If Paula Radcliffe's sensational London Marathon performance has inspired you to take up running, now is the perfect time to start. But forget about road running; head for the hills instead. Off- road, or trail, running offers the same physical benefits without many of the downsides. The softer terrain is easier on bones and joints, you avoid traffic and pollution, and the scenery is more stimulating.
The only piece of specialist kit you need is your shoes. All the big sportswear companies, and a number of outdoor specialists such as Merrell, Karrimor and The North Face, now make off-road models. While each has its individual appeal, the key features are broadly similar.
Trail shoes differ from their road cousins in two significant respects: they have rugged, heavily studded outsoles for grip, and tough durable uppers to cope with the rocks, roots and general debris you will meet. The choice ranges from no-frills, lightweight models for fast mountain ascents and descents to sturdier, better- cushioned shoes designed for well-maintained paths and occasional forays on tarmac.
The more difficult or extreme the terrain, the more grip you need. Softer rubber designs with deep lugs or studs in a wide pattern clear mud easily and provide sure-footed grip even on wet or slippery rocks. Generally these outsoles, which wear quickly on tarmac, are bolted on to simple, no-frills shoes which are low to the ground and have few, if any, built-in cushioning and stability features; they work with the soft, off-road terrain rather than against it.
Shoes that are good on both roads and trails - but in truth, brilliant on neither - have less aggressive outsole patterns, use firmer, more durable rubber and have the kind of …