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 Mountain Trail: Art Loeb Trail (Pisgah National Forest, Asheville, North Carolina)
The Art Loeb gives trail runners all the glories and punishment they could ever hope for: rooty pistes through hardwood forests opening onto some of the highest grassy balds in the Southeast, with huge, 360-degree views. Along the way are knee-deep river crossings, interludes of slickrock balds, and 3,700 feet of climbing. The 30-mile trail starts just outside of Brevard, which is just south of the entrance to Pisgah, and intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway around the trail's midpoint, so you can shorten it or link with other trails to fashion loops suited to your skill level (and lung capacity).
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