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Blaze Your Own Trail

Five expert suggestions for boosting your off-roading prowess.

With years of running behind him, ultra-distance champ Dana Miller knows just how tough hitting the trails can be.

“I have a Morton’s foot—where my second toe is larger than my big toe,” Miller tells MF. “I was always jamming my toes on the downhills, beating them to a bloody pulp and leaving my toenails black and blue. So I decided to have my two second toenails surgically removed.” You don’t have to do anything quite as extreme, but there are a few easy ways to better any trail-running experience:

LOSE YOURSELF “I’ve started to run with a cell phone all the time, even though there is not really coverage since I’m often eight to 10 miles off the nearest road,” Miller told us. “And I always tell my wife the general area I’m in and an agreed-on time for when she’ll send help if I don’t come back.”

WATCH THE SKY “It’s very important to be aware of any change in the weather, especially when running at high altitude,” says Miller. “Plan your route, and if you have thunderstorms coming in, change it. Stay flexible and cut it short rather than expose yourself to lightning danger. Keep your head up and study the clouds.”

BUST THE DUST “If you’re running on sandy trails or loose dirt and that debris gets into your shoes and socks, you’ll end up with hot spots and blisters. I’m pretty careful that the shoes I wear don’t have mesh that sand can get through. I’ll also wear two layers of socks to trap most of the excess dust,” says Miller.

PROTECT YOUR FEET “I always put an extra insole in my shoe. Even if it’s a shoe with a good plate in the sole for protection, adding a thin insole will help prevent pain and injury when you’re running on uneven ground,” Miller says.

RELAX AND ENJOY “Varying types of terrain can lead to a disaster if you run stiffly and roll your ankle. It’s essential to stay as loose as possible while running, so if you do turn an ankle on a rock or a root, you don’t break it,” Miller told us. “Lots of people are afraid or uncomfortable when they run, and this keeps their bodies rigid and prone to injury.

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