160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGift Box shows no rust in San Antonio Stakes win at Santa Anita SANTA BARBARA – It was 5 p.m. The gym was loud, crowded and smelled like sweat. With her running shoes laced up and towel draped over her right shoulder, Jaime Eschette tried to be patient. She had already stretched and warmed up, but a quality, stress-free workout was now in question. She had no idea how long she would have to wait for an open machine. Others soon joined the wait. At 27, Eschette, the public-relations director for TEVA – a leading provider of running shoes – is an outdoor junkie. She trains for marathons, exercises habitually and always has loved the outdoors. And crowds at the gym are a major turn-off. “I don’t like running in a gym,” Eschette said. “I think it’s boring. I think it’s flat. I want to feel like I accomplish something, and I don’t feel like I’ve done that after I work out in gym. “The only time I go is if I waited too late, and it’s dark. You are staring at a TV that bounces up and down while you are looking at it. Plus, I think you get a better workout on the trail. To a certain degree, a machine does a lot of work for you. It feels kind of silly to work out in an environment that was made for running, but you are doing it on a machine. Why hop on a machine when you can run on a trail.” Eschette is among hundreds of thousands of runners across the U.S. and around the globe that in the past decade have left the gym and headed for the hills. Trail-running has become a major sport – reports claim a 25 percent growth in U.S. participants since 1998, to 6.49 million – and it’s gaining popularity as time spent outdoors becomes more valuable. Trail-runners – the shoes – are growing in popularity. Nearly every major shoe company has designed a model ideal for running on dirt and through mud, snow, water and over rocks. “People don’t want to run on the streets,” Eschette said. “With the new interest in the outdoors, it’s getting people off the streets and on the trail. It’s easier for your knees as well. Plus, the scenery is great. I love being out in the outdoors. It’s more serene, quiet and peaceful. You definitely feel like you aren’t in the office.” TEVA, Brooks, Asics, Merrell, Asolo, Salomon and nearly every shoe company that designs running shoes, hiking boots and other footwear is catering to trail-runners. “We are focusing on trail running and are really committed to it. It’s something we are really excited about,” Eschette said. “I think people are looking for something different. They are looking to get away from the city. “I ran this weekend, and I had to run eight miles to train for a marathon. Every few miles I have to stop, wait for a car to go by or wait at a light. It’s hard to get into your groove when you do that, but when you are on a trail, you can just go and don’t have all these obstacles.” Traditional running shoes work well on pavement, concrete, some dirt and tracks, but they don’t offer what aids runners on trails. “You are going to be a lot more comfortable in a trail-running shoe, but it does depend on the degree of the trail you are running,” Eschette explained. “There’s a lot of flat, straight and well-groomed trails out there, but as you graduate to tougher trails, you’ll need a better shoe. They have to be made to help you get through the technical spots on the trail, just like climbing gear helps you on your climb.” Is it really necessary for runners to purchase a pair of trail-runners? Mary Schoenborn, product development systems manager for Wolverine World Wide’s Outdoor Group, which includes Merrell and Sebago, says yes. “Trail-running has been a growing category since probably the mid-1990s,” she said. “Now many hikers are using trail-running shoes also to reduce weight, improve foot comfort and move faster on the trails. Trail shoes generally have better traction and stability for running or walking on rough, uneven surfaces. “They are also slightly lower to the ground and may have less cushioning, because the trail surface is not as hard as paved roads. The lower-profile design also gives more stability.” Trail-runners are more valuable than one might think, Asolo’s Jason Stadler says. “Almost all running shoes use an EVA midsole with some pockets for cushioning and shock management,” he said. “However, what they lack for trail running is the necessary protection that is needed while crossing miles of uneven, rock-covered, root-strewn trails. For this reason, trail-running shoes often incorporate a lightweight shank that manages these conditions while still providing proper flex for running. “The shoes also are typically gripped with more aggressive outsoles for varied conditions, whether it be dry/dusty, mud/slop, snow/wet. … Higher-cut trail shoes are also making a presence due to their ability to protect ankle twists.” As with running shoes, water sandals and hiking boots, trail-runners continue to evolve and improve. “I think we approach it the same way we do road-running shoes,” said Trip Allen, vice president of footwear design for Brooks Sports. “Weight is always going to be important. We’ll do whatever we can do shave weight so long as the shoe doesn’t lose its integrity for other needs. “For a number of years, trail-runners were like SUVs for the feet. We wanted to make the shoe more adaptable for the trail. I think, in general, trail-runners want a shoe that’s flexible, but still can provide comfort, so you don’t have the rocks bruising your foot.” Shaving weight yet maintaining stability and comfort is the goal of most trail-running manufacturers. And the rugged, lightweight shoes also double as everyday shoes. “Interestingly, another potential catalyst for the growth in this category was the market’s go-light mentality that started several years back,” Stadler said. “Weekend adventurers and snowshoers, for example, can now use these products because of their design. … They can, and do, serve as multipurpose footwear.” Chris Shaffer covers the outdoors for the Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.