Hit the Trail

Spring is a great time to add trail running to your training to take advantage of spring weather and enjoy nature. Here are my basic tips for getting started with trail running.

First, find a good trail. No single trail is the same. From wide, crushed rock trail like the airline, or rail trail, to single track cutting through trees, trails offer a wide variety of running surfaces and scenic options. In Connecticut, we are lucky to have an amazing trail system including the blue blazed trails, Joshua’s Trust trails, and a variety of town-maintained trails. Get to know your trail by researching online, or by asking other runners and hikers.

Trail running

Once you’ve found a good trail, prepare for the hazards you might find on the trail. If it has tall grasses or thick underbrush, consider wearing pants or tall socks to deter ticks. If your trail is sandy or has small, loose stones, tall socks or gaiters will help keep debris out of your shoes. While many trail runners use specially made trail running shoes, which have more aggressive tread and a closer to the ground feel, they aren’t always necessary. Consider how “technical” your trail is when selecting your footwear and gear. Generally, a more technical trail is one that is, more narrow, winding, steep, or has trail hazards like roots and rocks. Use good judgment in planning your trail run in order to match your trail with your ability.

Next, focus on safety. Take your dog or a buddy, or write your route out and share with a loved one. Make sure someone knows where you are going and how long you’ll be gone. Consider carrying water and a snack. Carry your cell phone and identification for emergencies. Once on the trail, keep your eyes on the trail so avoid rocks and roots. Focus on looking three to four feet ahead to create an imaginary “line” of travel, a plan for where you going to step for the next few steps. This will keep you focused and alert to potential hazards. Finding a line will become easier as you become more comfortable running on the trails. Make sure that you’re alert and be aware of landmarks and trail markings.

When trail running, it’s best to run by time, rather than distance to begin. Trail running can be exhausting at first and it can take much longer to cover the same distance on a trail than on a road. I generally add one to two minutes to my pace per mile, even on trails I know very well. Slow your pace and take time to look around and enjoy the beauty of the trails. Run by time, effort level, or heart rate and avoid comparing your trail pace to your road pace.

Finally, work to improve your trail running performance by including strength and balance exercises into your training two to three times per week. Exercises that strengthen the calves, ankles, and feet are particularly useful. Consider adding lunges on a pad or stability disk, single leg squats, bridges, dead lifts, calf raises, and other exercises using a wobble board or stability disc to develop foot and ankle strength and stability.

Once you’ve tried trail running, grow your confidence by running on the trails at least once per week. Try new trails and make friends with other trail runners. As you grow in your confidence and strength, tackle more technical trails, or sign up for a trail race. Trail running can be a great way to see new sights, meet new people, and enjoy Connecticut’s natural beauty.

Enjoy the trails!

Buggin’

Last week on my run, my running friends commented on my strange habits related to bugs. It’s time to come clean, my faithful followers. I confess – I am a bug lady. I save bugs on the run.

It started with worms. Poor, wriggly, drying-out-in-the-sun worms. I can’t stand to see their little wriggly bodies starting to crisp in the sun, so I move them. I pick up the worms, often chasing them around, and move them into the grass. This was weird enough, but I think I crossed the line with the fuzzy wuzzy caterpillars (fuzzy bears to you New Englanders). Just in case you don’t know what I mean:

Fuzzy Wuzzy

I love fuzzy wuzzies. I can’t stand to see them run over by cars in the road. So I move them.  While I’m running. I actually stop mid-run to move all the caterpillars I can move.

It doesn’t end there. I also like to pay attention to the bugs I encounter on the run. Last week, for example, I saw the most amazing spider.

Spider

Horrifying, right? Granted, it isn’t the best picture (we were running, after all), but this thing was amazing. Then, there are butterflies…

Butterfly

And all other bugs. I admit it, I’m a bug lady. Does anyone else save worms? Caterpillars? No?

Hood to Coast – A Recap, Part 2

Read on for the second installment in my Hood to Coast Recap. Part 1 is here.

Saturday, 2am

It’s nearly time for me to run. Two faithful (and awake) runners get out of the van in the cold to wait at the exchange with me. I’m so grateful for the fleece Delta blanket a teammate has stolen from the plane. Everyone tells me to hurry. The sooner I am done running the sooner we can get to the next exchange, and designated sleeping point. Leg 18 doesn’t have van support – the vans go a different way to the exchange – so I bring my water bottle. My leg starts out in an area dominated by mini-mall and gas station sprawl. It’s completely dark and oncoming cars have their brights on. I am blinded by the changes in light and grateful when I turn into a neighborhood. The neighborhood gradually deteriorates. Someone on the corner offers me “something to help with the pain”. Yikes. I run faster. A few people pass me, but they’re moving so fast that their lights fade quickly in the darkness. I curse my headlamp. It is not bright enough. I can’t see anything and the road is a bumpy mess of potholes and patches. The course winds through the neighborhood and into farm country. I see the glimmering eyes of animals in the woods staring at me. Creepy! I run on, uphill. The hill changes to gravel, but keeps going up. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, I hear cheering and see the distant glow of the exchange. It’s like a mirage. I sprint to the exchange. I am so, so glad that creepy run is over. The teammates who have met me usher me across the field and into the van. We are all eager to get to the sleeping spot. On the way one teammate is so tired she curls up in the footwell of the back seat, trying to get comfortable. I am too awake to sleep. I’m starving, but too tired to eat.

Saturday, 3am

We arrive at the major exchange. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Hundreds of vans are parked in every available spot in a giant, grassy field. Thousands of runners, bundled up in blankets, coats, and hats mill around. The line for the Honey Bucket porta potties is at least a hundred people long. I have to pee but am horrified by the state of the porta potties and the idea of having to use one in the dark. We pull into a spot and have to stop sharply to avoid running over the people who are inexplicably sleeping in sleeping bags in the middle of the field. There are tents and sleeping bags everywhere. It’s what I imagine a runners-only refugee camp looks like. We all try to sleep.

Saturday, 5am

I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept at all. My neck hurts and I’m cold. One van-mate is awake. We give up on sleeping and head outside to check out the area. It’s early morning and we see that about half of the vans have moved on in the night. It’s foggy and cold. We use the porta potty and wait in line for coffee for our van. Back at the van, we all brush our teeth and eat breakfast. I feel cleaner with brushed teeth. I know that this is crazy – I haven’t showered and have been in a van overnight, but I feel better. At least I changed my clothes and used a baby wipe to clean up. I’m sure to a stranger we are disgusting, but I feel practically fresh.

We are all surprisingly upbeat considering the lack of sleep, lack of food, and sweatiness. Despite our state of exhaustion, we rally and get out of the van to cheer on the van 2 runner coming in. Cheers and high fives. Seeing our team is wonderful and we’re all awake and happy. The sun starts to come up and burn off the fog and we’re energized.

Saturday, morning

Everyone is running their last legs and the pain of the previous two is the topic of conversation. No one can move. Our van smells like a medicine cabinet exploded. We have muscle rub, Tiger Balm, and Biofreeze. We apply all of it. We use the Stick. We take advil. The overwhelming minty smell is probably a good thing. I don’t want to know how bad our van smells without it. We make an effort to clean out the van at the next exchange. It’s a lost cause. We’re gross, the van is covered in dust, and our stuff is everywhere. No one cares.

Saturday, noon? I don’t know – I’ve lost track of time

It’s rapidly approaching time for my last leg and we are stuck in a traffic jam at the bottom of the biggest hill I’ve ever seen. I’m glad I didn’t have to run over that hill. Another runner and I leap out of the van to run to the exchange. A volunteer yells at us.

Everyone is cranky. I wish I had eaten something other than another banana and more Fig Newtons. Finally, it’s time for my last leg. It’s billed as “mostly downhill”. Good joke, Hood to Coast staff. As I climb up yet another hill, I curse the course designer. My legs feel like sticks. I’m sure I look like Frankenstein running. But I run on, and suddenly, I’m overtaken by feelings of great joy. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful! I’m running outside, along a gorgeous trail, and I have friends waiting for me in a few miles. This is great! Euphoria lasts approximately one mile.

We are done and head directly to the bar. We have a drink. Everyone is tired and cranky. I don’t want a burger, and another teammate wants a salad, so we move on. I change clothes in a port potty. I’m getting quite adept at maneuvering in porta potties. Some time later, we arrive in Seaside. We’re all happy and already feeling nostalgic. We head for the ocean and dip our feet in. No one is brave enough to go in.

And, before we know it, it’s over. The announcer is calling our team to meet our last runner and we run over the finish line together. We pass out medals, we take pictures. And, suddenly, it’s over. There are hugs and high fives and stories of battles with hill and exhaustion. We are happy. We are a team. And I realize that it’s the best thing I’ve ever done as a runner.

Running the Pere Marquette Trail

This week I’ve been in Michigan helping my post-surgery sister in law and caring for my baby nephew. Luckily, one of my running friends lives in the area and was willing to meet up with me for a long run mid-week on the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail. I definitely needed the accountability to get out there and get the run in. I honestly have no idea how running mamas get anything done!

The Pere Marquette Trail (Pere means “father” and the trail is named after Jacques Marquette, a French missionary) and occupies the abandoned bed of the CSX railroad in Midland and Isabella Counties. It runs from downtown Midland to the outskirts of Clare, a distance of approximately 30 miles. The Pere Marquette Trail is a barrier-free, 12-feet wide, asphalt trail and is popular among walkers, runners, bikers, and rollerbladers.  There are mile markers every half mile for much of the trail.

The Pere Marquette Trail officially begins at the Tridge in downtown Midland. The City of Midland owns a three mile portion of the trail located within the city limits and maintained by the City. The portion owned by Midland begins at the famous Tridge, runs past a little splash park, and along Main Street. At the Tridge start there is a drinking fountain (including dog drinking fountain!), bathroom facility, and plenty of parking.

The City-owned part of the Pere Marquette Trail goes past several City of Midland parks, including a skate park, baseball diamonds, open fields, and even the Dahlia Hill, a huge planting of dahlias.

The Pere Marquette Rail-Trail is lovely. I really enjoyed the smooth, asphalt surface. It was even, graded, and comfortable for running. There were barely even any cracks. The path was truly smooth – smooth enough that my friend and I saw an elderly couple with walkers using the trail. It was wide enough for multiple people to pass comfortably, including families on bikes, runners, and walkers. The trail, like much of this part of Michigan, is totally flat. Most of the Midland part of the trail is shaded and bordered by wild flowers, shrubs, and trees. The trail even runs past the river in some places, creating a nice breeze off the water.

My running friend and I had a really nice run together and I enjoyed the trail. It was hot, hot, hot, but we trotted along for several miles. It was a good run, with even better company. Now I’ve caught the cold that the baby had, so I haven’t been back to the Pere Marquette Trail, but I hope to visit it again sometime.

If you’re in the mid-Michigan area, check out the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail.

Caution: Attracts ducks

Today I headed out for an impromptu trail run with my running friend. The forecast was calling for a rainy, grey day, but we were hoping for the best. Running friend and I set out from my house to run the trails on a Joshua’s Trust  property close to home. We went in the usual direction, only to find that two adjacent kettle ponds had flooded, resulting in one giant, impassable lake. Rather than get soaked, we decided to go around the pond and on a trail that cuts between the second and third kettle pond. When we got to the end of the trail we came upon a flock of ducks.

Not the actual duck - duck body double

These were really, really tame ducks. In fact, the ducks were so tame one let me pet it. The ducks even ran along with us for a little while. A word of caution – ducks do not seem to understand single track trails. They were dangerously underfoot. I bemoaned the fact that I didn’t have my camera to take a picture of the ducks, and would have to find a picture online when I blogged about them later. At the end of the run we decided to go back, with cameras in hand, to see if the ducks were still there. Being a lover of all animals, I brought along some reduced fat Triscuits. Sadly, the ducks were on the opposite side of the pond.

Far away ducks

I tried to entice the ducks to come closer by using my own unique bird call – I randomly flung Triscuits in their general direction. They were unimpressed. The lesson here – running attracts ducks.