Undoubtedly, patrons of our brand are fit individuals who love nature and the outdoors and are energetic adventure-enthusiasts. It wouldn’t be surprising if they already are trail-running regulars but just in case you are new to the concept, let us introduce an off-beat sports activity that combines running and the outdoors.
Simply put, trail-running is off-road running. Unlike fell running, trail running doesn’t necessarily have to be on mountainous terrain and it may or may not have steep gradients, for the trails can very well be leading through a flat bamboo forest too.
The question arises - why not simply run on the road? Like the good old days of plain full, half & ultra-marathons. The answer lies in our desire to get away from concrete jungles, getting closer to mother-nature while also reducing the impact stress on our knees.
All over the world runners have started switching to trail running, and this move has resulted in a large increase in events & participants when it comes to cross-country races and triathlons. When glanced at on a global scale, the number of organized trail race-events has grown exponentially in the last decade, from 160 in 2008 to more than 1800 in 2018.
Trail Running in India
About 10 years ago we witnessed marathon running become a popular sports activity in India. Even those who didn’t care for an active lifestyle otherwise became enthusiastic about marathons and could be seen gearing up for an event months before. For the average runner, the ultimate goal shifted from merely finishing the race to improving over previous year’s timing.
As humans, we are an ambitious breed, always eyeing “what’s next?”
What probably started as a 10k run, gradually became a half and then eventually a full marathon. As endurance built further, ultra runs (42 KMs plus) seemed to be the next logical step. Fast forward to 2019 and ultra-runs are attracting a large number of runners, enough to fool you into believing that these gruelling contests aren’t really that insanely difficult!
In spite of all the leaps that running was taking in the country, the scene for trail running in India was trailing behind, with most trail races being held on tarmac & jeep tracks, far behind the standards being set around the world.
Kieren D’Souza (one of India's best long-distance trail runners – more on him later) recalls that back in 2014, when he wanted to participate in qualifying races required to participate in Tour du Mont Blanc, there was not even a single trail-running event in India.
Luckily though, things have started picking up. With the introduction of several trail-running races, fairly spread across the country, runners are getting an opportunity to experience what trail-running tastes like.
Events like The Hell Race – a series of trail-races held at far off venues offering diverse trails & terrains (from the high altitudes of the Himalayas to the desolate conditions of the Thar desert) – are aimed at bringing attention to the sport while also providing a platform for Indian trail-runners to showcase their endurance. For those who are training to participate in international trail races, it’s a convenient way to practice.
A segment of Hell Races, the Solang Skyultra was one of the first runs that gave runners the opportunity to take on trails that had challengingly steep gradients and daunting elevation gains. In the inaugural edition in 2016, only 16 runners participated. In just a couple of years, that figure rose to over 200. Not bad, right?
Other current happenings like the Kaveri Trail Marathon, Srirangapatna (Karnataka), WindChasers 70Mile Himalayan Race, Sandakphu (West Bengal), Chandratal Ultra Run, Lahaul & Spiti (Himachal Pradesh) & Yunam Peak Ultra-Half, Lahaul & Spiti (Himachal Pradesh) are well underway in their spirit of promoting trail-running in India. The efforts seldom are in vain as heavy turnout of well-prepared participants clearly points towards a promising future for the sport!
To get a deeper understanding of the trail-running scenario in India and to give you the opportunity to partake in said promising future, we sat down with Kieren D’Souza; who participated in (and won!) this year’s Skyultra edition at Solang.
Coming straight from the horse’s mouth, “Solang Ultra, an event being hosted right on the trails I run on a regular basis, I do have a sweet spot for the event. I raced the 30k on the 5th of October. I had a good day on the trails, with sights of Hanuman tibba and Friendship peak, the views never get old. I was excited to come away with a win and a new course record on the day”
To give you some more context, Kieren won the 111km LaUltra in Ladakh (one of the toughest high-altitude foot races in the world), one amongst many of his extraordinary accomplishments.
Though his love for running began as late as his college days, in September 2016, he became the first Indian to qualify for and complete the Spartathlon, a 246km race in Greece which took him 33 hours from start to finish.
Here’s Kieren on the trails of the Hampta Pass Trek, giving you some insight about why more and more adventure-enthusiasts are falling in love with this extreme sport!
FYI, to traverse this very route, one usually needs to do a four-day trek. All he took was 4 hours, unbelievable innit?
When he is not busy training or participating in trail races around the world, Kieren hosts a trail-running workshop, ‘Trailmunity’ in Manali (roughly twice or thrice a year) where he introduces running enthusiasts to the concept of trail-running and helps them understand various aspects of the sport like techniques, running gear, navigation etc. and prepares them on how to face the challenges involved. When asked, he was happy to share some suggestions for those who would love exploring this thrilling activity.
It’s imperative to distinguish trail-running from regular running. As the game changes, so do some of the rules and consequentially, the gear required. To make the most out of your experience, it’s essential to invest in running vest, dedicated trail-running waterproof shoes, appropriate clothing with separate waterproof layering etc. Adequate quantities of hydration & nutrition should also be a part of your running vest.
For any trail race, it’s highly advisable to research the terrain & route in advance. Having prior knowledge of the type of trail, terrain, elevation profile, weather conditions etc will make all the difference in your performance. Only if an extreme quality, in any of the factors mentioned above is identified in a timely manner, can one prepare and adjust their game plan, accordingly.
As per your research, it’s best to plan your training and your race day execution. Based on what you learn about the trail, you can try to replicate similar conditions by finding comparable substitutes in your vicinity and then training on those trails based on your race day strategy. The feeling of having run on a similar trail before boosts your confidence and ensures that your preparation matches your execution.
And that there was Trail Running 101, an elementary guide to pique your interest and start you off on the path to greatness.
Now that the surface of this ‘newfound’ exhilarating sport has been scratched, the question begets, is it meant for you?
If the answer is yes, then go forth, get out, run wild and free!