Forget waiting for race day to arrive, with the ever-expanding Trailblaze routes cutting through the British countryside, you can run as far and as fast as often as you like. You might even want to try the black run.
words: Dan Tye
It’s after a kilometre when we really start to feel fired up. Check our pace, take a swig of water, glance at the map, take in a kestrel circling over pastureland to our left and pause for thought. Sometimes there’s no escape from the obsession with getting the fastest time when we run. What if we choose the furthest distance as the focus instead? Just how far could we go? That very question comes up even at this early point on The Ridgeway Trailblaze route. Could we make it to the 19km checkpoint if we tried? Is there enough in MR
’s legs to do it? And actually, the answer is, yes, we think there is.
This is the beauty of a new running system set to spread its network of trails across the country in 2011. Trailblaze encourages us to run further and push ourselves. After running one of the National Trails four years ago, Trailblaze organiser James Heraty came up with the idea of placing electronic checkpoints along each trail to create an event that can be entered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“After running the South West Coastal Path, we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great to do a race that you could enter at any time?’ We worked out an agreement with National Trails and we’ve now opened up 10 routes,” says Heraty.
It all begins on the Trailblaze
website where you can pick from one of 10 trails. MR
plumped for the Ridgeway that starts just outside of London near Tring railway station, Hertfordshire. We were surprised by the number of National Trails on offer and the embedded maps on the website lets you see where they are and how to reach them. You then pay to run a single route (£20.00) or choose an annual membership (£70.00) to try all of them. After signing up, you’re sent an ‘ignition pack’ and a ‘timing tag’, you insert the timing tag into the white Trailblaze boxes affixed to signposts or fencing along the trails to record your process, it’s that simple.Making your mark, our man reaches 1km, signs in and then punches the air and makes a sound like a whooping crane. True story.
Each of the Trailblaze routes are colour-coded in the same way as ski runs. So you can enter a moderate run, which is green, or go all the way up to extreme, which is black. Trailblazers are rewarded with a coloured wristband reflecting the route you ran.
It’s in these wristbands that you can see the potential for the creation of a whole new set of bragging rights among runners. An orange wristband on the Ridgeway, for example, means that you’ve covered an arduous 39km. A red wristband means you’ve completed an exhaustive 61km. But it’s the black wristbands that will really mark you out as a hardcore runner/mentalist.
To earn a black wristband on The Ridgeway route, you’ll have to complete the full 121km, all in one go and perhaps with a spot of wild camping along the way. Black routes at other points on the Trailblaze map start at 80km and go skywards from there. To paraphrase Celine Dion’s Think Twice, this is serious.
As well as earning a wristband, Trailblazers are also entered into a prize draw to win running equipment. The more checkpoints they reach, the more times they’re entered into the draw. So, happily, it’s not all about speed.
The joy of this new running series is that you no longer have to wait months to compete because you can take part anytime you like. The trails never close. You can even run at night.
Next, there’s the training aspect. Having electronic checkpoints makes you work harder to reach them. Instead of running to the beep of a stopwatch, you now have a point on the map to aim for. With a choice of distances to run, completing these trails is also a fun way to train for other events too. Then there’s the anticipation of the results. You don’t get to see your times until you mail the tag back and wait for them to appear online a few days later.
Trailblazing is also going to help more of you discover the beauty of our National Trails. We certainly didn’t appreciate them before running the Ridgeway.
Even though MR carried a map, we barely used it because there were so many signposts showing the way, all of them brand new. All you have to do is look for the National Trail acorn logo and you know you’re on track. This signposted network is set to continue growing all over the country.
Trailblaze is also funding the upkeep of the trails for the future and 20 per cent of every entry fee will be paid back into making sure they’re not spoilt.
So get ready to go wild in the country, responsibly.