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 Solitary Trail: Maah Daah Hey Trail (Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota)
Trail running meets adventure travel on the Maah Daah Hey (rough translation from the Mandan Indian language: "be here a long time"), a 97-mile singletrack passage through the North Dakota badlands, mostly in the two sections of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Little Missouri National Grasslands. As the trail snakes over rolling hills, rugged buttes, and treeless prairies, a highlight reel of Old West clichés unfolds: coyotes, prairie dogs, wild mustangs, bighorn sheep, and endless horizons.
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