Ever since last year when I accidentally wondered into the woods during a marathon training run, I have been intrigued by trail running. I found myself concentrating on where each step was going to land and it seemed like the was a constant stream of split-second decisions to be made. Pace becomes irrelevant.
The only problem with trail running is that it requires wilderness which can be difficult to find if, like me, you live in the middle of a large metropolitan area. Here in Minneapolis, there are a handful of trails near some of the waterways. Most of them are less than a quarter mile in distance but there are a couple that are quite long.
Fortunately, my friend Kevin is a veteran trail runner and also has a lot of connections with others. One day after we had just finished a routine run around Lake Harriet, I asked him if he would mind me tagging along on one of his trail runs. He told me to meet him at a place called “The River Bottoms” the next Sunday at 7am.
I showed up and after my friend introduced me to another gentleman named Scott, we were off. The first 4 miles was mostly a flat, dirt path along the edge of the Minnesota River aside from a brief, winding section that meandered through the woods. The only minor challenges we faced were jumping over a few logs and running around some large water puddles left by a previous rain.
Scott led the way and did a great job of announcing obstacles as we approached them. Out of no where he would just yell “Water!” or “Rock!”. It was one of those things that let you know that these guys had done this before.
Eventually, we reached a gravel road that led to a large, newly constructed walking bridge. This took us over a massive marsh. When we reached the other side there was another trail which headed back in the direction of where we began the run. However, this path was all wooded, hilly and anything but straight. This was entirely different from the terrain we covered on the way out.
We had some great conversations while we ran but you had to maintain your focus on the ground in front of you while you talked. This was the terrain I was really looking forward to. There were numerous small creeks with wooden bridges over them but a few of them required some rock-hopping to get across. This continued for the remaining 4 miles back and before I knew it, the parking lot that we had started in just appeared out of nowhere.
The whole 8.1 mile run took almost an hour and a half. Normally, this would indicate that something was wrong with me but, like I said, pace is irrelevant in trail running. This type of running is about escaping the trivial matters of daily life and making your mind focus on the terrain, the sky, the river and wildlife. Kind of like a system-reset button for your brain.
Well that was a month ago and this past weekend I returned again for another run. This time however, we had just recieved an inch of snow the night before and instead of a trio of runners, there were 14 of us. We followed the exact same route as the first time but the back half was a lot more treacherous due to the fresh layer of snow. I was running in Hoka Claytons which are definately not ideal for rugged trails. Surprisingly, I stayed upright the whole way although there were several close calls. It was also pitch black at the start but a lot of the other runners had headlamps fortunately. The first time was fun but this was even more fun with a large group.
The door has been opened on a whole new activity to immerse myself in. This is a very active group that is a lot of fun and know what they are doing. I look forward to many more runs with them and being introduced to some cool, new trails.