March 13, 2009

Almost Trail Running Time!

I took today off from running since I turned my regularly scheduled rest day into a tempo run this week. I had the whole day off work and I was getting pretty bored – really didn’t have the motivation to clean house like I should have – so I put on my hiking socks and boots and drove over to the wooded trails near my home in the Bald Mountain Recreation Area.

These trails are part of the state park system, but don’t let the name fool you - there are no mountains in southeast Michigan. The trails themselves are well-maintained, though the trail signs have been a bit neglected. The area is shared by hikers, runners, mountain bikers and (yikes!) hunters, which is why I shy away from the trail in the Fall! I still haven’t invested in a brightly-colored running jacket and I’d rather not have to run through the woods shouting, “Don’t shoot! I’m not a deer!”

The trails are moderately technical and a blast to run. When I first started running last year, I tried both trail running and road running. Trail running is FAR more fun. I’ve found I’ve spent more time running on the roads and have participated in more road races than trail races. I’m not sure why that is. It kind of defies explanation. This year I already have registered for two trail races and I’m hoping I can get in 2-3 more. Next year I want to run the Grand Island Trail Marathon, and who knows, from there I might venture into the land of ultras.

Trail running is a completely different sport from road running. For one, there is no opportunity to allow your mind to wander. If you do, you break an ankle - or worse. Every step has to be chosen wisely. The mind and body are both fully engaged. I love this about the sport. One benefit is that while my attention is focused on staying upright, I don’t think so much about how my heart and lungs feel. This allows me to go longer and harder because my mind can’t convince me that I’m getting tired when it is distracted with other things.

Another difference – no vehicular traffic. No traffic means no honks, no exhaust, no looking both ways before crossing the road and no stopping at intersections. I’d much rather deal with the occasional mountain-biker than cars any day.

The scenery just can’t be beat. My local trails offer the nature lover a virtual paradise. Before I started running, I hiked these trails several times a week and taught myself the names of dozens and dozens of wildflowers, trees and birds. There are some spots along the trail that can stop me in my tracks by their beauty – like the area that is blanketed with Large-Flowered Trillium on both sides of the trail for just a few weeks in the Spring. There are a few wetland areas that grow the most awesome diversity of water-loving plants. It is amazing to run through the area and watch the succession of tree and flower species as the elevation and soil changes. I really should have been a naturalist. Boy did I miss my calling.

So today I went out for three reasons: 1) I was bored. 2) I wanted to see what shape the trail was in because my first race of the season is a 5.6 mile trail run two weeks from now right here on these very trails! The trail was about 80-90% clear of snow and ice, but if those spots don’t clear up, they will make the run very tricky. Good thing I always keep my YakTrax in my car! 3) I wanted to see how my heel and achilles would feel after a brisk walk on the route. I’m afraid I’m going to have to run the race very conservatively as I was a bit tender today. :-(

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