At the end of June I went along to the Salomon Trail Running Festival at the iconic Box Hill. It’s a prominent landmark on the North Downs Way both loved and loathed by local runners and Londoners wanting to escape the city, so it was an ideal location for this celebration of trail running.
There were a range of activities on offer including a full day guided ultra run, technique workshops, yoga sessions, talks with Salomon athletes and a timed 10 or 20km run. I opted to start with a yoga session, then uphill and downhill running techniques and then finish off with the 20km run, but as I collected my race pack in the midday sun I was already wondering if this schedule was a tad ambitious.
I went to the demo tent where you could choose a pair of shoes to trial for the day, and opted for the new Salomon S-Lab Ultra, which is the 2018 upgrade of the Sense Ultra. It’s designed for long distance comfort while retaining precision and grip, and while unlikely to be suitable for super muddy OCR races I think it would be a good choice for events like Man vs Mountain or the Ultra Tour of Arran.
The yoga sessions were taking place every hour throughout the festival and they were all very well attended. I’d imagined it’d be a relaxing start to the day but as I bent and stretched and twisted and contorted I was reminded of how much more strenuous yoga is than it appears. It’s one of those activities that I have every intention of doing regularly but never quite get around to, so taking part in a group session was a good way to bump it back up my priority list.
Yoga finished, it was time for the technique workshop on the formidable slopes of Box Hill. Like most runners I didn’t seek any coaching when I first took to the trails 4 years ago, and all these miles later I’ve had very little professional input. Uphill running has always just been how far can I get before I walk, and compensating for various injuries has given me a downhill gait like a 3 legged camel, so I was keen to get some much needed guidance. We began by running up a short steep section working on maintaining high cadence while staying relaxed, and keeping our shoulders up so our hips were nearer to the hill. Next we practised 2 different techniques to use on a steeper gradient when walking might be more efficient than running; firstly with swinging arms and secondly with our hands supported on our thighs. I’m doing a long, hilly race in a few weeks’ time when I’ll spend a lot of time hiking uphill so it was really useful to practise this with immediate feedback from a coach.
The second part of the session was the area I most needed help with, to the extent that I’m probably slower going downhill than up. We climbed to an even steeper section of path just below the viewpoint and after a demonstration we entertained the picnicking families by trying to implement the various coaching points. It was a gradient I’d very definitely walk down under normal circumstances so I was really pleased to make it down unscathed, and actually it was rather fun. A small point that made a big difference was making a concerted effort to lift your heels behind you with each stride. This makes you less likely to trip on a rock or tree root as you bring your leg forwards and also promotes a mid-foot landing where more of your shoe tread contacts the ground than with a heel strike. On the subject of shoes, I was still wearing the S-Lab Ultras which were fast climbing my payday shopping list. They were comfortably cushioned but light and responsive with a reassuring grip on the chalk. I wasn’t quite brave enough to wear an unfamiliar pair of shoes over a longer distance, so once back at the event village I swapped them for my usual pair ready for the timed run.
I just had time for a quick rest while listening to an Ordnance Survey talk before heading over to the briefing and start area. By now it was 4.30pm and I was feeling pretty tired after a hot afternoon of yoga and hill reps, and definitely questioning my rationale in signing up for the longer distance. I run around Box Hill fairly regularly and I’m familiar with the routes most race directors use so it was a nice surprise to look at the map and see the first half was all on trails entirely new to me. Chatting to others as we set off I learnt that many people had travelled down to the festival from London with their running clubs for their first experience of trail running. They seemed to be enjoying themselves and a group of track runners said train trips out of the capital for some time on the trails was going to become one of their weekend activities.
The run route was every bit of brutal as expected with the heat making it even more difficult. I tried to implement the coaching tips from earlier in the day and was pleased to find myself overtaking a number of people on the final descent. A band had started playing in the event village and there was a good atmosphere; with people sitting on beanbags and deck chairs, not in a hurry to go home.
Overall I really enjoyed the festival; in particular the opportunity to get some technique tips from a pro and then implement them later. It was difficult to motivate myself for the timed run so late in the day but I can understand why it had been scheduled after all the workshops. Being able to trial different shoes was great and it was a particular benefit for those entirely new to trial running who had arrived in road shoes. I had hoped the full range of Salomon merchandise such as shorts and jackets would be available but there was just one small rail, which was a disappointment. I’m still on the hunt for that elusive pair of girls’ shorts that are long enough not to ride or chafe and have a smart phone size pocket!
Tickets were £25 including all the workshops, guided runs, yoga, timed run and parking, which is excellent value. Keep your eyes open for next year’s date!
[Photographs courtesy of Salomon]