7. Find your balance. Slippery downhills let you know what your legs are made of. Build them up between trail runs with weighted squats and lunges, and build your balance using wobble boards (check out www.performbetter.com for balance gear).
8. Keep your bearings. Things look different coming back than going. Pause to look around when two or more paths diverge from the one you're on. Look at trail signs and identify rocks, trees or landmarks on the horizon.
9. Leave no trace. Even in races, trail runners stow empty wrappers and wouldn't dream of dropping cups like road racers. Stay on marked trails, don't cut switchbacks and go through, not around, puddles to prevent erosion.
10. Feel like a kid again. Crank it on the downhill, hoot and holler, jump into a stream. "Trail running is a chance to get down and dirty, to grab hold of our authentic selves," says trail running coach and sports psychologist Terri Schneider. It'll make all those miles during freezing winters on the treadmill so worth it.
Essential gear for a trail runner doesn't have to be anything fancier than a crusty pair of trail shoes, an old race tee and socks that will never be white again. But a few other purchases will get you running wild.
Shoes. Your favorite brand of road shoe won't necessarily manufacture a good trail runner, or a trail runner that works best for you. Trail running shoes sit lower than road shoes, with a harder midsole to take the impact of the trail. They provide greater ankle support to prevent rolling and more lateral support and flexibility for uneven terrain. They have sturdier, stickier treads. Runners who face stream-crossings or mud should wear trail shoes with drainage holes, waterproof uppers and laces that won't stretch when wet.
Apparel. Trail runners take layering seriously since weather at altitude can change instantly. When the temperature begins to cool, start layering with a running tank, then a long-sleeve tee, both made of a wicking fabric. A breathable, hooded jacket is vital. In warmer weather, stick with loose, wicking shorts. In cold weather opt for snag-proof tights.
Gloves. Wipeouts happen. Lightweight gloves protect hands from gravel burns, stray brambles and chilly air.
Socks. Find what works for you: wool blends, layered micro fiber, toe socks. If you blister, turn them inside out. Go with gray, brown or black.
Sunglasses. Since trails often lead from dark forests to brilliant glades, sunglasses make sense. Even on all-shade trails, glasses protect eyes from branches and clear lenses keep debris from contacts. Lanthier-Brandner recommends orange lenses, which work well in all light, or shades with interchangeable lenses.
Hydro packs. Dehydration happens quickly at altitude so carry water. Hydration packs are necessary for longer runs; bottle belts for shorter trails. Buy packs that are sized for women, with lots of pockets to stash energy gels, bars and a cell phone.
Freelance writer Leigh Brown Perkins lives and runs trails in horizontal south Florida, where a drawbridge is as close as she gets to altitude.