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 Town Trail: Pre's Trail (Eugene, Oregon)
Running Pre's Trail is part workout, part social activity (it's always humming with runners), and several parts homage to its namesake, Oregon's running star Steve Prefontaine. The trail didn't exist during Pre's lifetime (he died in 1975 car accident), but it was his idea, and Eugene was his kingdom. The trail, by far the easiest on our list, comprises 4.2 miles of cushy wood-chip surface overlaying gravel; it winds in mostly flat loops and connects with other trails (add 8.5 miles by tacking on the Owosso Loop) in Alton Baker Park beside signature Eugene scenery – ponds, woods, and the Willamette River.
Credit: ChunkySoup / Wikipedia