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30,000 Steps In The Pentlands (Or Why Trail Running Is Better Than The Gym)

Now I’m not saying I’ve never used the gym, but for me it’s always been a stop-gap. A means of exercise when you can’t get into the hills. Or a way to strengthen muscles so you can spend more time in the hills trail running…

Trail running works your core, leg muscles and upper body. Yes I did say upper body! 30,000 steps in the Pentlands yesterday and my arms are tired! Read on to find out why trail running is better than the gym.

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trail running pentlands

The Pentlands Skyline

The Pentlands lie just outside Edinburgh. They’re not particularly high, the highest Scald Hill is just 579 m (1,900 ft), but they’re wickedly steep. Pretty much the steepest a hill can get and still be covered in grass.

There’s a race around the Pentlands in October taking in every single top – 16 in total, one for every mile of the course and an excruciating 6,200 ft of ascent.

This is no fun run, the race has a harsh cut off time at half-way – it’s almost a race within a race to get to the halfway point and hope you’re not too burnt out to make it around the rest of the route. (Yesterday’s jaunt around two-thirds of the route helped me realise just how tough this cut-off time is).

Trail Running Uses More Muscles

Builds Quad Strength

When you’re running in the hills, you’re using every part of your body. Your legs are getting a massive workout pounding up hills but the downhill running is really beneficial. You’re building your quad strength, which helps to maintain upper leg balance and protect your knee joint.

Increased Lower Leg Strength

Uneven trails force your feet to work harder and react quickly to changes and obstacles under foot. You’re working the stabilising muscles in your feet and ankles and building strength.

A Strong Core

Hate stomach crunches? Running up and down steep hills renders them unnecessary. Trail running works core muscles in your hips, abdominals, and lower back. The more uneven the terrain, the harder your core is forced to work.

Works Your Arm Muscles

In the alps trail runners use poles and in the UK you’ll see hill runners using their hands on their legs to help push their bodies up the hills. Add in running with a pack full of safety equipment and your upper body is getting a good workout.

Trail Running Is Good For Your Mental Health

Gym sessions tend to focus on the body beautiful, often chasing an ideal body that’s unhealthy and probably unattainable. With trail running the focus is on the challenge and the sport. It’s a friendly, supportive community, with a healthy attitude to looks.

There is also considerable benefit from exercising outdoors. Exercising in nature has been found to lower stress and anxiety Trail running can improve your moods. help you sleep better and avoid depression.

Make Friends By Trail Running

Join a local club and you’ll find you make friends for life. There’s something about battling your way up a hill in a blizzard that really helps you connect with people!

Trail Running Caters For All Standards

The Pentlands Skyline Race is one of the toughest races in the Edinburgh area. There are plenty of easier options to try out trail running, in the UK and worldwide. When you’re starting out, look for shorter races with a lower height gain to build up your skills and strength.


I hope I’ve convinced you to get out of the gym and explore the hills around you, walking or trail running… I’d love to know your thoughts…

trail running pentlands