Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Whose Bright Idea Was This?

After Run Like a Girl earlier this month and the trail running issue of Runner's World, I've become a little bit obsessed with trail running.

There is a great system of trails in Richmond, specifically the James River Park System trails. I have been wanting to give these a try for ages, but didn't want to go by myself - mainly because I was afraid I'd get lost but also because of course trail running by yourself isn't always the best idea for safety reasons. With his OMK, I didn't want to ask Prabir to join me and possibly aggrevate the injury more.

Luckily, through the RLaG club and Richmond Road Runners, I have connected with some Prair-replacements additional running buddies. A dude named Greg and I have a similar schedule (the earlier after work the better, 8-9 min mile depending), so we've run a few times since the formal RLaG group switched to 6:15 pm start times. Luckily, Greg also knows about a zillion good running routes in Richmond, including the trail system. So we teamed up last week and did 5.5 miles. I had expected to be completely wiped afterwards, but actually felt pretty good.

Remembering that run, I was feeling confident last night and had asked Greg if he would mind running the entire loop with me (about 7 miles give or take). He agreed, so after meeting at the Children's Farm entrance at Maymont and saying hi to the peacock:

...we ran to the Nature Center, picked up Siri, and hit the North Bank trail.

When we started, a little rain shower had hit our area. Just enough rain to be refreshing. And the first half of the North Bank trail isn't so terrible. At first it's very steep until you get down to the river, and from there it's not so bad. We crossed over the James River at the Nickel Bridge, which is kind of unpleasant because you are running on a small paved footpath alongside a double lane bridge where traffic is moving at 45-50 mph.

The Buttermilk Trail is the section south of the river. It is not as steep as the North Bank side, but there are some pretty "scary" moments where you are running very high up with a sheer drop to one side. I always feel perfectly fine/safe on the trail, but when it's been raining it can be a little bit nerve wracking.

As we came to a small parking area called Reedy Creek, we took a break. We had gone about 3 miles and all of us were completely drenched from a combination of rain and sweat. After a minute of stretching and wiping the sweat from our faces, we were off again.

During the second leg of Buttermilk, I started to feel great and started to reflect on the things that I love about trail running:
  • Roots, rocks, uneven footing, branches, and all manner of obstacles require you to pay attention and engage your brain constantly. You don't have time to think about how bored you are, which forces you to also...
  • Slow down your pace. At some points on this run, particular the "descent" to the river, there are extremely steep inclines and at some points rocky areas of the path that you have to navigate. You naturally slow down, which generally means you can run further and somehow also means...
  • That you don't realize how far you've run. Trail running is certainly more demanding than just a flat course, but somehow it is easier to forget how far you've gone. I think it's a combination of engaging the brain and the slower pace.
  • The views! With this system of trails you get some absolutely fabulous, scenic views of Richmond. I wish I had had my iPhone with me to snap a few photos.
All was good with the world as we crossed back over the Lee Bridge and once again grabbed the North Bank trail. Then, I started to remember why I don't like trail running. The further we ran, the more I realized that this was the same route that the Maymont 8 Miler employs... because it started to bring back some bad memories. This particular portion of the North Bank Trail is tough. It's very steep for what seems like forever and twists and folds back on itself many times. Just when you think you are headed up and out, there is a 90 degree turn and you find yourself running in the wrong direction.

To distract ourselves, Siri, Greg, and I started to talk about food - what delicious treat we were going to reward ourselves with for completing this killer run. We talked about Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Stella's, ice cream with strawberries, Sweet Frog frozen yogurt, milkshakes, salmon, pasta... so many delicious things. Eventually I had to say, "We gotta stop this! I'm starving!!"

As we wound around the seemingly endless trail, Greg said, "Remind whose bright idea this was again?"

"Mine," I admitted. "You can beat me up when we're finished. Just make sure you leave me in a parking lot where I'm easily found. Oh, and please just give me my water bottle."

Finally, we reached the parking lot and end of the trail, just in time for the clouds to break up and the sun to start beating down on us. We all stopped for a minute. My shirt was absolute soaked with sweat, my ankle hurt, but I felt accomplished. Much like this:


But I refrained from a Leo-like outburst.

Siri and I pushed it back to the gates of Maymont, where we parted, then Greg and I cut through the park and back to our cars.

Here's what our route looked like, and our splits:

See what I mean about a slower pace? A full 1:40 slower than usual, but I swear we were working 50% harder.

As soon as I got home I took a shower, ate dinner, and then moved on quickly to the dessert that I had been craving since mile 6:

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Oreos - get in my belly!

I was so wiped that I went to bed at 9:30 and was out in a matter of minutes.

I was expecting my left ankle and calves to be screaming at me this morning, but amazingly my ankle is only a little bit sore and everything else is fine. I credit my beloved compression socks, which I put on after my shower and wore all night. Compression socks = LOVE.

This morning I had my appointment with the "Running Therapist." I have a lot to share about that (later entry), but one thing is that he has banned me from trail running for the next few months, so no more adventures for a while. That makes me very sad because while last night was challenging and very hard, it was also a lot of fun. Instead I'm relegated to FLAT, BORING roads for a while.

So go run a trail for me.

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