One of the things that drew me to trail, fell and mountain running was the ability to go to new places and cover new ground over a bigger area than you would achieve when walking. Devising new running routes has been part of the fun for me, since I started exploring mountains, hills and trails under foot.
For the purpose of this post, I wanted to take you through how I approached devising a new off-road running route, that can become part of my training plan for the year, but also perhaps taking me to some new terrain for the first time.
Whenever I plan a new route, I first think about objectives. What type of ground do I want to cover? How far do I want to go? Do I want to do a hilly route? Will I need to travel to get to the start and/or finish? Will any other planning be needed to complete the route (specialist equipment etc.)?
For the route I devised for this post I wanted to make it local, one that I could access from my door at home. I was thinking about 20 kms in length, I always try and do one run a week in my training plan that's 20 km+, it helps me build stamina and mental endurance. I live in the Peak District, so it was inevitably going to have some hills in it, but I actually wanted to make it relatively hilly, as most of the racing I do is on hilly courses - so the hillier, the better. I also wanted to be able to run this route without much more equipment that I might carry on any regular shorter run.
I decided to see if I could create a Grindleford Skyline, a route that would circumnavigate my home village, tying together a few routes that I already knew but adding in paths that I might not otherwise visit.
I immediately started planning the route, to see what data and information I already had to hand.
I regularly use Strava to record all of my running. It allows me to measure my performance over time, record distances to ensure I'm hitting training targets and also socialise with other runners that I know from running clubs and races about our shared passion for running.
Looking back at Strava, I could search for routes that I'd done in the area in the past and guesstimate distances that would be covered over certain sections.
Then, unlike running on roads, I had to work out footpaths and permissive routes that would allow me to join up a series of past runs. We're very fortunate in the UK to have the Ordnance Survey and Harvey Maps, that provide in my opinion, unrivaled access to excellent quality mapping of the area at a 1:25,000 scale. Whilst I might do big route planning with friends via a hard copy map, most of my planning these days is done using digital mobile apps such as ViewRanger, OutdoorGB or the OS Maps app. These allow me to piece together routes and, if I wish, create a GPX of a planned route that I could follow whilst out on my run using their route planning features.
This planning allows me to leave with a clear plan on where I'm going in my head (I didn’t use the GPX route planning for this run).
Whenever I do a new route or I'm planning to do a particularly large race or event, I always try to get out and do a recce (or two) so I know as much about the route as possible. In this case, it was less about learning the route as it was about adapting exiting options to make the route as interesting as possible.
I decided to run the route in two parts in the first instance; running a Grindleford Skyline East route:
And then followed it with a Grindleford Skyline West route after, a few weeks later:
These recces allowed me to establish the best way to join the routes together, but also gave me a better idea of the route so that when I went to run it in its entirety, I'd not be wasting much time route finding and instead could just focus on the run.
So, I'd done my recces and knew which way I was going to run the route for its inaugural run. I'd been speaking to friends about the route and a few had shown interest in joining me that lived locally. One of the great pleasures of running, is running with friends. Running often gives me the opportunity to catch up with friends, but off-road running also gives the opportunity for shared adventures. We weren't going too far afield for this one, but it was still nice to be able to run it with a friend.
I took a look at the weather report for the week ahead and found a day with nice weather and planned to go for that. Weather can play a massive factor in off-road running, particularly when running longer distances. At around 22-23 kms I was expecting this run to take about 2 hrs - 2 hrs 15 mins to complete given the terrain and planned pace.
I decided I’d run the route in my regular off-road shoes, a pair of Decathlon's Kalenji Kiprun MT's or the Kalenji Kiprun XT7 would be suitable for this type of run, giving good grip underfoot and some lower foot protection.
As we were going to be out for 2 hours or more, I decided to also take some fuel with us, we took some of the Aptonia Long Distance Gels (contains more protein, as well as carbohydrates, vs. the Short Distance Gels). For a run of this distance I'd also carry some water to avoid dehydration, it's Winter in the UK at the moment, so I'd only carry 500 mls in a soft flask. In Summer I'd carry more.
The weather was as predicted, a lovely early Winter day. We took it easy round the route and had a moving time of 2 hrs 10 mins and it added up to 21.8 kms with 686 m of ascent, pretty much bang on what I was hoping for in terms of training credentials.
You can see the full route here:
Give it a go yourself and let me know what you think. If you want any help on planning your own route, get in touch. Enjoy!