Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Nature of Trail Running

Monday, my family and I went for a run on some of the local state park trails near our home.  We run the trails there quite regularly because of the beauty, the relief our joints and feet feel running on dirt instead of hard road surfaces, and because the hills of the trails offer great interval training.  Instead of having to do sprint work on a flat surface, we head out and push ourselves hard on the hills, working our hamstrings and glutes, building our cardiovascular system, and developing the efficiency with which our respiratory and cardiovascular systems work together.

We receive the added benefits of being surrounded by all the natural beauty…trees, foliage, underbrush, felled logs, rocks, the lake, and a variety of species of animals.  On this particular run, my daughter and I had the pleasure of seeing two lizards and a chipmunk, several squirrels, a black snake, and three whitetail deer.  The lizards are tiny, brightly colored critters that glisten in the sunlight as it streams through the trees.  We often see them scurry across the trail in front of us or up trees as we run past.  Chipmunks seem to thrive out in the wooded areas and they are so much fun to watch.  They are incredibly fast and they are quite animated.  When one actually stops to look at us as we are running, I imagine a high-pitched, fast-speaking voice chastising us for interrupting his peace and quiet.

The squirrels don’t receive as much of my attention because I see them on such a regular basis off the trails, but they are as much a part of enjoying nature as the rest of the animals we see.  They just belong out there.  They are part of the forest.  Conversely, we see snakes very seldom and, while I wouldn’t necessarily want to come across a poisonous snake, I like to stop and look at the black snakes when we see them.  You have no idea the significance of that statement.  The fact that I like to look at any snake is tremendous because it comes from someone who used to be deathly afraid of snakes.  This fear was to the point that, when I was a child, I was adamant with my mother that she had to take a puzzle piece out of one of my favorite puzzles and throw it away because it had a snake on it.  Mind you, this snake was not an actual picture of a snake.  The puzzle was a forest scene that had been drawn and was more of a cartoon than an actual replica.  I was also adamant the box needed to be thrown away because the snake was on the box top, as well!  Anyways, I no longer hate snakes and I rather enjoy seeing them.  We stopped when my daughter spotted the black snake.  It was probably a foot long, maybe a little longer at full length, but it was moving when we saw it and so it was in its S-form as it moved.  It stopped to look at us as we looked at it, definitely very aware we were there and watching it.  We moved back a little bit so it could continue on it’s way and we watched it as it re-crossed the trail in front of us and then continued along in the direction we were headed.  It watched intently as we ran past and then it was gone.

About a mile down the trail, we heard some crashing in the brush and looked over in time to see a whitetail deer take off, taking two other deer with it as it ran.  Their tails were straight up at attention as they ran.  A beautiful sight, for sure.  We watched them as they disappeared between the trees and over the mountainside and then continued on our run.  One of the greatest rewards I receive from running some of the local trails is a sense of being more connected with nature.  It is rejuvenating.  I almost feel like a kid again with all the wonderment that comes at that age when witnessing things in nature.  It was a great run, indeed.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Starting back in January, I began working towards becoming a runner. On March 27th, I started using a Garmin device to track my workouts through Garmin Connect. Tonight, I pulled together all my data for this year, since March 27th and this is what it looks like...

Count: 108 Activities

Distance: 449.23 mi

Time: 110:53:02 h:m:s

Avg Speed: 4.4 mph

Avg HR: 141 bpm

Calories: 54,113 C

Avg Distance: 4.73 mi

Max Distance: 10.05 mi

Avg Time: 1:01:36 h:m:s

Max Time: 2:22:03 h:m:s

Max Avg HR: 167 bpm

Looking back, it's pretty amazing to see where I was and how far I've come. My speed has increased, my lung capacity has gotten stronger, as has my heart, my endurance continues to grow, and I am down nearly 20 lbs. of fat. I took some measurements today and found that I have rid my body of 6 inches of fat, just around my hips alone. I am really pleased with my accomplishments so far and can't wait to continue pushing myself. Next up, 10+ miles tomorrow. Furthest distance and longest time spent out there to date.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Let Go and Just Be

My “day” job consists of continuous walking and standing, resulting in tired feet when my shift is over, so thinking in terms of running to and/or from work seems just a little bit insane.  Yet, I decided to do just that…run home from work after a long shift on my feet.  While possibly insane, it was one of the most rejuvenating runs I have taken to date.  Actually, I have run two of these and enjoyed both of them immensely.  Why, you might ask?  Well, for a few reasons, at least.

I found that once I walked out the door of my workplace, it all fell away.  It was as if I had never been at work that day.  All cares, all worries, all work-related thoughts were gone.  When I drive home, I often rehash the shift’s events or how things went.  Not so on my run.  I was out there communing with nature as I ran.  It was all about the running, the feeling of total freedom, letting go of the day.  I was active in the moment in a highly tangible way I had not experienced before.

Even though my feet and body were tired, I felt a sense of rejuvenation and awakening as my heart rate increased and the blood began pumping harder through my arteries and veins.  Instead of feeling sleepy and exhausted, I felt awake and alert.  It was as though I had wings on my feet.  While I did not set a personal best the first time I ran home, which, by the way, is almost exactly 3.1 miles or the equivalent of a 5k run, I came close and only missed a PB by less than a minute.  I analyzed that first run and realized if I could cut off just one minute from the first mile, I would have a new PB.  I set about to mentally prepare myself for that second run home, well before I went to work that day.

As I set out, I again felt everything just fall away until the moment reflected only the run, the goal, the sheer enjoyment, the drive, the motivation, and the pain.  Yes, I said “the pain,” too.  Not pain in the sense of injury; rather, pain in the sense of pushing my body hard, harder than I typically push it.  Inside that pain was the fulfilling sense of purpose, of accomplishment on the near horizon.  And, I pushed through the pain, knowing it would be worth it when I crossed that imaginary finish line at 3.1 miles.  I was not disappointed.  I beat my former PB by 53 seconds, which was not too shabby, especially in the heat of the day.  I hurt the last mile.  I didn’t think I could finish it out, as my legs felt like dead weight.  But, I pushed on anyways, knowing deep down in my heart I, indeed, could make it and could keep up the pace.  It was an incredibly rewarding run and, while I was tired from the effort, I felt alive and alert, once again, and felt as though I hadn’t worked at all that day.

I will not attempt a PB every time I run home.  Sometimes, I will just run a pace that reflects a desire to just get out there and spend some time running and communing with nature.  Other times, I will push harder, driving my body beyond it’s comfort zone, putting forth increased effort to increase my physical and mental fitness even more.  You can be sure, though, that I will continue running home from work when I can, if for no other reasons than the love of running and the positive feelings that coincide with letting go of the day and just being.