Trail running isn't for everyone, but it might just be for you. Here are 12 reasons that may make you want to lace up your trail shoes, fill up your hydration pack, and hit the woods.
Change of Scenery
So long, long roads: The seemingly endless stretches of asphalt in some road races can be intimidating (not to mention boring), but the twists and turns of the trails offer enough excitement that you may not even realize the time—or the miles—passing.
"Trail running brings you back to the days when you were a kid, running through the woods, or as a high schooler running cross country," says Jim Harman, race director for EX2 Adventures, which hosts multiple trail races through the Washington, D.C. area. "The unique environment makes things more interesting."
Expect the Unexpected
Whether it's mud, ice or a stream crossing, you really never know what you're going to get on the trails, which adds to the thrill of racing.
"I ran on the Napali Coast in Kauai a few years back and had to do a lot of stream crossings, but it was a great way to cool off," says Emma Garrard, a professional triathlete who excels at off-road racing, and most recently placed second at the XTERRA West Championship. "And I'll take detours and wind up bush whacking, but that's all part of the fun."
Timing Isn't Everything
See ya, splits. With difficult rocks and roots, monstrous hills and severe switchbacks, it's tough to stick to your typical per-mile pace.
"In a five-mile trail running race, your time can go up by 30 seconds to four minutes per mile, depending on the terrain," explains Harman.
Which, of course, means there's minimal pressure to PR in trail racing, so you can stop stressing about the numbers on your watch. "I love running with a GPS, but sometimes I let it control me too much," says Garrard. "In a trail race, I don't let pace dictate how I feel, which can be a lot more freeing."
Trail running gives you another reason to go shopping (hello, trail shoes, spikes and crampons). "There are so many trail shoes and other cool gear out there for all different conditions," says Garrard.
Her top picks for must-have gear? Hydration packs and belts. "You'll often be far away from clean drinking water when you're out on the trails," she says. "And you're more likely to trip if you're feeling tired or dehydrated."