Are your legs sore from the pavement? Are you tired of dodging cars? If so, then it might be time to change things up with some trail running! From basic flat, old railroad tracks to technical, narrow, steep paths, trails offer a great change to your running routine. Your experience and ability with off-road running will determine what type of trail is best for you. Note that it's normal for your pace to be slower on the trail than it is on the road, as the miles you cover will not be over smooth ground.
Running on trails can be a peaceful and relaxing experience. At first it might be eerie as the only sound you hear is your feet hitting the ground. You feel like you're the only one on earth and it gives you a chance to enjoy the beauty of nature. Seeing trees, leaves, plants and streams is always a welcome departure from the usual parade of cars coming toward you. And the scent of nature surrounding you is always preferable to car exhaust and smog.
Precautions should be taken while trail running, as you can have unexpected encounters with wildlife, trip over rocks/roots, or sprain an ankle. If you lose your way on a trail run, it's harder to find guidance to head back in the right direction. For this reason, you should stick to trails that are well marked and save the "trail blazing" for the areas you know well (the chances of encountering wildlife or hunters increase as you venture off the trail). If you're in a new area, the popular trails are typically marked with paint or ribbons, but it's always a good idea to bring a map if one is available.
If you aren't used to running on trails, then you should expect to feel some soreness in your lower legs. Trail running causes your muscles to move in different ways than road running (this is the same idea as running in the sand on the beach). This slight variation in the movement is a good cross-training effort. At first it will cause the muscles to feel tender, but ultimately it will lead to stronger legs. When you first start trail running, it's best to slowly introduce the activity into your plan so your legs can adapt. Once you are used to the feeling, you'll find that the trails are softer on your joints. Mixing up your weekly mileage with a combination of road and trail running can even help to relieve some of the aches and pains that runners commonly feel in their knees.
Many running shoe manufacturers create "trail running" models, but they aren't always necessary for this type of running. The difference between trail running shoes and road running shoes is that trail shoes have a thicker sole, a little more cushion, better tread grip and more stability. If you are running on uneven trails that are chock full of rocks and sharp turns, then it would be a good idea to invest in a pair of trail-running shoes. A good plan of action for determining what shoe you need is to carefully try to tackle the trail in your regular running shoes first. You'll be able to tell fairly quickly if the shoe isn't up to the task.
For anyone who wants to break away from the hustle and bustle of the busy day, trail running may be the perfect getaway. What better way to enjoy nature then immersing yourself in it for a nice, quiet run? Running trails are everywhere-just take a peek at your nearest state park, or inquire with a local running club or cross-country coach. The American Trail Running Association (ATRA) also offers a great resource online for locating local trail runs. If you start to feel competitive on your trail runs, rest assured that 5Ks and Ultra-marathons aren't just for the road. You can find your next trail race online at TrailRunner Magazine.
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