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10 Best Trail Runs in the UK
Using high-tech straw polls of fellow Merrell ‘outsiders’, we’ve selected the top 10 UK runs and races…
The Run: The Coniston 14
The Route: The hilly route follows the road that circles Coniston water. The race starts with a gentle three-mile climb, followed by a quick descent, before rising again. It’s a pattern repeated frequently as the route follows the picture perfect road that circles Coniston Water.
Challenges: Lots of long climbs followed by sharp declines.
What Makes It Great: Being surrounded by mountains makes you feel like a hard-core mountain runner – but you don’t have to climb them. The Coniston 14 race is held on a Saturday, great for anyone who’s visiting the Lake District and wants to relax for the rest of the weekend – or maybe go for another run on the Sunday!
Distance: 13.875 miles.
Find out more online: Check out the race on the Coniston 14 race site for more information, www.coniston14.co.uk held in October.
The Run: The West Highland Way
County: Dunbartonshire to Inverness-shire
The Route: The 96-mile (154km) route starts at Milngavie is a favourite of Blogger and ultra runner, John Mackintosh (www.pixelscotland.com). The route passes through Mugdock Country Park, follows the shores of Loch Lomond, passing Ben Lomond, through Glen Falloch and Strathfillan, crossing Rannoch Moor, past Buachaille Etive Mor to the head of Glencoe, climbing the Devil’s Staircase, descending to sea level to cross the River Leven at the head of Loch Leven before entering Lairigmor and Glen Nevis and finishing at Gordon Square in Fort William.
Challenges: The weather is very unpredictable, as the West Highland Way Race info says: “Weather. There will be some. When the sun shines, it’ll be hot. When it’s raining, it’ll be cold and wet. If it’s windy, there’ll be less midges.”
What Makes It Great: Stunning scenery including beautiful lochs and at the end of the West Highland Way you can even add in a climb up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles (as long as you haven’t run the entire route).
Distance: The total distance of the Highland Way is 96 miles. Sections of it are used for some epic ultra runs, and you can opt to run sections of it over a period of days. It’s typically broken up into around eight sections from two to 20 miles each.
Find out more online: The West Highland Way plays host to three different ultra marathons:
• The West Highland Way Race (www.westhighlandwayrace.org) 95 miles including 14,760ft of ascent 1am on Saturday 22nd June 2013, to noon on the Sunday 23rd June 2013.
• The Highland Fling (www.zen31010.zen.co.uk/highlandflingrace), 53 miles 27th April 2013.
• The Devil O’ The Highlands (www.devilothehighlandsfootrace.co.uk) 43 miles, 3rd August 2013.
The Run: Ashton Court and Leigh Woods
The Route: Just two miles from the centre of Bristol, Ashton Court Estate, where this run starts is surrounded by Somerset countryside. The run is a favourite of runner, cook and author of Go Faster Food, Kate Percy, who opts for six to eight miles. Leigh Woods has been described as the South West’s most historic and beautiful woodland and is found on the plateau above the famous Avon Gorge, boasting superb views across the city to downland beyond.
Challenges: The trails in this area are favourites for mountain bikers, and like any trail, the uneven terrain makes this a fantastic run and great workout for the core.
What Makes It Great: Spotting wild red deer, and enjoy the tranquility of running through picturesque woodland.
Distance: Any, six to eight miles is best.
Find out more online: Check out this blogger’s account of running the route. http://www.bristolrunningresource.org.uk/running-blog/2010/6/26/running-again-11k-in-leigh-woods-ashton-court.html
The Run: Eastbourne to Beachy Head, taking in the Friston Loop (South Downs National Park)
County: East Sussex
The Route: This is a favourite run of The Running Bug, editor, Fiona Bugler, and her training partner, ex-international athlete Julia Armstrong. Starting at the foot of the South Downs (also the start of the Beachy Head Marathon) head out the reverse way to the Beachy Head Marathon, taking in the stunning Seven Sisters. At Birling Gap turn right through the fields to Friston Church, cross the road and take in a loop of Friston Forest, then head back via the ‘gallops’ (training ground for race horses) towards Willingdon Hill, across the Golf Course and back into Eastbourne.
Challenges: Thigh-screaming climbs across the cliffs and covers every sort of terrain you could wish for (grass, woodland trails and chalky paths) for a total body workout.
What Makes It Great: Stunning views of the sea and white cliffs, fantastic trails in the forest (also used by mountain bikers) followed by rolling hills across the fields back to Eastbourne.
Distance: 15 to 20 miles, depending on how big a loop you choose to run through the forest.
Find out more online: Check The Beachy Head Marathon website, which is held in the last week of October, (http://www.visiteastbourne.com/events/BeachyHeadMarathon.aspx) and choose a section of the course to run and www.southdowns.gov.uk/
for more about the national park.
The Run: Liverpool Prom To Crosby Beach
Run along the Mersey in Liverpool. This route takes in the Otterspool Prom, frequented by kite flyers on a windy day, through Liverpool, past the Liver Buildings, with the famous Liver Birds at the top, and other historic Liverpool landmarks. The run continues through the industrial docks (interesting rather than scenic here) and finishes on Crosby Beach where you can take in the famous Anthony Gormley statues, part of the permanent Another Place exhibition.
Challenges: Twists and turns in the industrial docks, and keeping your eye on the road, rather than sight-seeing – and a good marathon long run challenge. Can be exposed to headwinds, too.
What Makes It Great: You get to check out a fantastic city’s key landmarks and sights, and finishing at Crosby Beach is a real treat.
Distance: The whole run is 18 miles – and you can get the train back into Liverpool from Crosby.
Find out more online: http://www.visitliverpool.com/ and http://www.visitsouthport.com
The Run: The North Devon Marathon
With Woolacombe Bay as a central point, this coastal route is tough and taking place in the North Devon area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, its scenery is stunning. Runner’s World reviewers rated this race at an amazing 93 per cent, with an incredible 100 per cent saying that they would do it again. At the start of the course the coastal path is on headland with a sheer drop on one side. And, blogger, Barry Griffin writes: “I get a bit excited as we run across the beach and have to run through a stream leading across the beach to the sea.” The route follows a figure of eight around stunning coastal scenery, and is described my many as the toughest marathon they’ve ever done!
Challenges: The route includes steep coastal paths and steps, and a 649ft elevation at 20 miles.
What Makes It Great: A tough race, that brings with it a real sense of achievement – and stunning scenery all the way.
Distance: 26.2 miles.
Find out more online: http://www.northdevonmarathon.co.uk/Raceinfo.aspx
The Run: Richmond Park
County: Surrey, Greater London
The Route: There are a whole host of routes through this fantastic park. The most popular is the man-made perimeter, Tamsin Trail, which is 7.35 mile (11km) long. It’s a hard-packed sandy and stoney man-made trail that takes in some reasonable climbs en route.
Challenges: There are a few climbs and twisty trails and it’s great for Londoners wanting a taste of the trail. Just be prepared to share the path with walkers and cyclists, and if you go off course, you may meet some deer settled in the fern.
What Makes It Great: Richmond is essentially London, and so there are lots of sporty people using the park giving it the feel of a huge outdoor gym for endurance athletes. Add to that the wild deer and leafy parkland and it really is the perfect oasis for city-based athletes.
Distance: The Tamsin Trail is 7.35 miles and forms part of the multi-lap Richmond Park Marathon.
Find out more online: Check out http://www.richmondparklondon.co.uk/running/ and http://richmondparkmarathon.co.uk/ which is held in May.
The Run: Sand Point Run
County: North Somerset
The Route: This route covers wood, beach and the Sand Point National Trust headland. The stunning stretch of coastline around Sand Point and Middle Hope sits north of Weston-Super-Mare.
Challenges: Some steep sections through the woods and on the headland.
What Makes It Great: Good view of Wales and the Bristol Channel and you can spot plenty of birds on the headland, and not only seabirds. You'll also find swallows, greenfinches and skylarks.
Distance: 8.54 miles
Find Out More Online: Check out The Good Run Guide (http://www.goodrunguide.co.uk/) for details of this run and check out http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ for more information about Sand Point.
The Run: The Terminator
The Route: A hellish mid-winter, multi-terrain race, organised by Pewsey Vale Running Club. The course is mainly off-road to the east and south of Pewsey Vale village, and takes in the Kennet and Avon canal, and the hills to the south of Milton Lilbourne and Pewsey.
Challenges: Hills, puddles and unpredictable weather. Includes the infamous ‘Gully’, a narrow tree-lined path lasting 500 yards or so which is stony in places and can often have a stream of water running down it. And it finishes with a monster climb to the Pewsey White Horse.
Distance: Originally about 10 miles, the course was revised and is now nearer 11 miles; and the original two energy-sapping climbs having been increased to four.
What Makes It Great: The website says it’s the post-race cakes. A fantastic run for weekend warriors who don’t mind getting wet, muddy and taking in some serious climbs!
Find Out More Online: The race is held at the end of February, find out more at http://www.pewseyvalerunningclub.org/.
The Run: London by The Thames
The Route: Run from the Embankment to Tower Bridge, cross over the bridge and head back on the other side of the river.
What Makes It Great: A flat and easy to follow route that takes in some of London’s finest sights, including: Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, The Tate Modern and The Globe Theatre.
Distance: 5.1 miles.
Find Out More Onine: Check out the Good Run Guide (http://www.goodrunguide.co.uk/) for a map of this route.