Sunday, December 11, 2011

Trail Running - A (Rude) Introduction

 The decision was made before I completed my last marathon this fall. I had decided I was going to become a trail runner in the off-season. Not full-time. Not even really part-time. But it was to be done. The hiking trails in eastern Iowa had better look out, I thought. I am coming at them with a vengeance.

An example of the terrain on my first "real" trail run. The scary part is that I was already at the top of a steep incline. This is what was waiting for me at the top.
I am going to sprint up each incline and race down the back of every hill. I am going to bound off of rocks, spring off of roots, swing around corners at full speed and climb up each steep hill like a man on fire. Ultimately, the only thing that ended up being on fire were my lungs. And quads. And the arch of my left foot. And the bottom half of my left hamstring....

Thousands of miles. Without going back through my training logs, I estimate I have run close to nine-thousand miles in the past five and a half years. Of that, only a few hundred, at most, have been on a trail of any kind. Of those few hundred, almost all, probably close to ten or twenty, have been on anything but smooth, crushed limestone trail. I've made many promises to myself over the years (who hasn't?) and one of them was to be more adventurous with my weekends. Trail running on technical, "raw" terrain was part of that.
A view from the top of one of the cliffs.
 I woke at my normal Saturday morning hour and was dressed and ready to go quickly. The drive to the trail was about twenty-five minutes, and I intended to be there just before sunrise to take in the whole scene during the course of my run. Incredibly, I left home at the same time as the lunar eclipse was beginning, and got to watch the shadow of the earth slide across the face of the moon in my rear view mirror most of the drive. Luckily there was not much traffic on highway 30 at 6:45 am. The moon was out of sight before the real show began, but it was cool to watch.


"Stairway to Heaven" my...

I arrived at the trail right on time for sunrise. It was still a little dark, but bright enough to see everything clearly. I had hiked this trail many times with my wife in the past few years and had no intention of running it in the dark. Lots of rocks and roots. Add in the snow and ice (and cold: run time temp was 8 degrees F according to the dashboard thermometer) and things would be clearly dangerous without full visibility.


Entrance to the trail

I sat in the car for a minute, throwing on my extra layer after driving the whole way in a short sleeved shirt and no heat, attempting to get acclimated to being cold. I struggled to get my jogging pants (sorry, "running" pants) on I was shivering so much. Not a problem. Throw on an extra layer and get moving. Running would warm me up quite a bit, and surging up all of the steep inclines on the trails would only add to that.


A closer look at the "flats" on my run.
An hour later I was back the car. My hands were on my knees as soon as I stopped. I only ran half of the time. After each hill, each steeper than I was prepared for, I had to stop and gather myself. I was only able to really open it up for about five minutes on one flat, and even that was slower than my slow, easy runs. I was worked. It seemed like the entire trail was uphill (impossible on an out and back run, I know, but still).

My tail tucked between my legs, I decided to make the best of the situation. The beneficiary is you! I spent my recovery time snapping pictures. And it was a beautiful morning. Cold, yes, but I wouldn't have had it different. I had the entire trail to myself. Well, almost. A sharp rustle of leaves to my right about ten minutes in about made me jump out of my running tights. I doubt I had the same effect on the culprit - a chipmunk. He was looked vicious.


 I'll be back trail running again soon, but first more hills will have to show up on my training schedule. My home sits in a very flat area, and the closest steep hill is a two-mile run, and not much besides that. I am adverse to driving to a run, and can't justify to myself driving to a running workout. Heck, I have even run to the starting line of a local race to avoid it (still placed 20th overall. Just sayin'...). But I'll have to give that up to get more trails in. It will be the only way I will get the requisite hill running in on my regular weekly runs.

The view on my arrival back at my car. You can see the soon-to-be frozen over Cedar River to the right. 
 Also, another lesson was learned - why I actually run. Although I run to achieve running goals, get faster and race better, and get more fit, but ultimately it is for fun. I do it because I love it. Saturday morning showed me another side of that. Sometimes when things don't go the way we want is when we get what me need (shout out to Mick Jagger).

The entrance to the first trail. If you look real close to the footprints in the snow you'll notice that  none of them are shoe-shaped.
 It is also worth noting that I was due for a down week, or a week with less mileage or supplementary training or both. Downtime is not a strong point for me. So this coming week will have to be about more than logging miles and training time. It will have to be about recovery.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures and that the post doesn't scare you out of trail running. Make sure you are ready for the terrain you are about to tackle. Have a great week!

A really cool bridge in the middle of nowhere on the trail. It's flanked on both sides by two incredibly steep hills

This is part of the same hill as the first picture on top.  Again, this is at the TOP of a hill.


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