Tag Archives: trail running

Typical single track technical trail on the northshore of Clinton Lake in Lawrence, Kansas.

Road Pacing for Technical Trail Running

Typical single track technical trail on the northshore of Clinton Lake in Lawrence, Kansas.

Typical single track technical trail on the northshore of Clinton Lake in Lawrence, Kansas.

I’m learning! In less than two weeks I’m running a 10K on the trails with my sister, Sharron, who will inevitably kick my butt. So yesterday I listened to my cross country star husband, Tim, and decided I better increase my normal run to start preparing. I thought I was working hard before, and I was, but this is a different kind of hard work. Intervals and bursts require strength, energy, speed, and a little bit of crazy. I’ve got all of those aplenty.

Single track, technical trails are all about balance and coordination while quickly maneuvering uphill and downhill through the rocky and root-filled paths. It’s challenging, intense, a little dangerous, and I absolutely love it. Distance, however, requires patience, control, persistence, and discipline – none of which are natural strengths of mine. Distance running is all new to me and increasingly fascinating – especially since I’m adding distance to technical trail running and learning from road runners who are new to trails.

Running hill sprints and technicals I can do. Actually, I can handle a technical hill with less effort than a long, flat run. During a mud run I fly through the obstacles to get ahead because the rest of the crowd will always catch up and pass me on the long, flat paths. Weights in the gym? Check. And I know how to blow up my calves, quads and hamstrings with inclines, declines, etc. But yesterday was the first time I’ve truly taxed my legs on a run.

When I say I’m not a runner, I mean it.
I’m just not.
The only reason I say trail runner is because it sounds better than the more accurate trail maneuver-er…or something like that.

I kept my Forerunner 620 on the heart rate/training effect screen for most of the run. Normally I don’t pace. I’m 48 and I like what I like. I run fast for fun then when my heart rate exceeds 175 I walk until it recovers to around 140 then I burst again. Yesterday I consistently adjusted my pace to keep my heart rate between 150-160. No 140-150 walking, no 165-175 bursting. Just jogging. I was actually acting my age for a change.

The run was different, to say the least.

The slower pace was not boring, per se, but a little less exciting, to be honest. I’ll admit, though, that this run was more peaceful than normal. I was able to take my eyes off the trail just a little more than usual which is wonderful now that the cold weather has thinned the underbrush and, unlike summertime, it’s easy to see deep into the woods. I was also able to run much, much longer distances between walking breaks. When I did need to walk, the duration was considerably shorter than normal and the quantity of walking breaks was literally half as many as usual. My overall trail mile times – get this – were about the same.

But here’s the best part: my distance doubled.
Yeah. Doubled!

My Snapchat story update after this run.

My Snapchat story update after this run.

Usually I only “feel it” in my legs the next morning, if at all. For the first time, my legs were unstable and my feet were tingly toast by the end of the run. I actually had to ask Tim and Sharron if that was normal! This morning I woke up as stiff and sore as I’ve ever been. I always stop between 3 and 4 miles because I am so, so winded but yesterday I didn’t stop until 6.2 miles. And it’s a good thing I did because my legs were wearing out so badly I tripped at 5.2 then again at 6.1 miles. That sixth mile was a killer. Usually I dance up the technicals but by that last mile I could barely lift my feet high enough to clear the rocks and roots.

So now, of course, all I want to do is continue this type of running until I master it (and try to stop wishing I had cared more about my fitness when I was much younger). I will never abandon the trails for the roads; concrete’s just not my style. And I’ll always interval train because I believe in it and, quite frankly, that is my style. But I am surprisingly excited about how much I’m learning from road runners and I can’t wait to see how much I can enhance my trail running experience by adding distance.

Trail Running: When Fast is Slow and Wrong is Right

“Your time is too slow because you’re running too fast.” IMAG4164What? The first time I heard that I was convinced runners were as crazy as I had suspected. Once I told my road runner niece how I could never run long distances because I get winded too quickly. She told me I just needed to slow down. What kind of advice is that? I live my entire life in overdrive. How am I going to slow down? Why would I want to? And why do they call themselves road runners, anyway? They’re more like road tortoises.

Okay, so, I gotta be honest here. I know nothing about running and, frankly, I don’t care. For me, slow is boring. Jogging on pavement or a track is boring. The idea of anything over 5K has zero appeal to me. I like to sprint, jump, climb, duck, dodge, and weave. I like to lean through quick turns as if I’m riding motocross. I like to occasionally wipe out down a steep hill and blow up my legs climbing back up. I love unpredictable surfaces, landing on the balls of my feet, feeling the earth shift beneath my shoes, engaging my core, crossing creeks, and seeing branches rush past my face. The rest is, well, boring. But here is the problem, I can’t do all the things I like for very long because my cardio frequently fails me. Like, repeatedly, I burst then I walk. Yes, I happen to prefer that, but it’s not often by choice.

I’ve always been a strong gal, especially for my small size. Interval training appeals to me on every level. I like to explode then nearly die, recover, then explode again. The problem is that I carry all my extra weight on my hips and legs and there’s only one way to slim down legs – running. And you can’t run without good cardio. I’ve actually had days I could barely weight train because of my inadequate cardio. The thing is, I see these long distance runners whose heart rates never elevate over 130 and, quite honestly, many of them are shockingly flabby. Skin hanging on bones. They’re running for reasons I can’t comprehend. I’m thinking, dudes, seriously, go lift some weights. You’re too skinny. If my heart rate never elevated while I exercised, I’d never leave the couch. What’s the point? I like intensity, fat burning, and weight lifting. I like muscle density and lean, defined bodies. I like my curves. I don’t want to be skin on bones for the sake of cardio.

But if I can’t build up endurance, I can’t weight train for crap, and my technical trail opportunities are limited, so I really do need to figure this out. My legs are naturally strong and I can rarely give them a good workout unless I sprint up hills because I wind before I even feel a burn. My husband, Tim, says the problem is that I can’t actually max them out since I inadvertently rest my legs too often when I walk between sprints to rest my heart. When he runs trails, he feels it in his legs every time, not his chest. I rarely feel anything in my legs but my chest feels like I am boa constrictor prey. Hmm.

So for today’s run, I took advice from other runners and ran slower. Yawn, I know. I’ve run this one mile section of a 5K trail/obstacle course with Tim, who can do it in under 8 minutes – I can barely finish in 11 – so I have good checkpoint comparisons between his time and mine. He’s much taller with an average stride length of 1.2 meters while mine is .89 and he is a distance runner, yes, but he’s also a very fast sprinter so I suppose it won’t hurt me to actually take his advice. I think he’s wrong and just doesn’t understand me, but I’m willing to try. Three miles of trail running – can’t really go wrong either way so, why not? Besides, if it doesn’t work I get to say I was right.

For my first lap I left the starting line and immediately focused on form and pace – not speed. Normally I take off running to save time before I get too winded. I like to hit checkpoint #1 in about 45 seconds; Tim arrives in about 55 seconds. Too slow. This lap I arrived at just under a minute, which seemed about right for this new, boring pace. When I hit the second technical, which I love to sprint through as fast as I can, I held back and just jogged it. Not quite as much fun but still pretty awesome since it’s a real butt kicker. After that I walked briskly uphill for about 10 seconds but was able to jog again sooner than normal. By the time I get to Poison Ivy Pass I’m always walking but today I was still jogging – albeit, just barely. It honestly felt like I could probably walk faster than that pace. Kinda boring. Resisting the urge to second guess my goal today, I continued the slow jog uphill to the second checkpoint. Tim usually hits it at 2 minutes; it always takes me more than 3. Time check: 2 min, 45 seconds.

Wait, what? No kidding. I must lose more time than I think on those walking rests.

So at this point I’m pretty motivated, right? I jogged the next technical and realized that it actually is just as enjoyable as sprinting it and probably a lot safer. The next section is a long, steady incline. I always walk the first half to rest up then run the second half of this uphill section because it’s the only way I can blow up my legs but this time I bend my knees and basically power walk like a fiend to the top. I notice I can actually get my heart rate to drop just a tad while I handle the hill this way and still feel it in my legs. That’s something new. It’s a long hill but at the top I was able to run again at a decent pace through the technical before needing to briefly walk the next incline. As I approached the ladder obstacle I was tempted to walk a little to rest up then take off but instead I just kept plodding along. Hmm. Not that boring, I guess. Tim reaches the ladder obstacle in 4 minutes while I can rarely get there in less than 6. Time check: 5 min, 4 seconds.

No way. No freakin’ way.

The next section is slightly downhill so I know I’m supposed to increase my pace there but I’m usually too tired from my sprint to the ladder obstacle. This time, however, I was able to enjoy that small decline and experience gravity’s gracious assistance, pulling me down the path. That was nice. After the hairpin turn it’s time to go back uphill. I’m about 6 minutes in and trying to save a little cardio on the uphills and use it on the flats and downhills. Buzz. Recovery Check: GOOD. Thank you, Garmin. When the hill flattened out I jogged again, when my heart rate approached my max, I backed off a little, and continued this pattern that, much to my surprise, seemed to be working.

Now I was that little girl who raced the boys in our neighborhood because I could beat most the girls too easily. On a short distance sprint, I’ve always been fast. So as an adult who enjoys interval training, I tend to sprint at max capacity then walk to lower my heart rate. Tim says that’s fine for interval training but, as far as overall time is concerned, I can’t sprint fast enough and long enough to compensate for walking rests over the course of longer distances. Since my new goal is to add distance training, and with every run I’ll certainly want to improve my time, and what I’d been doing wasn’t working, and this little experiment seemed to be working, at this point I’m now facing the fact that my approach was all wrong. That’s also something new.

For the final section of the course I decided to burst, knowing the end was less than 45 seconds away so I no longer needed to pace myself. Across the finish line I ran. Time Check: 10 min, 30 seconds. My best time to date.

Holy sheep caca.

A day I attempted to keep up with my cross country running husband ad nearly died.

A day I attempted to keep up with my cross country running husband and nearly died.

Usually I run it in 11 min and 15 seconds the first lap and add about 15 seconds each subsequent lap. I ran it once in 10:39 the previous week while racing Tim and nearly puked several times. It was miserable. I could barely breathe. This time I was tired but I never felt like I was going to die. Fascinated, I took four or five minutes to walk, cool down, drink some water then I tried it again. And again.

My USUAL lap times prior to today:
First checkpoint: 45 seconds
Second checkpoint: 3 min, 15 seconds
Third checkpoint: 5 min, 50 seconds
Total time: 11 min, 30 seconds

My first lap times today:
First checkpoint: 56 seconds
Second checkpoint: 2 min, 45 seconds
Third checkpoint: 5 min, 4 seconds
Total time: 10 min, 30 seconds

My second lap times today:
First checkpoint: 52 seconds
Second checkpoint: 2 min, 50 seconds
Third checkpoint: 5 min, 10 seconds
Total time: 10 min, 35 seconds

Blown away with surprise and encouragement, I tried for a third time today.

First checkpoint: 57 seconds
Second checkpoint: 2 min, 58 seconds
Third checkpoint: 5 min, 16 seconds
Total time: 10 min, 36 seconds

No way. Like, just no way.

I was killing myself at 100% to finish this course in 11 minutes and when I ran it at 90% capacity I actually improved my overall time significantly. And I did it consistently three times in a row. I know to distance runners this comes as no surprise but for me, I am blown away. I thought no bent-over-hands-on-hips-about-to-vomit walking rests meant I just wasn’t trying hard enough. Apparently not. Do you know what this means? Tim was right; I was wrong. That just happened. Tim is the tortoise and I am the hare. Perhaps I was mistaken and I can learn a little something from those boring road runners after all.

Walk a Mile In My Trail Running Shoes

Trail running is hard to explain to outsiders. Ageless. Timeless. Primal. As tranquil or intense as you want it to be. I can’t say what it is for everyone, but I can tell you what it is for me in one word: necessary. First let me state that I am 48, not athletic, and not a runner. In fact, I really don’t like running at all and you’ll never see me running on pavement. But trail running has crept its way into my blood and I can’t shake it. I promise my experiences won’t inspire you to run ultra-marathons in Australia but if you can virtually walk a mile in my trail running shoes, you may be inspired to get off the couch and get outside.

My trail run today was pretty typical for me. Currently I’m “training” on a one mile loop which is the first mile of our staff 5K trail run. Our company owns a private, 80 acre nature preserve with miles of trails. Last spring I plotted a 5K course as a sort of team-building type activity, mostly for fun, but it is quickly becoming an obsession. So today was one of my M-W-F trail runs. Yes, I hit it 3X weekly now, but don’t tune out yet. I’m no expert.

The first mile of this 5K course is my worst nightmare. It’s about an 18 minute walk with way, way too much mowed grass path and not enough narrow, curvy, obstacle filled technical for me. I hate long distance running in any capacity so, of course, because I suck at the typical-cross-country-endless-running-thing, I’m trying to master this first segment which is mostly about jog-paced distance for the sake of a good warm up before the next two miles which are killers. My goal is to complete this first one mile segment in under 10 minutes. Doesn’t sound like much to a road runner but this is no track. My first attempt was 13 minutes because I stop and walk so much on the flats. Yeah, I’m that bad at distance running. If it weren’t for my sprinting speed and agility on the technical sections, my time would be even worse.

So today I warm up for about half a kilometer then start my Garmin Forerunner and jog away from the starting line. Down the grass path I go, eyes darting all over, steps landing hard, winded in 20 seconds when the self-talk starts. Why am I even doing this? I hate running. Quick right onto the first, introductory, mini-technical trail. Spider webs. Yuck. Always right at face level, too. Back out to the main course. Find your line, focus, stop landing so hard, you’re going to blow out your knees. Next quick right, up along the fallen log, touch the first checkpoint and now we go on the purple segment. One minute in, I’m warm, I’m ready, let’s do this! I jump over the next log and go. Hands up, protect your face from the evergreen branches, duck, watch out for that poison ivy, loop right, break left, back right, one more left, one more right, and bam! There it is: the first wall. Ugh. The trail opens back up to an uphill mowed path.

I suck.

Jog, jog, jog…okay, at least speed walk. Stride out, pump your arms. C’mon. Heart rate check: 160. Whatever. Move your ass, old lady. My max is 170, target area 140-160. Quick right then a quick left through the trees and there it is: Purple Poison Ivy Pass – a slow, steady incline path past a poison ivy forest with a checkpoint at the end. I hate it. Voices on. Go! Look at all that poison ivy! Did you know poison ivy grows in bushes, on vines, and can even stand free, five feet tall, like a tree? Such a lovely looking plant. I really wish poison ivy wasn’t harmful. It’s so pretty. Slowing down now…twenty feet, maybe thirty. That’s all I’ve got. I’m done. Time check: 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Yeah. Seriously. I’m that done already. I’m a terrible runner.

More self-talk. I hate running. Why do I even do this? What’s the point? This is stupid. OH! Hello, Mr. Grasshopper! Pow! Right in my face. Did I just squeal? I think I squealed. OMG. Now I’m laughing which reminds me how much I love these trails and suddenly I’m able to at least jog again. Up along the pass to checkpoint number two. I know cross country runners love the opportunity to increase their pace on the open, flat paths but, to me, the only good thing about these grass sidewalks is the lack of spider webs. Here we are, the second checkpoint. I’m three minutes in and it feels like thirty. Welcome to the orange segment!

Path Through Sumac in FallI take a quick right through the sumacs and evergreens, hopping over this branch, ducking under that branch, sharp left, watch out for spiders. Man, I love the technical trails! Then I see it right as I hit it – the underside of a huge garden spider suspended in midair right at chest level. In a split second it’s on my shirt, crawling up toward my throat. I’m not even remotely afraid of spiders yet I scream and flail as I frantically brush it off. That’s why most runners slow down on the technicals. Not me. I freaking love sprinting through those tangled, bumpy messes. Heebie jeebies be damned I press on. The red colors of the Sumac leaves in Autumn are stunningly beautiful. Exit the technical trail and oh…ugh…another mowed path incline. Greeeaaat. Heart rate check: 145. No excuses. Go! Lift those feet, lean into the incline, smile, have some fun. I got this, I can do this, look at me go! Red Sumac Leaves

Bam. I can’t breathe. Heart rate check: 165. I hate everything.

Jog, jog, jog…okay, at least speed walk. Stride out, pump your arms. C’mon. You’re almost to the next technical and there it is! Break right, left, hop that fallen tree. Go! Go! I take a hard left, jump the fallen branches, head south along the road to…ugh…the next mowed path, yet another slow incline. I wish for a car to drive by so I’m motivated to run. Walk, walk, walk. This is stupid. And why are there so many grasshoppers out here today? Time check: 4 minutes, 38 seconds. What? Yes! I know if I run hard right now maybe I can make it to the ladder obstacle in less than 5 minutes which will get me back on track. Heart rate check: 138. Run!

Head down, find my line, engage my core, land light on the balls of my feet, kick, kick, go! Go! Ladder obstacle time check: 5 minutes, 40 seconds. Dang it. Not terrible but not good. Next is a mowed path with a slight decline which means it’s time to run while I still can. I catch a new wind. Hair pin turn to the right and back up I go. Pull with your arms, breathe in (step, step, step), breathe out (step, step, step). Snake! Yes, that was a snake, slithering away into the tall grass. Rock on, dude! I am a beast! I am one with nature! This is such a primal experience. Look! Deer poop! I’m tired but I like this part. Duck down, through the trees, break left, I love this! Run, run, jog, jog, slowing down. What?! Heart rate check: 165. *Expletive!* Why can’t I ever exceed 165 anymore?!

Jog, jog, jog…okay, at least speed walk. Stride out, pump your arms. C’mon. Getting old sucks. What the hell, man? This bites. Buzz goes my watch. “Recovery Check: Good.” Thank you, happy helper. Could you maybe buzz my ass and make me move faster, too? Okay, whatever, you know? And then the justification talk creeps in. I’m almost 50. I look and feel great for my age. Compared to most of my peers I’m healthy and happy. This really isn’t even necessary. My husband loves me just the way I am. I’ve got a lot to do. I bet my phone’s exploding with texts. I’m probably done for today. Hello again, Mr. Grasshopper. Right down the front of my shirt. Seriously? Where is it? In my bra? I flap my shirt wildly and shake my head at the nonsense of it all.

Heart rate check: 132. What the…? How long have I been walking? Crap. Snap out of it. Go!

Head down, find my line, engage my core, land light on the balls of my feet, kick, kick, go! Go! Back up near the road, still no cars drive by. Keep running anyway! Our character is who we are when no one’s watching, right? I head south then east then south again, take a sharp right toward the giant brush pile. Optional checkpoint – don’t skip it, cheater. I keep running, landing lightly, feeling the earth beneath my feet, actually imagining that I can feel the grass bending and the dirt shifting. Eight minutes in. Yes, here comes the Zen place. OMG I love this. I keep running. Wait, is that nausea? Ignore it. This is your favorite part. I zoom through the trees, left, right, back left, back right, hard left, lunging and leaning like I’m racing motocross, quads fired up, careful through the mulchy stuff. Look at that. What a truly beautiful sunflower. I love Kansas. Slowing down now. Heart rate check: 168 and still jogging! Yes! I keep running because in two more lefts I know I have to slow down anyway for this technical segment – a single width trail that cuts diagonally through a tangled field of wild everything.

I’ve got this now. I know this section. I made this section. I know I can rest my heart while making up some time by high stepping the fallen stalks and skirting the sticker bushes. My legs are so much stronger than my heart. This is my expertise. I could do this all day. Sweat dripping into my eyes, in no time I’m out of the field and in a full sprint toward the teeter-totter obstacles. Teeter Totter ObstaclesUp and over, up and over, without missing a beat, letting them catapult me forward down the path. I’m so good at those. Thank God I’m good at something. Isn’t the human body amazing? Downhill now, cross the road, and here comes the side pain. No. No way. No time for that now. I can see the end. Time check: 10 minutes, 45 seconds. I’m about to vomit. Voices on.

My husband’s voice in my head, “You can do anything for one minute.”

Chris Medlen’s voice, “Finish strong.”

My voice, “You’re so close! Don’t quit now, dumbass!”

Up to the top of the dam I go. Careful with the ankles, it’s really uneven here. Go! Go! I know I must give it everything I’ve got now, leaving nothing in the tank. Wow, how lucky am I that all the parts of my body work? I’m almost 50 and look what my body can do. Thank you, God, for the gift of health. Forgive me, Lord, when I take my health for granted. Around the pond I go, panting now, face on fire, fighting back tears of joy, pain, and gratitude. Blink, ten more steps. Blink, five more steps. Three, two, one, done! I click stop on my watch. 11 minutes, 31 seconds. Oh. Hmm. Not my best time yet not my worst but nowhere near my goal. Most importantly, though, I didn’t quit. After a two or three minute walking rest, I run it again, then a third time, until I meet my personal 5K minimum for that day. Each lap repeats a nearly identical personal experience.

That’s my typical trail run. That’s a mile in my shoes.

Now you’ll never meet anyone other than a trail runner who can actually be happy with an eleven minute mile. But running on the trail has never and will never be about the time in and of itself; it’s about the experience. It’s about engaging the earth and listening to the music of nature. It’s about celebrating the spider webs as confirmation you were the first one on the trail that day and marveling at the thought of what happened there with all the wildlife overnight. It’s about sacrificing your time in order to inspect a praying mantis, study a butterfly, stop and flip a turtle back over, relocate a dangerous locust branch full of thorns, or watch a sunrise. It’s about fresh air, sunshine, dirt, rocks, creeks, rain, mud, and navigating trails without a lead car or crowds or road signs. It’s about building strength, endurance, and having a strong core without ever doing so much as one sit up. And, if you’re competitive, it’s about running the same course over and over, mastering the details, learning how to beat your own time and then, perhaps, competing against others who share your passion for the trails. And most of all, it is anything but mindless. Full mind-body engagement is required.

Maybe your goal is to find new trails and see things you’ve never seen before. For lots of runners, it’s all about the distance and, on the trails, long enough never is. Maybe you’re just tired of getting less healthy sitting in artificial light all day. Whatever the reason, for those of us who dislike exercise, loathe running on indoor treadmills and roads, and could never fathom being a runner, trail running is a way to get out there and move – not only for physical health, but mental health, as well, as we connect with nature and realign our souls with the universe. For me, in the course of the first mile, I can shed all the distractions of modern life and excavate my primitive self. I don’t just enjoy the trails, I need them. I’ll never be a super athlete but at least when I’m maneuvering those trails I can discern my innermost voice and rediscover my authentic self. It’s too noisy everywhere else. In fact, the only time I can truly reconnect with the real world – the world that genuinely matters – is when I’m alone, disconnected from everything else, traversing those trails. That’s what trail running is to me.

 

Exhilarating Winter Trail Run

Winter_Footprints

Exhilarating. Truly exhilarating. That’s the only way to accurately describe today’s experience. Trail running in the snow? Seriously. What kind of warriors really do this stuff? Not me. I hate exercise. I like being fit but I dislike getting and staying fit. Yet I am not kidding when I say my outdoor exercise experience today was actually fun – more than fun. It was exhilarating!

Almost two weeks ago we returned from our first cruise. A vacation at sea was never on my bucket list but my husband and kids really wanted to go and with Carpe Diem as one of my life mottos I could only stall for so long. Winter cabin fever had already set in so I caved pretty easily. The Caribbean was fabulous – Grand Cayman, Haiti, and Jamaica (my personal favorite). But the gluttony was endless. So much food and alcohol! By day three I understood why so many people get fat; it’s fun! Holy sheep caca the eating and drinking and drinking and eating! Unbelievable. I’m positive “Wall-E” was conceived on a cruise ship. From what I understand, I experienced the cruise ship standard: a weight gain of almost a pound a day. No kidding. They have stats on this stuff. Five pounds in six days. And that on top of an extra ten pounds already from a long winter of laziness. Lord only knows what’s happened with my exponentially increasing body fat. So, yeah, I’m trying to get back in shape. But a trail run in the snow is something for die hard fitness enthusiasts – not this chick.

Here’s the thing. I love all things outdoors, prefer to exercise outside, am self employed with a flexible schedule, own an 80 acre nature reserve with miles of running and hiking trails, and I live in NE Kansas. Our weather here is mild and Midwesterners know not to worry about bad weather because it never lasts long. So I have no excuse for letting myself get out of shape. But, as with most parts of the country, this particular winter has been a little rougher than most. We returned from the cruise on Sunday and I hit the trails on Monday, but, Tuesday brought yet another cold front, Wednesday brought eight inches of snow, and the average temperature has been zero ever since. Until today.

This morning the sun came out and by 2pm we were up to 40 degrees so I cleared my schedule, pulled on my smart wool socks, my best snow boots, squeezed into my ski pants and out I went, excited about the fresh air and sunshine on my face during a walk in the snow. I basically loathe running in general because I am a sprinter by nature. I get a thrill from the short burst of an uphill race on a deer trail in the woods. Obstacle course? I’m there. But the idea of a steady 10k on pavement makes me want to puke. Actually, I’m sure I would puke. Long distances not only bore me, I just can’t do them. My cardio will fail me long before I even feel a burn.

But trail running? That’s different. The soft, ever changing earth beneath my feet, the scenery, the tranquility – I actually like trail running. I’ve run in the mud, through creeks, over rocks, tall weeds, short grass, sticker bushes, and even on light, shallow snow before, enjoying the crisp air and the crunch. Today, however, was my first venture into deep snow. I’m only accustomed to maneuvering through deep snow on skis, not on foot. The trails were hidden three to ten inches deep surrounded by so much snow I sometimes veered off the paths without noticing. Running, by definition, was not possible today. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t exercise – quite the opposite.

I was prepared for a brisk walk while enjoying the scenery. Normally I walk with increasing speed to warm up then I stretch before taking off. Today I don’t know what came over me. I wasn’t ten steps in when I found myself grinning from ear to ear, high stepping through the twinkling snow, overwhelmed with the urge to run and play. Vast, white, fluffy glitter surrounded me, untouched by humans, and in moments I reverted to my five year old self, completely thrilled to romp in the snow, smitten with the scene of sparkling snowflakes. It was like that moment when you realize you’re the first kid outside on a snow day and your entire yard has yet to be touched. At one point I wiped out and laughed myself silly making a snow angel. Even in perfect weather, never before have I maneuvered two miles of trails with a smile that never left my face.

With every step each foot disappeared. Lifting my feet back up through ankle deep snow taxed my muscles like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Although I tried, sprinting up my favorite hill was impossible but even the slow climb blew out my calves and quads. My heart rate shot up and my legs were on fire. Labored steps that should have frustrated me encouraged me instead. The exercise was intense yet delightful. Compared to normal, I covered half as much ground but had twice the workout! My favorite part was considering how silly I would have looked simultaneously giggling and grunting had anyone else seen me but not a soul was in sight. The only human footprints I encountered today were mine.  I was alone – just me, my Creator, and His creation – yet instead of isolation I felt completely connected to the entire world. I let myself fully absorb the experience, taking it all in, marveling at my mere existence in such a mystical, wonderful place, grateful for the wisdom that guided all the choices which led to that moment. Immersed in the scene I searched for adequate words to describe what I felt.

Exhilaration. That’s it. Nothing else captures it.

So here I sit, exhausted, aching muscles from my unconventional workout, and yet all I can think about is doing this all over again tomorrow. Not because I need to shed these holiday pounds – true as that may be – but because the experience itself was so incredible. I’m pushing fifty yet today I was five again. The sun, the sparkling snow, the sights and sounds, the silliness of it all, left me humbled and inspired. Left me…exhilarated. And come on now. Seriously. How often can a person use that word and really mean it?