As many of us know, runners have to contend with a whole host of issues as we age and the miles take their toll on our fragile frames. We can’t run as fast as we used to. Our heart, lungs and oxygen-carrying capabilities all gradually decline in efficiency. Our muscles and connective tissue become less flexible, making us more prone to injury. On top of all that, it gets increasingly harder to muster the motivation to crank out anything harder than conversational-pace effort.Putting aside the competitive aspect, many runners run because we enjoy the feeling of being fit and healthy. We relish the invigorating sensation that running gives us. Running becomes part of who we are, as George Sheehan has described in his “Running and Being” musings. An old high school teammate of mine said he hasn’t really been to a place until he has “left his sweat there” via a discovery run.As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained a greater appreciation of the feel-good qualities of running. Settling into a good groove and cruising along at a comfortable pace can bring me to a state of contentment beyond the reach of most other activities. For years I’ve been able to just step out the door, start running and ease my way into this zone of serenity.Lately, however, I’ve noticed that the trial of many miles has begun to claim its due on my creaking joints and muscles. The primary reason is the continual pounding on hard surfaces—that is, roads. I realize that the roads are a part of the club’s identity (we are the Rockland Road Runners, after all), but every runner could benefit from forgoing the pavement whenever possible and heading for a softer surface.Running on a forgiving surface like a dirt trail, footpath, grass or spongy track provides a cushion for all the areas susceptible to injury from repetitive stress: knees, hips, feet, ankles, shins, Achilles, calves, hamstrings (back of the thigh), quadriceps (front of the thigh), gluteus (buttocks), lower back. Anyone who’s been a runner for at least a few years has probably experienced problems in one or more of these areas. The oft-quoted fact about footfall impact bears repeating: runners strike the ground with a force equaling three times their body weight, placing great stress on the joints especially.My favorite antidote to pounding asphalt road surfaces (and, even worse, concrete sidewalks) is to head for the trails. Of course, winter can pose a special problem when snow blankets the footpaths, but when they’re clear I heartily recommend my favorite haunts to relieve the trauma to your body and to nourish your soul.Among my favorites:The Hook Mountain trail from Nyack Beach to Haverstraw. This five-mile trail begins at the parking area at Nyack Beach in Upper Nyack and hugs the Hudson River shoreline for 1 1/2 miles. Then it ascends a short paved hill that at one time was the last section of a chute that carried crystal clear blocks of ice—in the pre-refrigeration era—from Rockland Lake to ships bound for New York City and other locations. At the top of this hill, you can go one of two directions. Head straight and you encounter the steep “firehouse” hill that leads to Rockland Lake. Bear right to continue on the woodsy, rolling Hook Mountain trail till you get to a small gravel parking area that marks the end of the trail and the southern terminus of Riverside Avenue, in the Dutchtown section of the village of Haverstraw.The 5 1/2-mile path from South Nyack to Tappan, which runs parallel to Route 9W above and River Road below until Piermont. This flat trail runs along a former right of way for the old Erie Railroad line, which originated in Piermont and ended near Buffalo and was the longest rail line in the United States when it was opened in the mid-19th century.The Erie trail goes by different names as you cross through different villages and hamlets. In South Nyack, it starts out at Franklin Street Park as the Mayor Raymond Esposito Memorial Trail for almost a mile. (Mayor Esposito, as many longtime local runners know, started the South Nyack 7.8-Mile Run in 1978; the race is now a popular, club-sponsored 10-miler held in September).In the village of Grand View, the trail becomes Hader Park, named after Elmer Stanley Hader and Berta Hader, who were renowned illustrators and writers and former longtime village residents. In Piermont, the Erie trail passes by the former Piermont train station, which local officials are trying to preserve as a museum. The views from this section of the trail can be spectacular as you look eastward toward the Piermont Pier, Piermont Marsh and Sparkill Creek.When you reach the Sparkill Viaduct (almost 4 _ miles), you must cross Route 340 (a short crossing) and run through the park in downtown Sparkill—where the trail is named the Joseph B. Clark Rail-Trail after the former head of the Orangetown Parks and Recreation Department. You then cross Washington Avenue and continue on the trail until it ends at Oak Tree Road in Tappan.The Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Sleepy Hollow (914-631-1470). This place is a runner’s paradise. No less than 26 different named trails, traversing 20 miles of carriage paths on more than 1,000 acres from the Rockefeller family estate. Plenty of woodlands, meadows, wildlife (I frequently see deer, turkey vultures and many other bird species there) and 24-acre Swan Lake. If you park in the Visitors Center parking area, you’ll have to pay the $5 parking fee (Rest rooms and drinking water are available at the center). Many runners avoid the fee by parking at Sleepy Hollow High School and entering the park from the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail. To get to the park, take the first exit past the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Tarrytown exit, turn right off the ramp onto Route 9, and proceed about two miles on Route 9 to Sleepy Hollow High School on the right. Turn right up the entrance road, follow it around to the back of the school and turn left to the parking lot near the athletic fields. To access the park’s main entrance, take Route 9 to Route 117 east. The park is 1 mile east on Route 117.