Go Off-Road: The Ins and Outs of Trail Running

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The trail-running boom took off in the '90s as more and more athletes began trading in their road running shoes for trail running versions.

According to the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America, over 8.1 million people hit the trails in 1998 alone, and that number has continued to rise in the years since.

There is good reason so many runners are venturing off road in training, seeking out trail races and even planning vacations and business trips around the most alluring trails.

Although related for obvious reasons, trail running and road running are actually quite different sports, and many runners itching for a change of scenery are making the switch from hard surfaces to softer and often more scenic trails.

Countless runners find trail running to be an escape from the rock-hard reality of the roads. It's no secret that asphalt and concrete are much harder on your body than dirt, woodchips and gravel, and the sights available on traffic ridden roads are often less pleasing to the eye than those found in the seclusion of wooded trails.

Injuries and boredom are inspiring runners to abandon sidewalks and city streets in favor of remote locations that other road runners haven't yet discovered.

Shoe manufacturers have also capitalized on the growing interest in this off-road adventure sport, taking big steps to meet the needs of the athletes pursuing it. You won't find a shoe company today that doesn't offer at least one trail shoe in its arsenal, and many have more than one model to choose from.

There's no doubt that trail running is a great alternative to road running, but it is a completely different animal. Trail running is often much less predictable than its cousin, and preparing for its uncertainty is paramount.

Before you head out to the trails, keep a few things in mind:

1. Invest in the proper shoes. If you plan on spending any significant time on trails, a pair of trail running shoes will make all the difference. These shoes will provide the necessary support for off-road running. Visit your nearest running specialty shop to see which shoe is best for you.

2. Research the trail before running it. It's probably not the best idea to head out on an unfamiliar trail without scoping it out first. Many trails can be confusing, so take the time to locate a map, or bring a compass with you when you start. You can find maps of local trails in running specialty stores, on the Internet or from area running clubs.