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Running Off the Beaten Path

By Jenny Hadfield
For Active.com

runTrail running is to running like mountain biking is to road cycling. There is nothing like running somewhere different, where the cars can't go and where you can have a one-on-one with Mother Nature.

Trail running improves balance, coordination, strength, and keeps you in the moment. You really need to focus on where you're going to put your foot on the next stride and how you're going to tackle the next hill. That’s what makes it so interesting. Your risk for overuse injuries is much lower than road running because the terrain is more forgiving on your muscles, tendons and joints.

When heading out to the trails, make sure to run with your buddies or dog, tell someone where you're going and which trail, and take a cell phone with you for safety. If possible, take a trail map with you and keep track of where you are along the trail.

While trail running, it helps to keep your arms (elbows) a little wider for balance. Your stride is a little different than road running because you will need to clear rocks and tree roots and lift your feet a little higher off the ground. You also may need to hop left or right to bypass things on the path like tree branches. Some trails are paved with limestone and are therefore more predictable, while other trails are single track trails with rolling hills, rocks and tree roots.

Eyes on the Trail

The key is to keep your eyes on the trail and focus on where you’re going to take your next step. It can be tempting to look at the nature around you. If you want to look around--walk or stop--but avoid looking up while running. Look ahead about three feet on the trail and then find a line or a spot where you're going to step for the next four to six strides. This keeps you focused and in the moment--I find this to be the gift of trail running. You will begin to instinctively know where that line is as you become more comfortable.

Slow Down and Smell the Roses

Don't expect to run the same pace as on the roads. The terrain alone will be more challenging, in addition to the rocks and other objects on the trail. Slow your pace and develop a tempo within the trail. Sometimes that may mean walking the hills and running the downhills and flats. Find a pace where you can enjoy the terrain.

Hill Techniques

Take short, quick steps or power walk when running up hills, if needed. It’s just like changing gears on your bike when you ride up hills. Use your gears, shorten your strides and soon you will find yourself on top of the hill. Conserve your energy on the uphill so you can take advantage of the downhill.

On the down hills, lengthen your stride, keep your weight slightly forward and arms wide, find your line, and relax into it. Take quick steps, never landing fully on each foot.

Most importantly--have fun on the trails. It’s a serene place and a great way to mix up your regular running routine, get stronger and see new sites along the way.

Jenny Hadfield is the co-author of the best-selling Marathoning for Mortals, and the new Running for Mortals and Training for Mortals series. She has trained thousands of runners and walkers with her training plans. Train for your next event with Coach Jenny's Active Trainer Plans.

This article originally appeared on Active.com — your source for event information, training plans, expert advice, and everything you need to connect with the sport you love.

Active.com