I'm living for trail running right now.
It has saved my streak (108 days), my body, my general outlook and life enjoyment over the past couple of months.
Why trails over streets:
So much fun! Every trail and turn off is an exploration of new ground. It feeds my curiosity and desire for adventure, while giving me very different vantage points of my new city. After running over 75 days straight around my neighborhood, I am thriving off of running new trails and new neighborhoods to get to those trails several times a week. Every day I discover something cool that I wouldn't have come across otherwise.
Totally invigorating, mentally and physically. It's getting me through my run streak and this endless quarantine. I'm so excited to wake up early and get out on a mountain trail before it gets too hot. I plot out my week of which new areas I'll explore. And there's just nothing like running fast down a mountain after a difficult climb, leaping over divots and rocks, feeling like a speedy little goat.
Easier on the body. Pounding your feet down on concrete every day is tough on the body, especially joints. Even though many trails offer technical terrain to navigate, the ground itself is soft, absorbing much of the impact of your footfall so the body doesn't have to. Whereas 3 miles on pavement right now can feel like six to my body, 3 on trails feels like nothing at all.
Gets you out of your comfort zone and familiarity. Trail running is a different animal from street running, requiring different gear, gait, and attention. It's a great way to shake things up and infuse some new passion into your running if you're been at it for a long time. There's new stuff to learn, abundant challenges, risks, and rewards.
Fitness plateau solved. Think you're in good running shape? Go for a trail run, especially in the mountains. I can be climbing up a mountain 2min per mile slower than street pace and be huffing and puffing more than I have in months of hill repeats or sprints on pavement. It's glorious and a good reality check-in for cardiovascular fitness.
I'm forced to slow down, and it's nice. I stop and take in the views. I switch to hike mode when the incline is too steep or I just need a little break. I'm taking in (and marveling at) in my surroundings at every step, rather than just rushing past the same cityscapes. After living in urban areas for nearly 20 years, I'm still in awe of the beauty surrounding LA. I'm not trying to beat my time or hold a particular pace; I'm just enjoying myself. Immensely.
Even "out and backs" are fun! Loop routes are harder to make on trails than urban streets. But a trail looks and feels totally different depending on which direction you're going, so it doesn't feel like you're backtracking.
Pushes me explore further than my neighborhood and forces me to DRIVE. I developed a pretty serious driving anxiety while living in NYC. But my love of trials and desire to conquer them all has lured me farther and farther from home, which means I have to drive on roads that are really scary to me. This is a huge accomplishment that I'm actually pretty proud of. A few months ago I would have been on the side of the road having a panic attack. I still haven't driven on highways, but I bet the first time will be to get further into the Santa Monica mountains.
Silence, nature, solitude. I need more alone time and quiet than the average person, and I don't get enough of either. Out on the trails it's just me and the little critters. I don't need to zone out with music or entertain myself with podcasts to pass the time running, I just enjoy the quiet (and look out for rattle snakes).
It's given me something to research and geek out on, as well as new gear to buy (see below).
Bathrooms abound! I always drink a full cup of coffee and glass of water before heading out, and I almost always have to pee. Out on the trail I can!
Tips and things that are working for me:
Tell someone where you're going and how long you plan to be. I didn't start doing this until recently, which was dumb and unsafe. It's not the danger of sketchy people, or hungry animals, but of taking a tough fall and being too hurt to get out and/or out of cell range.
Trail shoes are an absolute must. I tried on at least 15 pairs and ran in several. I returned some and tried others. Trail-specific shoes are necessary for safely gripping sandy, muddy, or steep terrain. They also offer protection in the toe and ankle stability for uneven and unpredictable surfaces. I recommend sizing up by 1/2 size--steep downhills can slam your toenails into the toe plate.
Consider purchasing a hiking book of your local area. Of course there are numerous websites and apps that will also do the job, but I'm a book nerd, so I started there. Regardless of your medium, do some research and exploring to find your favorite trails.
Consider wearing a Camelback or other hydration pack with pockets to stash emergency kits, food/fuel, car keys, phone/map, and extra layers. I don't currently do this because I'm running relatively short trails, but as I branch out into longer adventures I certainly will. For now I wear shorts with endless pockets like these, my absolute favorite running shorts.
Leave your AirPods at home. It's even more important to be totally tuned into your surroundings with all of your senses to stay safe and not get lost while out in the wild. This is why you're out here in the first place, right? Listen to nature.
Your running pace and form will change depending on the terrain. Pay attention to it with a curiosity and willingness to modify. Personally, I'm able to practice my forefoot strike better on dirt and changing elevation better than on street. I also engage my stabilizing core muscles much more.
Once this streak ends I think I'll be running primarily on trails, maybe hitting pavement once or twice a week for speed work to get race ready, but this love affair with the trails feels true and long lasting.