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.

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