Interview: Susie Allison

Published: 16th May 2016

Susie Allison wrote Scottish Trail Running to share the activity that makes her most happy – going for a run, preferably in a wild place

So, what is trail running exactly?

Trail running means running on paths and tracks through the countryside, away from roads. Off-road trails can be found everywhere – in the middle of town as well as in Scotland’s most scenic areas. A trail run can be anything from a 10-minute urban exploration to a multi-day wilderness adventure.

What do you need to do it?

It’s easy to get started with running – all you need are a positive mental attitude and a pair of trainers. You can begin with whatever sports clothes and shoes you already own. As you explore rougher, muddier paths, trail shoes are a good buy since they have more grip than normal trainers. You’ll also want to ditch the cotton t-shirt in favour of synthetics. If heading out for long runs and into remote areas, then it helps to have a lightweight rucksack/bumbag to carry supplies.

What makes a good trail?

Great scenery, a clear runnable path and a logical circuit. For my book, I put a lot of effort into route selection as I wanted to show the variety of fantastic scenery we have in Scotland – from Borders hills and East Lothian sea cliffs to wild Highland glens and the golden sand beaches of the northwest. I also wanted to make them mostly easy to reach, so chapters focus on towns and popular tourist areas such as the Cairngorms, plus a few wild routes further afield to show the potential. The routes also had to meet strict criteria on ‘runnability’ and almost all are circuits. I drove all over Scotland to run all the potential routes, sometimes as many as three in a day.

Did you include any trails on Trust land?

Yes! I’d camped at Sandwood Bay many years ago and knew I had to include it. It was my third run of the day and I nearly didn’t go due to tiredness. I’m so glad I stepped up to the challenge! Turning it into a circuit was tricky: I had to stretch my runnability criteria, but it was worth it. As well as the gorgeous beach, I was delighted to find an exhilarating cliff-top path. I remember running along it with the sun setting over the sea – it was spectacular.

What’s your favourite trail?

That’s a hard one. There are 70 in the book! The project gave me an excuse to run in all the most beautiful parts of Scotland. I love the wilder routes in places like the Cairngorms, Assynt and Knoydart. My route on Raasay is a bit rougher and muddier than most but had to be included because of its incredible view of the Cuillin on Skye. Then the one that I never tire of is close to home on the West Highland Way. It includes that first glimpse of Ben Lomond – a tantalising taste of the stunning hills ahead.

What do you get from trail running?

I am happiest in the outdoors and travelling light and fast gives me such a feeling of freedom. Although terribly cheesy, ‘cleanses the soul’ is the right expression to describe what trail running does for me. Getting out for a run, in as wild a place as possible is a proper reset; my motivation for writing the book was to share this enthusiasm and inspire others to get out there and explore Scotland.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about trying trail running?

Start today! Look at a map and head to your nearest country park, river or canal footpath. Or pick up a copy of Scottish Trail Running – there is sure to be a route relatively nearby. Go easy, listen to your body and just enjoy – it’s supposed to be fun! That doesn’t mean it won’t feel hard at times, but the most worthwhile things are never the easiest.

Further info

Scottish Trail Running is published by Pesda Press, www.pesdapress.com

For more on Susie’s running exploits, visit www.scottishtrailrunning.com

This interview first appeared in the John Muir Trust Journal 56, Spring 2014