A back-to-earth trend is afoot: More and more runners are looking to inject a shot of adrenaline into their workout, and they're finding it on the trail, where aesthetics – the solitude, scenery, and sensory charge of running in nature – are part of both the challenge and the reward.
Matt Hart, an endurance coach based in Salt Lake City, offers some advice for becoming a better trail runner. The first thing you need to do is develop shorter strides. "You're not in the air so much and you have more control," he says. Also, stay focused: Your focus is about six feet ahead. "It's when I look at my watch for an elevation or split that I slip and fall." You should know your limits and always be willing to power-hike the hills. "Road runners start too fast. Just because you can run the hill doesn't mean you should," he cautions. Lastly, when you run downhill, pick a line and stay on it: "Skiers and bikers get this. It takes confidence and practice."
Now that you've listened to Matt's advice, it's time to get out there. Here are our five favorite U.S. trails to run – from easy to the ultimate gut check.
Best Coastal Trail: Dipsea Trail (Mill Valley to Stinson Beach, California)
Difficulty: Very Hard
The 7.4-mile Dipsea Trail is an open secret that starts in downtown Mill Valley, ascends no fewer than 676 steps, then zags before entering the redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument. Two famous climbs follow – Dynamite and Cardiac – before a steep descent to the ocean at Stinson Beach, for a total of 2,200 feet of vertical gained and lost. First-timers should swing by the Marin Running Company in San Anselmo to buy a map or connect with the Tamalpa Runners to find a club member willing to guide you.
Credit: Bento00 / Wikipedia