Friday, January 13, 2012

Trails have got us falling in love again

Happy new year to all of you. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog last year. I appreciate it. I took a little time off over the holidays. I was in Cleveland with my in-law's for Christmas and we took a train cross–country to New Hampshire to visit my sister and family in Manchester. It was our first experience in a sleeper car on a train. Quite an adventure. We came back to Cleveland and then drove home with the presents. The three kids were lunatics on the drive home. Not even a Beatles CD with Yellow Submarine would calm them. It didn't help that there was a blizzard going on for part of the trip and our car's electronics started going haywire. Being back at work, getting the kids back to school and taking on routines has been really tiring. Oh, I also threw in a birthday too.  I'm 43! I don't feel it and thanks to running, I don't think I look it either. I'd probably look pretty young if I had hair.

First post of the year! Here goes...

Let me share my New Year's running resolutions with you:

  1. Start running with the kids (I'm already on it)
  2. Run an official race (I tend to get injured as soon as I sign up for one)
  3. Get faster. I want to get my faster runs in the low 8's (not sure it's possible)
  4. Up my mileage (I haven't decided how much)
  5. Run more trails
  6. Run a 50K on trails (doesn't have to be an official race)
  7. Start specific weight training to improve running
  8. Develop a relationship with New Balance

When we went to New Hampshire, I was excited about working on resolution #5. What I didn't expect was to fall headlong in love with running on trails. There are people probably rolling their eyes at this and thinking that I'm a city slicker. It's not that at all. I grew up in Wales with access to lush countryside and trails galore. I just never ran them. As you can see from the picture of the family farm, it's a crying shame. There were so many missed opportunities for running. I walked my share of trails but running a trail is not like walking or biking it. It's a very specific experience. I now have a secret desire to move to somewhere like Colorado to make trails a part of my lifestyle. It's a shame I like Chicago so much. Maybe I can also entertain my fantasy of moving to New Zealand.

Brocyll Farm, Pembrey, Carmarthenshire, Wales.
As soon as I got to New Hampshire, I was asking Rhys and Owen (my nephews) if they knew of trails I could run on. They suggested Hobo Hill. I have no idea what that area is really called but I wasn't too nervous about the nickname because no hobo would have been crazy enough to be up on that hill in those freezing conditions. When the boys dropped me off at the trail head, I said with a grin "If I am not back in 2 hours, assume I am lost and come looking for me". It took a while for them to drive away. I think they mistook my waiting for the GPS to connect as a sign of apprehension. The course is used for the local high school and grade school cross country. Chicago offers no hills, so the first 100 to 200 meters killed me. It is straight up over rough ground. When I got to the top, I ran a long way around a fenced–in area and finally found myself running alongside kids have ski lessons. Running up–hill in a foot of snow really killed my legs. After just a mile, I was tired. I felt quite ashamed of myself. The course then cut back across the top of the hill, past a stately granite tower that was built in the 1890's and then down through some really nice forest trail onto the road where you circle back around. I ran three circuits and my calves and quads were on fire. The only way I was able to live with myself was because I redeemed myself on the two mile run home. The last half a mile was a very punishing hill through the attractive subdivision where my sister and family live. I was tired when I got there, so much so in fact that I ran into the wrong driveway. I banged on the door, banged on the window, went around the back and banged on that door. With the tights and the stocking cap, I must have looked like a cat burgler. I hope to goodness the neighbors weren't home and cowering behind their sofa. When I realized that I'd made a mistake, I shot off across the gardens and into my sister's garage.

Weston Tower, Manchester NH
That night, I scoped out another trail that started right next to Massabesic Lake. made it look like a great option. I remembered walking on the start of it when I lived in Manchester. I knew it would be a rough surface but I knew it wouldn't have too aggressive an elevation because it was a converted railway line. It was a part of the Boston and Maine railroad and was the Portsmouth Branch. The trail is known as the Rockingham Recreational Trail and goes on for 26.5 miles. I scoped it out the next day for my recovery run. I was excited to tackle it.

The next day, I was determined to have a nice long run. In order to get there, I had to run down the steep subdivision and then down another really steep mile of road. By the time I hit the trail head, my quads were feeling it but just being out in the crisp weather with a touch of snow on the ground felt really good. The trail follows the lake and then heads off into the middle of nowhere. In places it was very icy but generally footing was good. The scenery was fantastic. The ponds were frozen with bare trees growing out of them. I was so angry that I didn't have a camera. In places, you could envisions a little steam engine chugging through the countryside. It was so peacful. I ran 5.5 miles along the trail before deciding that I needed to turn around. On the way home, some snow started to fall. I was in the zone. I floated along effortlessly and I was euphoric. I only saw two cyclists the whole time I was there. Suddenly, a couple of miles from the trail head, I realized that I had run further than I had ever run before. I was so confident at that point, I didn't fear the brutal 1.5 mile climb I would have to make home. It was tough but I didn't feel too bad when I walked into my sisters kitchen. I had run nearly 13.5 miles. As I drank some water and started to make a cup of tea, I casually said "I just ran a half marathon on a trail". I swear, I felt that I could have run a marathon that day and it would have been a beautiful way to do it. This is the way I want my 50K to go. I don't care about time or being in an official race. I just want to do it for me.

Rockingham Trail, NH in warmer weather

Here is the map, so you can see just where it is in relation to Manchester. You can check out the map in more detail where I log all of my running on DailyMile.

Now that I am back in Chicago, I am really looking forward to finding some interesting trails to run. I really need to go to Palos Heights too. I've never been there. I want that trail feeling again. It was truly euphoric to be running with nature. I guess it doesn't get more natural than that!

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