Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Running Solo, part two

I posted recently about running by myself and leaving the iPod behind... this post is of a similar type.

This past weekend I went for a trail run at Lake Lurleen State Park. The trail is about a 13 mile loop around a lake through wooded hillsides. It is a beautiful run overall - you run over an earthen dam, down by the lake, on soft pine needles, over wooden bridges, under sunlit leafy green trees, up and down hills... it's amazing.

My first time going to Lake Lurleen was last summer. I decided to run there to train for my first trail race, and Derek was in Colorado for his summer internship so I ended up going by myself. I have to say, I was pretty nervous about going there alone - especially once I got into the woods. I jumped at every critter, kept glancing behind me for creepers, and was imagining getting bit by a snake while 5 miles out. I ran out of water and came closer to heat exhaustion than I'd like to admit. Overall, it was rather stressful and seemed to take forever, but I was pretty proud of myself when I was done. I did it. All by myself.

This past weekend I went again by myself to train for my next trail race. The goal was to simply run the whole length of the race (about 10 miles) and then walk the remainder to cool down/enjoy the scenery. Unlike my first experience there, I felt confident in myself and my ability to go the distance. I wanted to share the experience of this run, because it was the perfect run - I didn't make a good time or anything like that. In fact, I was physically pretty destroyed by the whole thing. But this run reminded me why I like to run, and why I like to do trail runs best.

Getting Started
The first couple of miles of the run are flat and meander around the lake. You trod along, wave at fishermen in their boats, dodge snakes and slow hikers. If you start early enough it still feels cool rather than muggy. This 'warm up' section ends with a jog across the earthen damn, through high grasses and sunshine. It makes me think of the path to Andrew Henry's Meadow.

The First Hill...
...goes down. At the end of the two mile marker, there is a steep drop in the path where you run down next to the dam's spillway to a section where the water narrows enough for a small footbridge. The down hill section is steep enough that you might hold yourself back, because if you let go and run - you could easily get going too fast and loose control. The key to this section? Let go! Let gravity work for you, trust your feet to carry you, and just go.

The First UP-Hill... close to the hardest part of this trail for me. It's rather steep and I always want to walk it, because I'm always going so SLOW up it. But it's not even 3 miles in. I can't be a 'runner' and start walking at 3 miles! This weekend was the first time I pushed through and ran the whole up-hill section. I thought I was going to have a heart attack - but I did it. I didn't give up. And from that point forward, every time I was tempted to walk it was a little easier to resist and keep running.

Through Mile 6
Getting to mile six was amazing. Sometimes I felt destroyed, could barely put one foot in front of the other (these were the up-hill sections), and other times I was flying (yeah, the down-hill retarded duck run. you know the one. arms flapping as you thwap-thwap from foot to foot down-hill. love it). But no matter what, I was not stopping. I didn't always know that I could do the whole six miles, but I always knew I could do one more minute.

5 Minute Walk
At the mile 6 mark, I did have to stop. I gave myself 5 minutes to eat some fruit snacks and drink some water and walk out my soreness.

Through Mile 8
Most of the next 2 miles ran along a ridge line, with a path in the sun and yellowed grass & pine trees on either side. The lake is out of sight and the sound of cars long forgotten. I felt completely isolated, but somehow not alone. As a ran along the sandy path, purple butterflies followed along and crickets jumped with me. I leaped over fallen logs and ran through fluid rays of sunlight. I was over halfway around my loop with no cares at all and hadn't seen a soul since the lake.

5 Minute Walk
I gave myself another break, mostly because my hip was killing me but also because I wanted to run as I plan on running in the race. I know two 5 minute breaks will kill my overall time, but I want to have fun - and I just haven't been training enough to leave them out. I had another fruit snack pack and some more water.

Through Mile 10
The next two miles are a lot of up-hills. It's really quite obnoxious, haha - but perfect for training as the last mile of my upcoming race is completely up-hill. I like the way I broke up the run because I could start kind of fresh after a break and only have to run 2 miles to finish. It seems much more manageable than running "10 miles." I have to say though, I didn't think about much other than how much my hip was hurting!

Walk to the Car
Finishing the 10 miles was fabulous! It makes me feel much better about the race. I know I can do it and I have a plan. 6 miles on, break, 2 miles on, break, 2 miles finish. The walk to the car was pretty strange though. It took me about 100 minutes to run my 10 miles, then 45 minutes to walk the remaining 3 miles to the car. As I was walking along, I felt like I was going so slow! I wanted to keep running, but I knew I was already going to pay for the long run and didn't want to make it worse. Then, the coolest thing happened - I was walking up the last big hill, and near the top there is the great big clearing with green grasses surrounded by deciduous trees. I didn't notice her at first, but I startled a large doe when I approached. I froze immediately when I heard her leap into flight through the brush, but then she quickly stopped, too. She stood there for a second, watching me as I watched her. I thought she was going to walk over to me, but then of course I sneezed and she ran off :) Anyway. It was cool.

The End
So, that was it. I'm not sure if I described why trail running is so cool or why I like it in particular. I get this feeling when I run that's hard to explain. I've had dreams where I'm running through the woods, free, wind in my face, sunlight through trees, and I'm almost flying. Running at Lake Lurleen was like being in my dreams. No fear of anything except failing myself by giving up.

What do you dream about?

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