – I felt amazing!
  • Out and back – running a loop-type route is great, but if you go for an out and back-type route for your first 10km it can make it a lot easier to map, work out the distance, and ultimately complete.  It’s also easier to see your progress – especially when it starts to feel like you’re not making any.

    Peering over the edge of Lundie Crags and looking down the small valley towards Ledcrieff Loch

    Peering over the edge of Lundie Crags and looking down the small valley towards Ledcrieff Loch

  • Go low – as tempting as it is to aim for a hill route, even if that’s what you’re running and what you love, hill route are hard and they hurt, and the more ascent you try to notch up the harder and more painful it can be.  For your first 10km, it might be worth considering a trail route that is relatively flat and not too technically challenging – so consider this when picking your first route.
  • Forget the time – as a trail and long-distance runner, I can tell you, concern for time is pointless.  There are things to take into consideration – like daylight hours, other commitments, and how long your body will keep going for before it’s had enough.  But worrying about getting a good time is pointless – speed will come, just worry about covering the miles.  And, most importantly, if you’re trail running – you really should be stopping to take millions of photos!
  • Refuel – there’s lots of advice and science on what, where, when and how you should be refuelling.  I prefer to go with my own preference, which has come from a trail and error process.  These days, I’m always nibbling on something and rehydrating – usually just water or herbal tea.  I generally don’t need to eat anything when I run a 10km but I like to bring a bottle of honey green tea with me, and have a sip when I’m thirsty.  I do aways carry a bite to eat – a Nakd bar, or some of my homemade natural energy gel.  Everyone is different, so it’s up to you how you approach this, but make sure you never allow yourself to dehydrate or go so hungry you start to feel weird – NEVER!
  • Kit list – a 10km should really only take about an hour to complete, but you might need to carry more than you do for your 5km runs – not least because you’ll be going a little further from home.  Things to consider are: jacket/cover up, hydration, fuel, map and compass, hat, gloves, neck gaiter, lipbalm/sunscreen, sunglasses.  Invest in a nice waist pack – that’s fits and feels comfortable when moving around – to carry all your extra bits.  Don’t forget your phone, perhaps a rescue shelter and camera.

    Summit selfie - Carn a'Gheoidh

    Summit selfie – Carn a’Gheoidh

  • Rest – I don’t just mean on scheduled rest days!  If, during your 10km trail run, you feel like you need a rest – take one.  Stop to have a look at the amazing scenery or flora and fauna, take photos, walk a little bit if you need…whatever – a couple of things I learned early on to help my body recover enough to keep going when running up hill – if your calves start to burn, stop for a minute or two and face downhill to allow your calves to do something different and have a rest – place your hands on your hips, open your chest by pushing your shoulders back gently and take long, deep breaths to help regulate your breathing.

Once you’ve got your first 10km run under your belt – well, the running world is your oyster!  But at this point it is also worth considering joining your local running club – even if they aren’t a dedicated trail running clubs, most running clubs do a trail night.  Club runs are usually 10km in distance – so nit much use until you have worked up to this distance, but are a great way of improving your time once you have, and also for finding new routes.

Looking down into the Saas Valley from the Mattmark Dam

Looking down into the Saas Valley from the Mattmark Dam

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