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 Scenic Trail: East Rim Trail, Trans-Zion Trek (Zion National Park, Utah)
Best Scenic Trail
Difficulty: Moderate Plus
A superfit runner can see the best of Zion (assuming he looks up occasionally) by running 48 miles west to east from the La Verkin Creek trailhead in Lee Pass to the east-entrance trailhead in Echo Canyon in a single day, gaining 8,100 feet along the way – a route backpackers take five days to cover. The TZT links several trails, but a mortal's option is to focus on the East Rim Trail starting in Echo Canyon – 11 spectacular miles of steep-walled canyon and slickrock formations, ending at the Grotto trailhead in Zion Canyon.
Credit: Danita Delimont / Alamy