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It's the perfect time of year to head outside, but before you try running on nature trails, read this expert advice.If you’re a dedicated runner looking for a change of scenery, this is the season to take your run off-road and onto a nature trail. But how to navigate the tree roots, twists and turns of some of Canada’s best trails? (We’re fans of the Trans Canada Trail and the Ontario Bruce Trail, for starters.)
We asked Kent Keeler, an Ontario-based runner who races on trails across North America (most recently at the North Face Endurance Challenge in Collingwood, Ont.) for some insider tips on how to run on nature trails.
Expect to get a different workout when you’re running on trails, he says. "With constantly changing terrain underfoot like rocks, roots, and uneven ground, you use a lot of stabilizer muscles that wouldn't necessarily be engaged with road running," says Keeler.
Here are five tips to get you running on nature trails in no time:
• Beginners should start on flat trails, especially if you've only run on the road in the past. Once you are comfortable with the less smooth unpaved surface, varied technical terrain can be the next step.
• The key is to start slower and maintain a constant focus on the tricky surfaces like rocks, roots, and logs. You can often zone out during a road run, but on trails it's important to stay focused on the terrain. This is a good workout for the mind, too, says Keeler. “ I try to look about three to five metres ahead of me so that I can see what is coming up and ensure my body has time to react."
• Leave your watch at home: Trail runs often are more difficult and take longer than road running, so remember not to compare apples to oranges and embrace the fact that that trails offer different challenges that affect your run time. “Slower definitely isn't bad,” Keeler says.
• Get ready for an uphill challenge: Hills are a big part of most trail running. Try to shorten your stride; faster, shorter strides are more efficient when going uphill.
in some cases, the hill is so steep that fast walking, or "power hiking" is preferable. “Many times I have passed people going uphill who were trying to run when I was simply power hiking,” says Keeler.
• Get the gear: Road shoes will work on easier, dry trails. If you are planning to run on more varied trails, or in wet and muddy conditions, a good pair of trail running shoes make a big difference. You want shoes with some good tread, breathability, as well as the ability to quickly drain the water that makes its way into the shoe (which is inevitable on some wet trails).
Read on for 10 great places to get active outside and a great trail mix to snack on.