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Learn The Where, Why And How Of Trail Running

If you have been thinking about getting into trail running, we have the where, why and how.

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The author of Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running, has the where, why and how of trail running.


You don’t have to live in a mountain town to be a trail runner. Trails exist in urban areas, suburban areas, rural farmlands and coastal communities. In fact, there are over 60,000 miles of trails in the United States. You just need to know how to find them.

  • Suburban Trails
    Many suburban areas have dirt, wood-chipped or gravel paths within town limits. These areas are popular for dog walkers, fitness walkers, bicyclists and nature lovers and offer soft surfaces away from traffic. Some suburban areas also have dirt alleys and paths linking paved streets. Ask around, or go out and explore to find them.
  • Rural Trails
    Rural areas often offer plenty of open spaces and opportunities for exploring dirt and grass paths, some likely carved out by animals. Running on a dirt road or over hill and dale in quiet farmland provides a soft surface and pleasant bucolic views. Note: On dirt roads, run on the side of the road against traffic, and always stay aware of your surroundings. Car, truck and tractor drivers may not be used to seeing runners on the sides of rural roads.
  • Horse Trails
    These can be found in rural areas, but they sometimes also twist through communities where residents who own horses like to ride. Some areas have extensive wood-chipped and dirt trails running throughout. Note: Some towns specify that their equestrian trails are for residents and riders only. Always be courteous to horses and their riders.
  • Urban Trails
    Even in major urban centers, you can find trails. San Francisco has great ribbons of smooth singletrack running through Golden Gate Park and the Presidio. New York City has trails winding through Central Park and Van Cortlandt Park. Most cities have trails within city limits and even more within a short drive.


Trail running goes beyond strengthening just your body. Runners know—and research supports—that it’s also ridiculously good for your heart, mind and soul. Scientists have measured the benefits of exercise outdoors on our mental well-being. For example, exercising in natural environments increases energy and creates greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement—while decreasing tension, anger and depression.


If you’re fuzzy on the rules of the trail, here’s a little refresher…

Remember the right of way. Runners aren’t the only ones who use trails. Mountain bikers, equestrians, hikers, rock climbers and birders are all trail users. Some trails are wide enough for multiple trail users to pass one another, but others may be too narrow. Singletrack, by definition, is only wide enough for a single user, and so when two parties meet on a singletrack trail, one must yield to the other.

The basic principals are that bikes on the trail should yield to hikers, runners and equestrians. Hikers and runners should yield to equestrians. Equestrians should keep an eye out for bikers, hikers and runners and expect to have the right of way.

Are these guidelines always followed? No. Should trail users always pay attention to who’s around them on the trail, be courteous to all, and pass and be passed nicely, regardless of “right of way”? Yes.

Want to learn even more about trail running? Find more here!
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