The snow is melting, the mud is slowly drying up and the trails are out there, just waiting for you and your running shoes! If you have never gone trail running you should really give it a try and we have a few great reasons for you to hit the trail!
Trails and their variable terrain have a magical ability to completely erase the perceived importance of numbers that can haunt you when pounding the pavement. Your ability to creatively navigate technical terrain is more important than the speed with which you hop from rock to rock and time on your feet will often trump the mileage read out on your GPS. Better yet, leave the GPS at home and just run for the fun of it!
Even better, consider trail races! No two trail races will have the same elevation, terrain or conditions so you can take away even more pressure by telling yourself [and everyone else] that every new race course is a new PR! That might be a stretch, but if it gets you on the trails it's a legit stretch!
Nature is Calling
No really, it is. The birds want to serenade you. The squirrels want to toss twigs at you from the tree tops. The deer want to stare at you as their ears twitch, deciding if they should bolt or stay frozen. Even the grasshoppers are waiting for the chance to leap backwards into your leg as your attempt to avoid them. You get to experience all of this while your feet eat up the miles on single track, something you'd be missing if you stuck to the city sidewalks.
That said, if nature really is calling be responsible — pack out what you pack in! Although toilet paper is technically biodegradable you never want to leave behind anything that isn't natural to the area. All you need is a small Ziploc bag wrapped in duct tape to easily pack out trash. For more details on The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace so you're prepared the next time you're searching for a secluding shrub!
Getting Lost is Expected
Most trailheads have maps — grab one and take it with you! If there isn't a freebie waiting for you snap a photo of the big map on your phone then go into "airplane mode" so you have access to a map while you're out on the trail.
Once you have the map go exploring. Keep your bearings and always be oriented enough to be able to backtrack, but beyond that, don't stress out. Even the best navigators get lost from time to time and anyone who has run multiple trail races will shrug and admit that they've gotten lost on marked courses. It happens. That said, if you're looking to log a lot of miles be prepared with extra water, food, layers and even a headlamp if it's later in the afternoon. Don't be afraid to turn around earlier than originally planned. You're always better off being a mile short rather than five miles over!
The People Rock
The people that spend hours on the trails are an interesting bunch. We're all out there because we love the trails, the scenery and the solitude. We're all out there for the same reason so treat them as you'd like to be treated!
You can never go wrong with a head nod, a friendly wave or a quick "hello". Move aside for faster runners, be aware of mountain bikers taking on technical terrain and keep an eye out for spooky horses or overly excited dogs. If you do end up getting lost don't be afraid to ask someone you meet along the trail, they may have valuable information on the trail ahead!
Your Body + Mind will Love It
Every runner has heard it a hundred times from many unsolicited sources — running will ruin your joints! This may or may not be true; there are articles/studies/opinions to support both sides of that argument and you're always welcome to pick your own side. However, one undeniable scientific fact is that dirt is softer than cement and the impact of pounding is reduced when a softer surface is in play. Therefore, by association, running on dirt trails lowers the impact on your joints. Boom, trails win and minds are blown!
And then there is your mental health to consider. There is nothing quite as therapeutic as getting lost in your own head while pushing yourself up a steep hill then semi-gracefully surviving a technical descent. There are no stoplights to pull you out of your zone, no lawnmower to remind you of the homeowner responsibilities waiting for you and no distracted drivers to avoid. You'll learn new things about yourself and actually learn to like the conversations that go down in your own head!
So, there you have it — five reasons to tie up your running shoes [trail or not, either works when you're a beginner!] and find a nearby trail to take on!
If you have run trails before tell us why you love them.
If you take our advice and try them out come back and tell us how it went!