7 Tips to Hit the Trails

Tired of the same old sidewalks? It's time to mix things up! Escaping to the trails for a run can be a great change of pace and a fantastic way to get inspired to exercise. And we promise, trail running isn't as hardcore as you might think.

While super-long-distance trail events have taken off over the past few decades, trail running doesn't have to spell spending hours on your feet. A simple outing can mean 30 minutes of exploring a local slice of dirt at any pace. The wildlife, scenery and twisty, turny nature of trails are sure to keep you entertained. In fact, you might finish your run before you even realize how hard you've been working.

But that work is real. The agility and strength you'll gain from pushing yourself over rocks and under fallen logs? Just consider it an added bonus to the fresh air and sense of adventure you'll get from any time spent running nature's roads.

Run This Way

Executive director of the American Trail Running Association, Nancy Hobbs, knows her way around the woods. Here are her top tips for hitting the trails.

Find a Trail

There are trails waiting to be discovered right in your backyard. Hobbs recommends checking online and consulting your parks department to find clubs, routes and running partners. Specialty running stores are great resources as well. Hobbs also advises seeking out local trail races. You can sign up to run one (just for fun) or visit the race's website and print the course map to try it out on your own.

Consider the Terrain

During your search for the perfect trail, look for difficulty ratings or ask others what you can expect from the route. "If you're just starting out," says Hobbs, "try a relatively flat course that doesn't have a lot of rocks or roots. As you gain experience, try adding distance and challenging terrain."

Think Time, Not Mileage

"Running three miles on trails may take you twice the time it does on roads," Hobbs explains. Climbs, high elevation and tough terrain can a make a route feel much longer than it is. She recommends planning your trail run in terms of time, not distance, so you don't head out for something beyond your capabilities.

Keep Your Eyes on the Trail

Hobbs believes most trail-running injuries occur when a runner looks upward for a moment—then turns an ankle or twists a knee. "To enjoy the view, stop running and look around," she says. "But when you're moving, pay attention to obstacles on the trail."

Dress Appropriately

"If you're venturing out for more than an hour, consider what the conditions might become," says Hobbs. A sunny day can quickly change to a thunderstorm, especially in the mountains, and you don't want to be left stranded and exposed. "Be prepared with a wind jacket, or at least a cap and gloves, to keep you warm on the run back to the car."

Know the Route

Hobbs warns, "Getting lost is a possibility, especially on a new route." If you're by yourself, take a map and let someone know where you're going. As a back-up plan, leave a note on your car. "And running with someone not only provides company, but gives you support should you need help on a run," she adds.

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Lisa Jhung specializes in outdoor adventure sports as a copywriter, journalist and editor.

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