The Box Hill trail running workshop for London City Runners was kindly sponsored by Salomon.
One of the things I find I miss about California while living in London is the easy access to nature. Pretty much every weekend, you could find me running trails or along the beach, and it was considered a social activity to go hiking with friends. Partly due to London weather and partly due to not having a car, sometimes I feel myself getting a bit nostalgic for all my time spent outdoors in nature while growing up. So when the opportunity came for City Runners to attend a trail running workshop led by Salomon-sponsored ultra runner Matt Buck, I jumped at the chance.
We headed out to Box Hill last Sunday in two groups, one for the early-bird workshop and the other for a more civilized afternoon session. Salomon hired a mini-bus to take us out to the meeting point, which was great as it was much quicker than the train (thank you, Sunday engineering works!) – only about 50 minutes’ drive from London Victoria.
Important pre-run selfie to celebrate the occasion
Once there, we were greeted by Matt, who had some Salomon kit ready for us to try out. Everyone got a pair of trail shoes to test out for the run, and there were also some of their trail running packs for a few of us to try. I jumped on the packs, as I’d been eyeing the exact model he had – the Adv Skin 5 Set (spoiler alert: I definitely wanted to buy it at the end). I have a lot of trouble finding packs small enough to fit me, but their size XXS fit like a glove; I would definitely recommend it to small women (and anyone else!) looking for a good hydration pack/vest.
Every one also got a Salomon soft hydration flask to keep. They’re great because as they empty, the flask sticks to itself – violà, no sloshing as you run! You also only need to bite the mouthpiece for water to flow, making it practically effortless to bend your neck and get a sip from the flask in your vest pocket.
With everyone properly kitted out, it was time to hit the trails. After crossing the river (on stepping stones, not by swimming!) we were greeted almost immediately with an incredibly steep uphill. Matt told us to take our time getting to the top, which was good as I felt like I was out of breath almost right away as we fought our way up. Running around the Thames or in Bermondsey Spa Gardens every week certainly has not prepared us for vertical ascents! (Note to self: run more hills).
The view at the top was worth the pain, though. We were typical Londoners, ooo-ing and ah-ing at all the greenery as far as the eye could see (obviously, we don’t get out of the city much), but soon had to focus again as it was time for our first coaching session – how to run the flat. Matt told us it was important to run tall, but to look a few feet ahead (if you’re looking at your own feet, you won’t see that rock up ahead and will be flat on your face in seconds), and to take smaller steps so you can more easily avoid or cope with obstacles.
We ran past him a few times so that he could critique our form and when he was satisfied, it was time to head to the woods for some proper trails! We stopped once more in the middle of the woods for some advice on how to deal with potential hazards, like bigger rocks or roots (lift your knee higher as you stride to carry your foot above the obstacle) and were told that he could veer off the trails into the woods without any warning, and that we’d have to follow him to test our trail running ability (which he promptly proceeded to do right after mentioning this – cue laughter as we all tried to avoid getting smacked in the face by tree branches).
Our next bit of training was how to run a downhill, which we only got after Matt led us down a super steep downhill to see where people’s running technique needed work. I was personally loving it – when I ran cross country in school, my team’s motto was ‘Hill Yeah!’ (although I’m more partial to the downhill, if I’m honest – I love that feeling of being almost – but not quite – out of control) but others were a bit fearful of letting themselves go. Matt told us it was important to run with a slight forward lean (not leaning backwards as people do when they get nervous going downhill – makes it much easier to fall over!) and to have your arms out for balance, not clenched at your side. After only three goes on a really steep section, pretty much everyone was more confident and zooming down in proper trail running style.
Practicing the uphill – it was steeper than it looks!
The last and toughest lesson of the day was the uphill. First we learned all the ways to NOT run uphill (all kindly demonstrated by Duane, who was made to run up and down multiple times for our amusement) before we were told that firstly, you need to run on your forefoot to help propel yourself forward, and secondly, you need to slow down! A lot of people try to maintain the same pace on the uphill as they do on the flat, but you’ll just burn yourself out that way. It’s better to go slower and then make up some speed on the downhill or flats.
It was quite a distance to crest the top of the hill and Matt benevolently gave us a break at the top for trail running Q&A, although this largely ended up being questions about his own ultra marathon-ing experience! I think we were all in awe of the distances and challenges that he’s conquered, such multiday races through the jungles of Sri Lanka or across all the peaks of Wales – it’s hard to imagine doing a race like that!
Sadly, it was soon time to head back to the bus and finish our trail running experience. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we had an amazing time running through the stunning countryside and learning good techniques from a pro. There’s just something about being out in nature, under a blue sky and lovely green trees, that makes everyone 10x happier. I didn’t realize how much I missed the trails until this workshop, so I’ll make sure it won’t be long until I visit them again!
Happy faces from the morning session
About the Author
Natascha abandoned sunny California for London in October 2016 and has been a proud member of City Runners ever since. She loves a good 10K, but enjoys signing up for marathons so she can eat whatever she wants. Therefore, she is very much looking forward to running the Berlin Marathon this year (and hopefully snagging a new PB along the way!).