How do I find the best local trail?

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Answered by: Nate, An Expert in the Places to Run Category
Finding the best local trail can be very tough. When looking for a place to run, you'll need to consider a number of different factors. First, do you want to run on a paved or hard surface, like a sidewalk or running path, or are you looking for a little more varied terrain to mix it up on, like a hiking trail? A good mix of both can go a long way to improve your running game, since sticking to the same old surface every time will create uneven wear both on your shoes and on your body. Stepping off of the pavement and onto a dirt trail can really help in using some of the smaller muscles in your leg, preventing shin splints and other issues you may be having.

Once you've decided to head to the trails, the next determination you'll need to make is, "How far do I want to run?". Make sure you don't choose a loop that's twice as long as you're planning to go, or choose an out and back run so you can control the distance. Also keep in mind that trail running is typically done a bit slower than road or track running, due to the more varied terrain and surfaces. A good rule of thumb is that you'll be running about a minute per mile slower than on a more consistent surface. The next step to choosing a trail is one of my favorites.

In finding the best local trail, the terrain you'd like to run is a major consideration. Trails have a tendency to have steeper and longer hills than other surfaces, due to the different modes of transportation that they were designed for. They can also be very rough, with roots, rocks and other obstacles just waiting to stub your toe (or worse) on the way by. The best way to get started is to choose a dirt road, then slowly progress onto more technical trails, requiring more dynamic movement and even jumping to clear obstacles. Make sure to also familiarize yourself with the elevation profile of your chosen trail, a route that climbs is going to be much slower and harder than a typical run. If you progress slowly onto more technical trails as you become a more proficient runner, you're sure to have a great experience.

There are some other things to consider when hitting the trails for the first time. A major one is our footwear; typically, a trail running shoe has a stiffer sole for protection from sharp objects, and a rougher outsole with larger lugs for better grip than a regular running shoe. They can also have a waterproof membrane to keep your feet dry. You may also want to carry a water bottle if you are choosing a route without anywhere to stop along the way. Running companies make hand held bottles, low profile belts that will hold a bottle, or even a backpack for longer runs with room for multiple water sources. You may also want a GPS watch to track time and distance while you're on the trail.

If you follow these guidelines, the trails around you are sure to provide a fun and challenging experience. Be sure to choose a trail that suits your needs and your abilities, and have a blast.

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