Helen Dixon remembers what it was like starting to run again in 2012. She hadn’t exercised in the decade since high school, and everything seemed daunting from the newbie perspective. As she began to run with her husband, Alastair, they would take advice from any friendly runner on staying motivated and building their fitness.
That meant talking with friends, learning from those around them at 5Ks near their hometown of Bath in the United Kingdom, and reading blogs on how to run or what was considered necessary gear. It worked, and Alastair, now 35 and a visual effects artist for commercials and films, and Helen, 34 and a full-time accountant, grew from those 5Ks to traveling Europe for long countryside and trail runs—some destinations they love are Chamonix in France, a trail-running hub, and around the Dolomites mountain range in Northeastern Italy.
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These timid beginners quickly turned into ultrarunners, doing longer events like the Matterhorn Ultra 46K skyrace in Switzerland and the 48K Transgrancanaria Marathon in the Canary Islands of Spain. Becoming world travelers with their running and experiencing great destinations, they wanted to give back to help others realize what thrills were out there in the world.
That was the inspiration behind Trail & Kale, an online trail running community they built to provides advice, gear reviews, race recaps, and adventure travel ideas. Along with an online blog, the duo have a popular Instagram account with more than 75,000 followers filled with awe-inspiring images. Many of those followers share their own amazing photos and adventures, and in turn Alastair and Helen have crafted a way to turn the sharing of user-generated photos into a way they can help preserve unspoiled land.
Runner’s World caught up with the couple, who moved to California from the U.K. after discovering the state’s amazing trails on a running trip, to talk about their passion for the trail running community and how sharing your photos can actually make a difference.
Runner’s World: Why did you decide to build a community around trail running?
Helen Dixon: When we started running, we took inspiration from other people who’d been on that journey, going through this transformation, physically as well mindset. It’s really inspiring. We wanted to create a community that would do that. It’d been so beneficial to get people on that journey, but we thought why don’t we take that passion of following personal running blogs and start sharing ideas and advice so we could build our own community around it, which lead to the Instagram account.
What was the thing that really clicked with people and made your account grow?
Alastair Dixon: I think the greatest thing about trail running is you generally run in beautiful places. You add a runner who is smiling and you’ve got the perfect combination. There are so many people who love to share their experiences on the trails as well. People use our hashtag (#trailandkale), which is how we know what to curate.
How many tagged photos do you review and go through each day before you pick something to post?
AD: It could be anything up to 100 a day that we review from our followers. I’m not sure what the exact number on that, but I’m always monitoring the hashtag and communicating with people in our community to use it. It helps that people love the idea of getting their great photos on there and having their experience shared.
HD: The great thing is it’s from people from all over the world as well. You’re looking at it and going, “Wow, that’s Slovenia! I’ve never been there, but it looks incredible.”
AD: It really gives you inspiration to visit some of these places. Essentially, what we want to do is share images that have stories behind them… stories and journeys.
HD: One of the most popular images is actually an image of an athlete after she’s been doing this championship race, and her legs are just covered in blood.
What’s the question you get the most through your feeds?
HD: People can kind of be baffled by choice and not know where to start. So the advice I give depends on where you’re running and the sort of trails that you’re on—rocky, hilly, really muddy—but a lot of people can start out in an old pair of shoes and see what works for them.
AD: A very popular bit of advice is that you don’t worry about your splits or your times because you’re going to be testing so many different terrains and hills when you start trail running. It can be a bit depressing looking at your time watch if it’s not what you’re used to!