The cardiovascular and psychological benefits of running are incredible, and who doesn't feel great knowing they just completed five miles or more? But running the same route day after day can get tiresome, no? And Long Island has much to offer when it comes to off-road trail running.
As casual runners and those in training for fall races seek to up their endurance, we offer a few suggestions for running on (and off) the beaten path:
A RUN WITH A CHALLENGE
Sunken Meadow State Park: Last exit off Sunken Meadow Parkway North, Kings Park, 631-269-4333. Cost: $8 parking 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
High school and college runners alike cringe at the mention of Snake and Cardiac Hills. Sunken Meadow State Park's 3.1- and 5-mile courses wind through the park's partially mulched picnic area. Both lead to Cardiac Hill - a challenging uphill climb that tests even a regular runner's stamina. "The park itself has just hundreds of possible trails because it's a big park," says Robert Anastasio, creator of lirunning.com.
A NICE, EASY RUN
Home to Nassau County's high school cross-country meets, the park has an unpaved cross-country path and a paved bike path runners use as well. The bike path runs down to the South Shore, at times parallel to Bethpage State Parkway. As for the cross-country course, every mile is marked, so runners can gauge their pace along the flat, wood-chipped trail. "It's kind of a pleasant run . . . very soft on the legs because of all the wood chips," Anastasio says.
A LONG RUN
Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail: Harbor Road, Cold Spring Harbor Public Library (North Trailhead) or Merrick Road and Ocean Avenue,MassapequaRoad, Cold Spring Harbor Public Library (North Trailhead) or Merrick Road and Ocean Avenue, Massapequa Park (South Trailhead), 631-360-0753. Cost: Free
The Greenbelt's trails run from Cold Spring Harbor State Park to Massapequa Preserve in Massapequa Park. About 20 miles from one end to the other, the trail is great for runners training for fall marathons, says Mike Polanski of the Greater Long Island Running Club. The north end poses a more challenging path with an "extremely hilly couple of miles." South of Jericho Turnpike, the path is flat and "very user-friendly," he says.
A RUN WITH A VIEW
Heckscher State Park: Heckscher Parkway Field 1, East Islip, 631-581-2100. Cost: $8 parking.
Although the trails were intended for biking, not running, the 4.5-mile stretch has been transformed into a multiuse path that is frequently traveled. The generally flat, paved asphalt trail was "completely redone last year" according to park official David Auguste, and can be taken two ways. The "scenic" trail takes runners by Babylon's Overlook Beach. Aside from the paved trail, Auguste says there's "a wide system of undeveloped trails in the park as well."
A UNIQUE RUN
Hither Hills State Park (Hither Woods): 166 Old Montauk Hwy., Montauk, 631-668-2554. Cost: $8 parking
Hither Hills has 15 to 20 miles of hilly trails interrupted by challenging sand dunes, then balanced out by scenery that includes views of Napeague Bay. The trails are open year-round, sunrise to sunset; there are on-site showers and a store.
Brookhaven State Park: 567 Middle Country Rd., Ridge
"This totally undeveloped park is safe and pristine. I regularly see deer, wild turkey, snakes, peacocks and red fox - it's so relaxing to get away from the hustle and bustle that our lives have become."
Submitted by Carol Rivadeneyra, Ridge