Running's Editor, Amy Curtis Takes to the Cornish Coast in her First Foray into Off-Road Running

I am a Londoner. I’ve lived there more than ten years, know it like the back of my hand and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. But I’m also a runner, which can present its problems in the city as I loop my local park for the tenth time, trying to get my kms up before a big race. Joining a club has broadened my horizons as I’ve learnt routes that take in a few different parks at a time, but the fact remains that road running in the capital is unavoidable, exposing me to noise and
pollution with every outing. So when I stepped of the plane in Cornwall, I felt like I was a world away. My destination was a beautiful converted school house in St Agnes; when I go on a running break, I always try to find a self-catering property to stay in, which just gives me that bit more control over my diet and makes me feel more settled and less like I’m ‘away’. My guide for the trip was Helen Clare, a local yoga and running coach, who arrived the following morning, straight from a yoga retreat she had been hosting, to take me on a gentle route along the coast.

Helen clearly loves this part of the world and enthuses, “Cornwall is absolutely ideal for trail running as we have miles and miles of coastal path all around us. It is easy to access and you can literally run round around the whole of the Cornish coastline! The terrain is varied and the scenery is stunning.” And she’s not wrong. As we pick our way along the rocky paths, we can see for miles – ever the tour guide, Helen could name every alcove and beach in sight and even chatted a bit about the history of the area, unavoidable really, as the coastline is littered with old closed-down tin mines.

As a road runner, the coast was a big change for me. For a start, my shoes weren’t good enough (I’ve since invested in some proper trail shoes) and every rock I didn’t manage to avoid gave me a good prod. Secondly, I had to keep stopping. This goes completely against my nature; I’m used to running steadily, consistently and at a good pace, but if you want to stay upright as well as take in the views, the only safe way to do it is to slow down or stop altogether. Initially I found this odd and frustrating and kept apologizing for holding Helen up, but after a while I realised that this is just part of it, part of the enjoyment and, basically, I just needed to chill out. Helen explains, “Yes, road runners are so used to running at a consistent pace it can seem hard to get into a rhythm at first.”

Another thing I noticed was that I was leaving Helen quite far behind quite often, which is apparently typical of city-types, who are often conditioned to rate their run by pace, rather than enjoyment. Helen says, “I think coastal running is all about running for the love of it and enjoying the surroundings and the variety of terrain under foot, which is why I suggest leaving the Garmin at home!” The following day (with my arms aching, oddly, from holding them up, trying to balance the day before) we took a right at the start of the trail, heading in the opposite direction to the day before. This was a completely different proposition, with very steep inclines and very rocky places. The terrain was much trickier and more bleaklooking, the cliffs were steeper and we even happened upon a raven to add to the moody atmosphere. Again, I stumbled and stopped all the way along, but by now I knew it was the norm and didn’t have that stressed, guilty feeling every time. At the end I was, once more, exhausted, but exhilarated. Since this trip I’ve also been off-road running in Tenerife where a fellow runner quipped ‘it’s not trail running, it’s fast hiking,’ and I couldn’t agree more. It’s an entirely different way of running, and I think I like it.


Helen’s Top Tips for Cornish Coastal Running

  1. Wear appropriate off-road running shoes that are suitable for the coastal path, which can be muddy and rocky.
  2. The coastal path website is a great resource – use it to help you decide on your route, as it will give you the distance between towns and beaches.
  3. The Cornish coast path can get fairly busy in summer and over holidays, but if you get up and go out early in the morning it mostly remains clear just for you. You might see some beautiful skies, too.
  4. Yoga is massively beneficial for runners post -run. When trail running you are using more muscles, especially in your feet and legs, than you would road running. Release the built up tension with some yoga after your run.
  5. If you are used to road running try going out without your watch! You will run much more slowly because of the type of terrain, undulations and purely from taking in the scenery. This is one of the pleasures of trail running. Enjoy it without concerning yourself with pace.