Photo: Love Trails Festival/Facebook

Why Trail Running Festivals Are the Next Big Thing

by Morwenna Muir Jones Jul 23, 2018

Until recently, attending a summer festival typically meant pitching a tent in a field and enjoying a few days of music, theatre, art, food, or some combination of these activities. The most exercise you’d get all weekend would be dancing, and you certainly wouldn’t find a 40 mile run on the agenda.

That’s now changing. The tried-and-true festival formula is evolving and more festivals are including wellness and fitness elements in their line-ups. Few, however, promote health and fitness to the same extent as trail-running festivals. Leading the festival fitness revolution, these festivals are springing up all over the world and, like the runners who attend them, aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.

Anyone can attend a trail-running festival.

Although “trail-running” festivals sound like they’re for seasoned trail-runners only, nothing could be further from the truth. Most festivals will offer a variety of different runs, with the distance and terrain varying from long, hilly, and rocky for experienced runners to short, on-trail, and relatively flat for beginners.

This variety makes trail-running festivals ideal if you’re trying out trail-running for the first time. And if you’re a complete newcomer to running, every run has guides, coaches, and mentors who have plenty of tips and advice on everything from equipment to running techniques. Alternatively, if you don’t want to run at all, the talks, food, and other activities offered will easily keep you entertained.

A trail-running festival is a perfect opportunity to explore new terrain.

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Most runners tend to stick to familiar routes and run them over and over. This repetition is great for speed training, but seeing the same scenery time after time can get boring.

Trail-running festivals have a remedy for this boredom: a chance to explore some of the most exciting trails the world has to offer, without the hassle of having to research and plan a route yourself. Most trail-running festivals will have been conducting rekkies, or reconnaissance, for months in advance, with experienced trail-runners unearthing the most sublime and challenging trails in the area — or even just the best route to the pub!

Trail-running festivals aren’t just about running.

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As any runner will tell you, there’s more to running than…well…just running. Yoga, pilates, and strength training, as well as hill and speed runs, are all vital parts of any runner’s training regime. Most trail-running festivals will incorporate these, as well as other activities, depending on their location.

At Útilív Adventure Festival in the Faroe Islands this September, if festivalgoers aren’t worn out after running from eight to 40 miles over the islands’ ruthless terrain, they can hike, surf, or kayak along the rugged coastline. Or, for mountain lovers who want more of a balance, the North Face Mountain Festival in Italy at the end of July includes equal opportunities to climb, hike, and run some of Trentino’s most awe-inspiring alpine trails.

When you’re not running, you can take inspiration from other runners’ stories.

The scenery and landscape aren’t the only sources of inspiration offered at trail-running festivals. While these are undoubtedly breathtaking, nearly all trail-running festivals also include a mix of talks and classes to inspire and educate festivalgoers, and some, such as Útilív Adventure Festival, host film nights, showcasing popular trail-running documentaries and films.

Maybe it’s because they offer a chance to sit down and relax with a beer, but talks, workshops, and films are often highlights of a festival, inspiring festival-goers to push themselves to new limits, or even just rethink how they approach exploring their own hometown. In the UK in early July, the Love Trails Festival had workshops on everything from zero-waste living to running photography, as well as talks on sustainability and environmental issues, mindful running, and how to plan a training schedule.

It’s not just for health and fitness nuts.

As sports go, running doesn’t have the best reputation. Sometimes associated with pushy school gym teachers, or elite, hyper-driven marathon runners, running is generally seen as a serious sport for fitness-focused athletes.

Again, this is just another myth; at trail-running festivals, the attitude is far more likely to be “run hard, party hard” than “make sure you get a good night’s sleep,” and no activity illustrates this more than the “beer-mile” race that some trail-running festivals host. This involves either individual runners downing a beer, running a quarter of a mile, downing another beer, and so on, or a team of four dividing each quarter of a mile between them. Either way, it’s normally the only time runners at a trail-running festival will get competitive.

You still get all the perks of a classic summer festival.

Camping in the great outdoors, listening to great music as the sun sets, and feeling inspired to change the way you live when you get home are just some of the best things about summer festivals — and trail-running festivals are no exception to that. After any trail-running festival, you’ll find yourself exhausted, and not just because of the running.

You’ll be worn out from dancing, meeting exciting runners, and from being constantly inspired, whether it’s to push yourself harder on a three mile run or to take part in an ultra-marathon. Whatever you do with your time at a trail-running festival, when the time comes to go home, you’ll already be counting down to next year.

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