You probably had a cross-country program in high school. Kids who ran track in the spring would don those little shorts and head into the woods in the fall. But can you do this as an adult?
Absolutely, though the shorts are optional.
Trail running is gaining massive popularity among hikers who want to cover more terrain and runners looking for a change of scenery, said Nancy Hobbs, executive director of the American Trail Running Association. It borrows from both sports and, in the past two decades, has become its own unique outdoor pursuit.
"There are so many opportunities," Hobbs said. "Every place has trails, trail races and trail runs."
The sport has caught on around Central Ohio, as many locals pick up the pace throughout state and metro parks.
"I found I really love running in the woods, in a place where there aren't any cars," said Sharon Seslar, who leads trips for Columbus Outdoor Pursuits, a local adventure group. "In addition to the scenery, it's much more challenging."
Here's how to hit the ground running.
1. Get good shoes. Compared to regular running shoes, models for the trail generally have less cushioning because of softer surfaces and bigger treads to handle muddy conditions. They're built to be water-resistant and a bit stiffer to help you over uneven paths.
2. Start slow. Cardio training will carry over from your road work, but trail running uses additional muscle groups for stability and lateral support. First try a route that's smoother until your feet are trained for rocky, technical trails.
3. Cut down your distance. Running five miles on the sidewalk is much easier than the same length in the woods. Most trail runners suggest setting a target time, not a target distance. If possible, run with a buddy at your skill level.
4. Pack accordingly. Adequate water is a must. For longer runs, consider bringing some high-energy snacks. Also, there are no street signs in the woods, so bring a map on unfamiliar trails. If you're running in spring, bring a lightweight jacket or waterproof shell.
5. Watch the trail. Your local metro park is going to be prettier than a strip of pavement. Still, you'll need to watch where you're going. Make sure to pay attention to uneven footing and check trail signs. Walk a bit to take in the scenery.
Sources: Nancy Hobbs, American Trail Running Association; Sharon Seslar, Columbus Outdoor Pursuits; Jay Stanwood, FrontRunner
Local and state parks are the best places to start running trails. Before you hit one, ask about elevation changes and whether the trail is rocky, rooty or prone to flooding. These three are good places to start.
Three Creeks Metro Park
3860 Bixby Rd., Groveport
From the Confluence Trails Area, warm up on a paved multiuse connector before hitting the northernmost entrance to the riverside Confluence Trail, which loops back around. 2.5 miles total.
Highbanks Metro Park
9466 Columbus Pike, Lewis Center
From the nature center, take the popular Dripping Rock Trail south to the Overlook Trail. Loop that, hit some good ups and downs and continue around to Dripping Rock's northern half. Five miles total.
Dillon State Park
5265 Dillon Hills Dr., Nashport
At the trailhead near the park office begins a great, rugged trail network used by mountain bikers. Runners will see rocky terrain, some tough climbs and twisting paths. 12 miles total.