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In part two of a three-part series, running coach and avid trail runner Michelle Mortimer offers some great tips on how to vary your trail running by using what nature has to offer.

Flat trails

If you’re new to trail running, these are the best place to start. There are miles and miles of towpaths, river paths and old railway lines converted into cycle paths that allow you to escape the monotony of the road and feel like you’re in the countryside, even in an urban area. If you’re used to road running, you’ll feel comfortable here, and can easily do interval training on a wide, flat trail. The beauty is that there are fewer roads to cross to break your stride for.


Accelerations into a powerful stride for 10 seconds, focusing on being upright, pumping your arms and lifting your knees up, then decelerate. Repeat x 10

A fartlek session – accelerate from one bench to the next, or choose a tree in the distance to run towards at your fastest effort. Hop over that log, or sprint to the bridge. Have some fun.

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Grass is a great surface to run on because it’s more forgiving than concrete on your joints. Grass is a fantastic surface to try some barefoot running, which gives you a more natural running form than when you’re in cushioned shoes which can force our feet into a certain position. Grass is also great for practicing running drills on, barefoot, to get the most out of them.

Uneven trails

Trails are fantastic for strengthening you up because their uneven nature forces all your proprioceptors – those sensory receptors which provide information about balance, force and tension – to wake up from their concrete slumber and get working for you.

Your brain is incredibly capable at figuring out where your feet need to land, so rather than looking at the ground where your feet are, and risk running face-first into a low hanging tree branch (been there, done that), run tall, scan the area ten metres in front of you, and trust in your feet.

Keep your cadence – how quickly your feet are moving – fast and light, and soon you’ll be skipping over tree roots and rocks. Many people are fearful of twisting an ankle on terrain such as this, but as long as you’re keeping your feet light, and you keep moving, you shouldn’t experience any issues.

This kind of running is a workout in itself, so don’t worry about your pace here – adjust your pace according to the natural terrain. Hills, mud, sand, rocks will all provide extra resistance so will feel tougher, so adjust your pace as necessary and enjoy yourself – this is fantastic race training if you speed up wherever the trail allows, and allow natural obstacles to provide resistance. Alternatively, try choosing a shorter more technical section and practice a few repetitions of running over tree roots and rocks – it’s a great mental workout as well as an exercise in agility.

In my third and final blog, I’ll tell you the best way to make the most of the hills on your favourite trail run.


 About Michelle Mortimer

Michelle is a fully licensed running coach in Running Fitness through UK Athletics with experience working from beginner level through to ultramarathon distance. 

Based in the West Pennines in North East England, you can follow Michelle on Instagram at: mileswithmichelle

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