Trail running navigation

Being on gardening leave for 6 weeks has its perks, one of which is being able to spend a day in the Brecon Beacons learning all about trail running navigation and mountain running skills in general. And what a day it was, quite honestly I don’t think it’s possible to have better winter weather conditions for spending a day running around this stunning landscape. Just look at this view.

As you know I love trail running, 99% of my running is off road and while it isn’t all in such exciting places as the Brecon Beacons it is possible to find remote and interesting places to run even in Wiltshire where I live. Most of the running I do at home I know broadly where I’m going and where I am without needing to read a map, plus most of the races I do currently are on marked courses so navigation really isn’t a concern. But I want to get a bit more adventurous with my running (more of that later) and challenge myself more and one logical way to do that is to go somewhere like the Brecon Beacons to run.

Trail running navigation course

However while I’m reasonably comfortable looking at an OS map and following footpaths etc I’m not experienced enough to really read the detail of contours, or follow an unmarked route in these wilder areas. That’s where JT Expeditions come in, I found them via Twitter and duly got booked in for a day with Jake one on one to learn some trail running navigation skills and get some good advice about planning days in the hills. There really is no substitute for practical, hands on training when it comes to learning these type of skills and as it quickly became apparent Jakes huge depth of knowledge as a Mountain Leader and also mountain marathon competitor was exactly what I needed to learn.

trail running navigation

Choosing the right gear

We met on the East side of the national park near the show caves and started the day with a chat about equipment and in particular what to carry to stay safe. I always carry a small first aid kit and a survival blanket in my pack even on short runs because you cool down quickly when just wearing running gear and keeping warm for an hour or so could make a real difference.

We all make our own choices on shoes/clothing/jackets etc and any good brand will be fine, but the one thing I did take away from this chat was Jakes choice of emergency bag he has a Adventure Medical kits emergency bivvy bag which is brightly coloured to aid rescue, it’s waterproof and it sits much better around your body than the basic foil blanket meaning you keep your heat better.

After a quick look at the map and chat about finding your location and orientating yourself we headed into the hills for 4 hours or so of glorious trail running. The advantage of course of a one on one session is that we could cover the things I wanted and at the pace I wanted which meant we managed to get through quite a lot (at least I think we did!).


We covered the basics of thumbing the map as you move, how to keep track of key milestones as you run so you can keep a mental note of whether you are on track or not, taking and using bearings, how to read micro contours and the importance of looking at your surroundings first for key landmarks etc before looking at the map.

Moving efficiently

As we ran we also chatted about how to efficiently move across that sort of terrain, for instance when running around a hill trying to maintain the same level of elevation (contouring) rather than going up and down which is longer and harder. It’s these little things that make a real difference over the course of a day, saving you time and energy.

Running in the Brecon Beacons on a day like this was just incredible, such stunning scenery, had to be careful to concentrate where I was going and not get distracted by the view! The route we followed saw us climb up onto a ridge which the Beacons Way runs along, we then followed the ridge for a while (including a cracking fast decent over rocky steps) before descending the over side of the ridge and gradually looping around towards the car park. Plenty of opportunities to get wet (in beautifully icy water) and keep the mind focused on picking a good path across the terrain.

A great day out

In all honestly I think I would have been quite happy just being out on the hills on a day like that, but the fact that it was also an opportunity to learn some mountain skills was perfect. I want to start exploring areas like this more and this has given me the confidence and skills to get started.

After we’d finished we headed to the pub down the road for a coffee and chat, it was great to be able to pick Jake’s brains about some good routes and areas to run in the Brecon Beacons. In particular I’d like in the spring to do a run out to a bothy, spend the night then run back again. Jake gave me some good suggestions of where I could do this and also what might be suitable for someone like me just starting out in this type of running.

If you’re interested in learning navigation or mountain skills or for that matter just having a day in the hills you can find Jake’s website here. Note no incentive for me to share this etc I just had a great day and experience so wanted to share the details with you.

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