Trail Runner’s Book Review: The Ultimate Trail Runner’s Handbook

The Ultimate Trail Runner’s Handbook by Claire Maxted. Bloomsbury Sport, 2021. Reviewed by trail runner Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian.

We have all fallen victim to coffee table envy – Emelie Forsberg’s book Sky Runner, Alexis and Frederic Berg’s Grand Trail – and for good reason, with their epic tales and gorgeous layouts. With Claire Maxted’s The Ultimate Trail Runner’s Handbook, we are offered the requisite breath-taking pictures packaged in a thoughtfully designed layout accompanied by practical information. While its paperback format lacks the heft of these other volumes, like its cousins, it is a pleasure to casually flip through, dreaming of your own adventures.

Intrigued, I jumped right in and began scanning pages. I should have started from the beginning, but it works in case you are tempted to behave in a similar undisciplined fashion. I was initially puzzled by the author’s credentials as I couldn’t recollect anyone named Claire Maxted being the editor of Trail Running Magazine. And what are plasters, crisps and bumbags anyway? It wasn’t until I came across head torches (familiar to me from British World War II language) that I finally got it. The British Trail Running is not the American Trail Runner magazine; plasters are bandaids, crisps are potato chips and bumbags are obviously waistpacks. I know this treasure hunt wasn’t intended by the author but I did have fun exploring the differences in terminology across the pond, especially as it looks as if voluntary travel will be vicarious for quite some time.

The Ultimate Trail Runner’s Handbook has pictures and text are interspersed with themed panels: Trail Hacks, My Story, Expert Tips, displaying a mix of beginner/expert and Male/Female info. Maxted delves deeply into areas that aren’t often mentioned. I have been considering running poles for a while now, but am basically clueless, thinking it is more of an “out West,” cowboy thing. Now I can at least visit the gear store with proper fitting knowledge and an idea of how and when to use them effectively. I am beginning to readjust my mindset from cheat sticks to running aid and anticipate a knowledgeable purchase. Similarly, we all know we should carry extra gear and a first aid kit…but how many of us do? It is apparently not that complicated if you follow Maxted’s carefully detailed photos depicting minimum requirements and full race kit (sorry, couldn’t resist that one!).

But what really sold me was her chapter on fueling – not preachy nutrition, but sample quick and easy recipes. All are accompanied by a mouth-watering picture, so that you can assess if you should break out your skillet. Most are from Anita Bean’s The Runner’s Cookbook, which I lost no time in borrowing from the library. Other vital skills touched upon are uphill/downhill techniques, strength and rehab routines, training tables and in this era of FKTs –how to plot your own successful attempt.

To my intense gratification, I learned that I am not the only one who leaves a trail of stick arrows when exploring a new route (just make sure you decide ahead of time if the arrows are pointing the way back or the way you are running—don’t ask). I also learned that my lazy laundry habits (how many consecutive days can you wear a pair of socks?) can be totally justified in the name of sustainability!

Even if you have been hitting the dirt for years, in The Ultimate Trail Runner’s Handbook expect to discover some new trail hacks to enlighten your journey and add joy to your running adventures!

Trail Runner's Handbook