UK ALTERNATIVES TO WORLDWIDE RUNNING ROUTES
Looking for adventures on home turf? The UK is a lot more diverse than it gets credit for; coastlines, forest, rolling hills, mountains, steep ascents and long, sweeping off-road trails – long story short, it’s a runner’s paradise, and more than stands up to its global competitors. We asked Run The Wild’s Simon James to choose his favourite UK alternatives to international running routes, and he didn’t disappoint. Time to write that bucket list.
The Alps - head to Snowdonia
Steep ascents, breathtaking balcony trails, knife-edge ridges and up-close glaciers: the Alps are a trail runner’s playground, whether it’s local races or the Mont Blanc Marathon, and let’s not forget all the checkpoints featuring local cheese. Think you can’t find all this in the UK? Think again.
Snowdon may pale in comparison to Mont Blanc’s height, but there are no shortage of ridges up to the summit and sweeping trails back down, as well as the alpine flowers and views for miles on a clear day if you’re slowing the pace down a little. And if it’s extreme racing you’re after, look no further than the Welsh 3000s, a challenge to complete all of the 15 mountains in Wales over 3000ft in some 30 miles and around 4000m cumulative ascent.
Marathon des Sables, Morocco – head to Gower, Wales
The Marathon of the Sands – or as many know it, the toughest footrace on Earth. Running over 250km in seven days in the unforgiving Sahara desert, this race presents the ultimate challenge for many. Where, then, can you find such a thing in the UK?
Wales, that’s where. No, really. With five-mile-long beaches and dunes to sap as much energy as the Marathon des Sables, the Gower Peninsula offers plenty of opportunity for all the sand running you can handle with your kit on your back. As the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and with low light pollution revealing a stunning night sky, the views along the way aren't bad either.
Great Wall of China – head to Hadrian’s Wall, England
The annual Great Wall Marathon follows a section of China’s iconic landmark to East Beijing and features PB-killing climbs and steep descents along the way.
Built to keep invaders out, Hadrian’s Wall spanning Northumberland and Cumbria is a decent substitute. Covering 73 miles, you can comfortably run it in 3 days. Starting in Newcastle, you’ll pass dramatic scenery and Roman ruins as you make your way to the finish just beyond Carlisle.
The King’s Trail, Sweden – head to West Highland Way, Scotland
The King’s Trail or Kungsleden is a stunning 440km trail taking you from the south to the far north of Sweden, passing Sweden’s highest mountain Kebnekaise.
Closer to home, there's Scotland. With towering mountains reaching up from broad valleys, rugged landscapes and lakes, it’s not far removed from Sweden at all.
The West Highland Way, Scotland’s first long-distance route, opened in 1980. It offers spectacular scenery and a true trail challenge: the 154km route stretches from just north of Glasgow to Fort William in the Highlands, with a total ascent of 4,300m. Looking for a challenge? The current record stands at just over 13.5 hours.
New York Marathon, USA – head to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England
Say “New York Marathon” to any runner, and they’ll all say the same thing: it’s the bridges that make it so tough. So why go all the way to the USA when we’ve got a bridge-packed city - Newcastle-upon-Tyne? Featuring seven bridges and as many eye-catching sights as New York, the finishing stretch into Exhibition Park is sure to impress.
The Big Sur, California – head to the Jurassic Coast, England
One of the greatest coastal routes on Earth, the Big Sur stretches north from Los Angeles up to San Francisco and enchants runners with its high cliff tops, sandy beaches and epic vistas that wait just over every hill.
But we've got our own dramatic coastal path – the Jurassic Coast. Stretching from Exmouth to Studland Bay, the 115km route takes in famous sights like Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove and Chesil Beach, a 29km bank of shingle which protects The Fleet Lagoon. The path drops down to the beaches before climbing back up to the cliff tops, making for a challenging but rewarding trail adventure.
Routeburn Track, New Zealand – head to the Lake District, England
Featuring forests, mountains, lakes and waterfalls over its 39km, the Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s nine great trails and famous the world over – but there’s somewhere much closer to home with all that and even more. No trail running manual would be complete without the Lake District, which packs a serious punch when it comes to the wilderness in such a relatively small area, and can really test your boundaries with its ever-changing weather. Go prepared, that’s all we’ll say.
Marathon du Médoc, France – head to the South Downs, England
Marathon du Médoc is often called the longest marathon in the world, thanks to its 23 wine tasting stops along the way. If running and sampling wine sounds like a winning combination to you, all you need to do is head to the South Downs.
Start at the Three Choirs in Wickham, one of the oldest vineyards in England, on the southwest tip of the South Downs National Park. From here, you take in the Hambledon Vineyard, Jenkyn Place and Nutbourne Vineyard before finishing at one of the largest wine producers in England, Denbies Wine Estate. Sounds pretty dreamy to us.
The Otter Trail, South Africa – head to Cornwall, England
This trail along the Garden Route coast of South Africa, in the Tsitsikamma National Park, is celebrated worldwide for its incredible rugged cliff tops, steep climbs and beaches. But at first glance, the mind could be deceived into thinking it was Cornwall; it’s not just all about pasties and Saint Piran. The route from Lizard Point to Lands’ End offers enviable views of rugged cliffs and unpredictable (and occasionally rough) weather to keep you on your toes, on top of enough ascents from the beach to cliff to rival the toughest mountain routes.
Maisels Fun Run, Germany – head to the Chiltern Hills, England
Each year in the town of Beyruth in Bavaria, a fun run is organised by Brauerei Maisel on the final day of its Weissbierfest, a four-day beer festival - and is a sell-out every year. For the same experience but substituting Bavarian beer for the British craft stuff, Run the Wild offers a Brewery Trail in November of each year - a 10km guided run in the beautiful Chiltern Hills followed by a brewery tour with tasting at their local Tring Brewery. The Chilterns mark the maximal point of the ice cap in the last ice age and offer varied terrain across their chalk escarpment, ancient woodland and canal paths, all topped off with chilled one.
Like hiking, trail running can expose you to a wide range of conditions. You’re often out for long periods of time and cover an eclectic variety of rugged terrain, so it’s crucial to be fully equipped. To help you get the most out of your off-road training, here are our top 10 trail running essentials:
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