My column of two weeks ago which featured the popularity of ultra and trail running has led to me to becoming even more fascinated by it. 

Particularly The Golden Trail Series where not only do some of the world’s best trail runners all compete over a series of races, but just by the sheer magnitude of it all. 

I do a lot of running on my home treadmill for which I have become totally engrossed watching these races on YouTube whilst doing so. 

The standard of competition in both the men’s and women’s categories really are of the very highest standard with athletes from all over the globe battling it out over not just trail but mountainous terrain too, which you have to be so much better than just a great runner over distances ranging from the half marathon to the marathon distance.

Just everything about it all is amazing with fantastic filming and camera work through to excellent commentary and huge crowds out on the course cheering the runners on to scenes which are more reminiscent of the Tour De France. 

I am sure there are those out there who will say where have you been all this time, so having our very own trail running expert Neil Staveley at Sportlink, I thought who better to ask. 

Particularly when it comes to his thoughts and experiences and how and why he not only got into trail running but also developed his own business – Escape Trails. 

“In late 2018 I was going through a bad patch with my mental health, especially so after a close family member passed away,” he said. “I had reached a point where I didn’t want to be here anymore so knew I needed to do something drastic before doing something really drastic.” 

Neil turned to running which had helped him during previous times in his life when he had been down. This also led to him quitting his job of 24 years to run all the way from Switzerland to his home in Dereham. 

Eastern Daily Press: Neil Staveley competing in one of his own events in Thetford Forest.

Why? Well because his earliest memory of his lost family member went back to a time in Switzerland. 

Unfortunately, and what with at the time being somewhat naive when it came to running ultra long distances, he injured his left leg badly 261 miles into the run, which brought the challenge to an abrupt end. 

Disappointed, yes, but not daunted and he started Escape Trails where after a full recovery several months later, he held his first event under the Escape Trails banner in March 2020. 

Just as he was about to throw everything into his new business venture another setback hit him when Boris Johnson told the nation to stop all non-essential travel and contact. 

What with having made such a huge commitment to his new venture, he held it together and says he doesn’t regret a thing. “Despite the challenges back then, we have gone from strength to strength and the support from the local running community has been phenomenal,” he said. 

What had also started out as just a lone business venture for himself, has also now grown into a team of five people, which includes an ultra-marathon coach and nutritionist. 

As well as being an ultramarathon coach and trail running guide himself, as already mentioned, Neil works for Sportlink too where he is on hand to give out lots of expert advice particularly for those who come in wanting a new pair of trail shoes and for those who are looking to get off the roads and do a bit more trail running themselves. 

With regards to Neil’s own running CV, apart from his expertise in event organisation and coaching qualifications, he also lends this knowledge to his club, the Norfolk Gazelles. 

As an athlete, he is very competent having completed The Peddars Way Ultra, the Norfolk 100k, Trail Marathon Wales, and Lakeland 50. 

As for the future though, he says he has some big goals which include the UTMB, Western States 100, and top of his list, the Dragons Back which he is hoping to do in 2025. 

Yes, running really has been somewhat of a life changer for Neil and these next few words of his sums this up perfectly: “One of the questions I regularly get asked is what is the biggest thing trail running has given to me. My answer is quite simply – it gave me my life back!” 

For anyone interested in finding out more about Escape Trails – check out 

Finally – a huge congratulations to both Ian and Angela Gallen Bell. 

Eastern Daily Press: Angela and Ian Bell after completing last Sunday's Tokyo MarathonAngela and Ian Bell after completing last Sunday's Tokyo Marathon (Image: Angela Bell)

Back in December, I wrote in one of my columns about how the pair of them were both closing in on achieving the accolade of becoming holders of a World Abbott Marathon major medal which is awarded to those who sign up and complete what is regarded as the top six major marathons around the world i.e. London, New York, Boston, Chicago, Berlin and Tokyo. 

Last Sunday they achieved this when crossing the finish line in the Japanese capital with Ian finishing in 3 hours and 53 mins and Angela in 4 hours and 32 mins.