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Carmine De Grandis: Nothing beats the freedom you feel from trail running

Norfolk Trail Runner pose for the camera before their weekly Wednesday run. Picture: Norfolk Trail Runners

Norfolk Trail Runner pose for the camera before their weekly Wednesday run. Picture: Norfolk Trail Runners

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Norfolk Trail Runners founder, Carmine De Grandis explains why you should perhaps throw away the watch and PB chase in search of the countryside

Action from the Roman Camp Trail race. Picture: Norfolk Trail RunnersAction from the Roman Camp Trail race. Picture: Norfolk Trail Runners

The rise of grassroot trail running groups. Chance or design?

The feeling of freedom, running along a canal, in a wood or on a hill, with a few friends, alone or in a race, is what most people who practice trail running single out as the unique factor which motivates them in their pursuit of happiness in nature.

The pattern which traditionally has led many people to become trail runners used to be fairly similar.

An individual would start running and join a local running club. Soon they would start racing and become excited about new PBs. Running friends and training sessions will become very important until they start longing for the feeling of "running free": no set paces, no pavements or tarmac. They will soon head for the local park or even open countryside and enter, unaware, a new running world. The trail running one!

Success at the Half Sunrise Ultra - Matthew Harris, Carmine De Grandis, Mark Collinson and Pascal Fallas. Picture: Norfolk Trail RunnersSuccess at the Half Sunrise Ultra - Matthew Harris, Carmine De Grandis, Mark Collinson and Pascal Fallas. Picture: Norfolk Trail Runners

This pattern started to change a few years ago.

Many runners started to define themselves as trail runners.

Many would have joined their local parkrun to become parkrun tourists throughout the country. Soon they will bump into others who like running in nature as much as them.

They will decide that it would be better to run more than once a week and discover even more beautiful places to relax or challenge themselves.

Hill training in Sheringham - Eva Wilkes, Matthew Harris and Carmine De Grandis. Picture: Norfolk Trail RunnersHill training in Sheringham - Eva Wilkes, Matthew Harris and Carmine De Grandis. Picture: Norfolk Trail Runners

A visit to the local running store and they will get some grippy trainers, a good waterproof and possibly a headtorch.

Before they know it, their search for like minded buddies has started.

Some will find them at trail or even fell races. Others will find them online by looking up local groups of trail runners in their area.

With the help of a well-established Trail Running Association and a growing number of local trail running groups, they will start spreading the word to their friends and friends of friends.

There are some local success stories in Suffolk and in Norfolk where the local Suffolk Trail Runners and Norfolk Trail Runners have groups which run together very regularly.

These groups were started by trail runners for trail runners with the intention to provide regular free trail runs.

Several groups of people will take to the trails weekly - no matter the weather - there is no 'bad weather' as they say, only 'bad clothing'.

Within these groups, there is passion, local knowledge, a wealth of skills, experiences and a deep desire to share the common love for the trails and the outdoors.

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A degree of informality offers the freedom to welcome anyone and everyone. It provides the opportunity to try and test new ideas.

More than anything else, these groups offer a non-judgemental shared vision encouraging runners to try something new without fear of failure or the pressure to set a PB every run.

Almost two years ago, I started what is now a well-established group, the Norfolk Trail Runners.

I asked a number of the friends who join us regularly why they practice trail running. Below you can find what they told me.

"I love trail running because I love nature and the countryside."

"Trail running can be very exciting and challenging at the same time. I do not have to worry about pace and get help from some lovely people.

"I can join others and bring my teenage son who loves running in nature, especially with a headtorch at night."

"Trail running frees my mind, body and soul in a variety of great venues. Trail running clears my mind and helps me de-stress."

"It has become my passion and therapy."

"The camaraderie is pretty awesome and I feel part of a trail running family."

Last but not least, I would like to quote in full one of my friend's words as they prove to me that what trail running can offer is fairly unique and, those who practice it, don't do it by chance.

"I love trail running for all of the above reasons but also because you can run to the top of a big hill, reach for the sky, whoop and scream at the top of your lungs and none of your fellow trail runners will think you're weird! On the way down, it's arms out, legs turning as fast as you can with more whooping and lots of manic laughter, pretending to fly as you did as a child. Road runners just wouldn't understand!"

If you have not yet given trail running a go, why don't you try it in your local area?

If you cannot find a local group, do not hesitate to join our Facebook group "Norfolk Trail Runners" or, if you are in Suffolk, the "Suffolk Trail Runners". We would love you to join us on one of our friendly trail runs or Nordic walks to share in our passion for nature.

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