Running isn't only good for your body; it can be good for your soul as well; especially if you're running outdoors on some of America's most beautiful running trails. Jeff Galloway, author of the bestselling running instruction book in North America, and his son Brennan present some of their favorite and most scenic places to run or walk in the United States. This list includes places in almost all of the 50 states, divided geographically from West to East. Each route has directions to the trail head and special instructions to enjoy the area. Beautiful pictures of the scenery and historical facts of the area or trail round out each listing. While most of the routes are places to run anytime, America's Best Trails also includes running events, such as the Big Sur International and the Big Wild Life Run. To prepare you for your runs, Jeff Galloway includes tips on training for trail running, dealing with elevation, running uphill and downhill, terrain issues, and endurance. Time-tested suggestions for choosing footwear, clothing, drinks, and energy snacks are also provided. America's Best Trails is a running book, a travel book and more—it's an inspiration for every runner and walker!
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Jeff Galloway / Brennan Galloway
America's Best Trails
The Most Beautiful Places to Run
Meyer & Meyer Fachverlag & Buchhandel GmbH
This book has been very carefully prepared, but no responsibility is taken for the correctness of the information it contains. Neither the author nor the publisher can assume liability for any damages or injuries resulting from information contained in this book.
by Barbara Galloway
Anthropologists tell us that humans evolved as endurance animals. We survived because we as a species developed the internal programming and physical conditioning to keep moving for hours, days, and weeks at a time. Because our ancestors walked, ran, and sprinted on natural terrain, we enhance the fitness and empowerment of running by going back to our roots. The most exciting research today shows that while we experience a treasury of health and physical benefits from running, the mental and psychological rewards are even more significant: quicker decisions, better judgment, improved attitude, more vitality.
Running on trails revs up brain activity another notch, while also allowing us to “be in the moment.” Running on trails forces us to touch the earth on every step and to be constantly aware. We must process a variety of information, adjust to the surface, elevation, weather, vegetation, and be ready for what comes ahead. The good news is that we inherited from our ancestors all of the capabilities to do this, while receiving the rewards.
My most memorable runs have been on trails. I’ve come to embrace the never-ending stream of invigorating challenges, stresses, and minor risks which bring the significant and continuing rewards of being alert, mentally fresh, and energized to take action. Running changes your brain. Trail running enhances these changes. As a result, I have found myself better able to appreciate, respond, and adapt to the challenges and opportunities in other areas of life.
Meet Brennan Galloway
It’s a joy for me to co-author this book with my son, Brennan. Even during the first few months of his life, Brennan was covering dozens of miles every month on the Kennesaw Mountain National Park trail system. His mom, Barbara, and I wore out the first version of the “baby jogger” on these forest trails with Brennan wide awake, absorbing the natural forest environment, downloading the sounds, smells, and terrain. When he started running and hiking with our Tahoe Running Retreat folks, Brennan was a natural on trails at age 4.
While competing in cross country and track at Colorado College, Brennan ran countless miles on trails. He also produced a documentary on one of the top ultra marathoners in the world, Anton Krupica, who is a friend.
Brennan and his wife, Jenny, travelled extensively throughout the US, running on most of the trails and taking photos. While they contributed most of the photos, other photographers have contributed and are mentioned in the appropriate section.
When Brennan and I look back at what we consider our best runs, almost all of them were trails. It’s not just the scenery. As you move along a trail, through forest, desert, parkland, you enter a different state of mind. You’re constantly interacting with the ground, vegetation, elevation change, and a variety of sounds and aromas. Mind–body activity is elevated to a higher level of awareness to be ready to react. You’re living in the moment and interacting with real life around you as you move forward.
There is something primitive and restorative when running on the trail. Our ancestors programmed us to keep going for days at a time because survival depended upon doing so. As we move down along a natural trail, we go back to our roots in a positive way. Barbara cited the mental and psychological benefits in the preface. The bottom line is that we almost always feel better after a trail run with a sense of connecting to our environment and other living creatures.
Sharing. There’s a special bond that occurs when we run with one or more companions along a trail. We’re turning on circuits that connect us with millions of years of evolution. The extra trust and cooperation you feel toward a trail running companion often extends after the run. Some runners communicate and bond better on trails—even when nothing is said—than when running other venues. Trail companions are connected in ancient and satisfying ways, pulling one another along to get through tough situations.
Variety. Even if you run the same trail each day you will feel different sensations on each run—because of changes in lighting, seasons, and weather. When you choose a different trail every month, you will enhance your running experience and look forward to each adventure. One of the missions of this book is to introduce you to 50 interesting running venues. Don’t keep these to yourself—spread the word.
The mission. Planning for trail runs connects you to the history and geography of the area. It’s fun to find interesting places to stay, eat, and explore. As you coordinate with travel companions you’ll create a special life experience—not just a running experience.
Enjoyable scenery. Most of the trails we selected for this book have scenic sections. Some are spectacular, others offer a series of natural scenes that are enjoyable in themselves with visual images, interesting and diverse sounds, mysteries, and puzzles. Surprising are the discoveries during runs on trails that at first seem boring or unstimulating. Within a few minutes you’ll see details of ground cover, vegetation, animal prints or signs, and sounds made by the wind or vegetation. You could write several pages about the details seen and felt along every segment of just about any trail.
Strengthening of legs and feet. The feet and legs have to work a bit harder on trails to maintain balance, push off on different terrain, and shift usage of muscles. All of the adaptations for adjusting to various surfaces are embedded in us. As we run regularly on non-paved surfaces we get better and better at adjusting pace, foot placement, inserting walk breaks, and moving around hazards. You find a different sense of balance on trails. Muscles and tendons intuitively strengthen and work together in special ways during different segments of each trail. You’ll often notice when a road runner spends a year training on trails, many of the small leg muscles acquire greater definition.
Part of nature. As you move through the trees, plants, hills, grass, or sand, you become part of nature—picking up bits of the forest, field, valley, or prairie. You’re literally grounded as you touch earth on each step. You feel and wear the moisture (or lack of) and collect the dust, mist, snow, frost, or dew.
Preparation for off-road races. A growing number of races offer off–road races or segments. As you train on trails that simulate your race course, you adapt the feet, legs, and balance for the exact demands of the race itself. Many who run trail events will schedule trips to train on the course in advance and reduce the surprises on race day. The best preparation for running on a trail is to train on that trail.
View scenery in a unique way. Due to the lighting, foliage, or recent precipitation, each scene on a trail run is different from any other. Many runners carry cameras or phones and capture images that are revisited over and over, often turning the photos into screensavers. But most of the images are stored away in the memory cells. Every week, during a run, a certain image, shadow, or cloud formation will bring flashes of my rich memories in the Sierra mountains, Arizona desert preserves, or a Florida pine forest. Some were experienced last week but others decades ago—a wonderful and direct connection with our running past.
Brain invigoration. The brain instinctively revs up when you start running on a trail, turning on circuits for high awareness. From ancient times, running directly on the earth required more resources from the mind–body network. The central nervous system is on high alert, reflexes are ready to respond, energy circuits gear up to conserve and then deliver as needed. Muscles are activated, performance hormones are released, and mechanical units flow into a smooth range of motion. I know of no other activity that activates our vitality and positive expectations than trail running.
The result is that I feel more alive and energized when running down a trail: body, mind, and spirit working together. Brennan and I wish you many special trail experiences.
Note: Thanks to Kerry Dycus, Chris Twiggs, and Dave James for their input on these terms.
Trailhead – A location where you can access a trail. Sometimes there is parking and other services. If located in a national or state park, there may be a user fee. Paying the fee supports upkeep and trail development.
Out and back – Running along a trail in one direction for a certain distance, then running back to the start.
Loop trail – A trail that starts and finishes at the same place but has little or no duplication of the route—making a circle.
Point to point – A route that starts in one place and finishes in a different place. Transportation logistics are necessary when setting up such routes.
Single track – This trail is only wide enough for one person at a time. Runners have to yield to other runners to let them pass. Make sure that you leave enough space between you and the runner ahead.
Double track – A two-lane trail that is made by an ATV or truck, for example. Running side by side is possible, passing is easy, and two-way traffic is not a problem. Keep right; pass on the left.
Technical – Trails that have lots of rocks, roots, elevation issues, and ditches. Technical trails require a lot more attention than most because foot placement is extremely important. They may also include switchbacks, sharp turns, or blind corners. Technical trails require a delicate balance of looking ahead and looking at the ground ahead of you to avoid tripping. As always, take an extra walk break to reduce risks and see what’s ahead.
Switchback – A section of trail that makes a zigzag up or down a hill. This is particularly found when there is a very steep elevation change and is usually preferable to running straight up or down.
Trail etiquette – This has become an extremely important topic lately as more and more people are taking up trail running. Runners, hikers, cyclists, and sometimes horses will be sharing the same trail. Be aware of the other creatures ahead of and behind you.
Passing. When approaching someone who is slower, let them know you are there with a cough or a greeting, such as “How’s it going?” Politely thank the yielding runner as you go by after he or she pulls to the side. Uphill runners should yield to downhill runners. The downhill runner has gravity and momentum on his or her side—don’t get in the way of either of these. “Passing left” is the best way to let another runner know that you plan to come by, but the person in front needs to be aware that there are faster runners behind them as well. For this reason, a lot of trail races forbid headphones.
Be patient! When approaching slower runners on a narrow path, don’t put yourself or the other runners at risk. It is appropriate to ask, “could I please get ahead of you?”
Being passed. When running on single track, be aware of those behind who are running faster than you and want to pass. Many single-track races don’t have many passing opportunities. When faster runners come up from behind, step aside so that they can pass.
Be “green.” Please carry your trash with you (gel packs, wrappers, water bottles). Fatigue can result in sloppiness which can lead to litter on the trail.
When running with your dog: Use a leash. Even a friendly dog can cause other runners to fall. Always scoop the poop.
Stay on the trail! Obey posted signs and don’t cut switchbacks. Some countries do not have the same rules for nature preservation as we do in the United States. If you are competing in a race outside the US, switchback cutting may be allowed, but it‘s best for the environment to stay on the established trail.
Buddy system: The safest trail running, just like the safest road running, is with a buddy. But if you run alone, make sure someone knows your planned route and when to expect you back. Bring your cell phone.
Rules of the Trail
Run with a buddy or two.
Bring a cell phone.
Research the area for risks—and avoid them.
Wear adequate clothing.
Walk gently through hazards.
Who should not run trails? Those of us who love running on trails want all of our friends to enjoy it. Unfortunately, some will be miserable or will suffer repeat injuries when running in the natural environment. By gradually introducing the feet, legs, and psyche to trail running there is a chance that even those who hated trails at first will become trail lovers. But everyone needs to be careful in the beginning.
Weak ankles put one at risk on uneven terrain. Those with very mobile ankle joints are very likely to suffer ankle sprains, strains, and tendon irritation in other areas. I’ve run with some weak-ankle runners, and just about any irregularity can set off the movement that can cause aggravation and injury.
Foot, knee, and hip issues can be triggered by uneven terrain. More walking and strengthening exercises can reduce the risk, but those who have repeat injuries in these areas should look to a pedestrian or bike trail system, with a paved surface, when they take to the trails.
Some runners are anxious when they run away from “civilization.” The fear of the unknown is real and will leave anxious runners with a negative feeling after a trail run. Gradually venturing into woods or parks can sometimes allow runners to adapt and desensitize the emotions. But running with an experienced and supportive companion(s) can also deal with this.
If you are running with someone who is challenged by any of these issues, talk about the problems and make sure the novice has medical clearance to run on rough terrain.
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