You know what it’s like to think something is going to be easier than it actually is? Take that online course, work from home, decorate a beautiful cake, have a baby, etc. Well I thought trail running would be easy in a this-is-so-cool-and-it’s-so-much-fun-that-I-am-not-even-thinking-about-the-pain-so-I-ought-to-be-fast kind of way. Keep in mind, I’ve been running on roads since I was fifteen, and I’m (cough) fwwwy. Fwwrrrty. Okay, forty.
On this gorgeous day, with Spring blowing a playful kiss of 60 degrees through the February air, I set out to the Whitney State Forest just south of Warrenton, VA. Being a non-native to this area/state, I didn’t even know this treasure existed until I was looking at Google maps one day and wondered what the hell is that green blob just south of the city? Why have I not investigated something green on the map? According to the Virginia Department of Forestry website, this piece of land is 147 acres with 6 miles of winding trails and a great place for bird watching and deer spotting. Or horseback riding—so, watch your step.
I don’t run with my phone, so I took the chance that I could find my way along the trails with the posted map at the parking lot and the color splotches on trees. I wanted to run in the vicinity of 5-6 miles, so I took the longest perimeter trail (dark blue splotches), a trail which did a fair amount of winding. It was a blast! Roots, mud, rocks, wet leaves, tough climbs, rapid descents, small creeks to traverse, logs to jump over, a perilously wedged fallen tree to run under. Weeee!
The outer loop was 2.6 miles; I ran it twice. With the first loop, I’ll admit to a certain level of intimidation—I can’t afford to twist an ankle, I was trying to avoid a true foot-soaker in the streams, and I was on the lookout for horse droppings—which were underneath the leaves—a fascinating discovery that was determined a few steps too late.
With more confidence on the second trip, I was certain my mile splits would be, yes, a little slower than road running, but still respectable. Running the trails was like being in an action movie! I was outrunning the villain while crashing down the gnarly trail and grinding uphill with bared teeth, encrusted with splashes of red Virginia mud, the true badges of boldness and vivacity!
I wore a Garmin, but refused to look at the mile splits until just now.
Here’s where you can laugh.
I’m not sure if I’m ready to.
Despite my childlike energy stoked by the fresh air and wild environment, I averaged a full 2 minutes slower per mile than my easy/moderate days on the road, a full 3 minutes per mile slower than my tempo speed.
But I am a hopeful optimist; most experiments in life are, at the very least, worth evaluating. I can now look at trail race results with a whole new perspective. I can now appreciate that there are shoes manufactured for purposes of trail running. I can now appreciate the fact that I tried something new and, despite the splits, found rather enjoyable. And I found a new site for training that will challenge me for the next decade or so.
Will I still be jumping those streams and hurdling trees when I’m fifty? (Chest puffed, eyes narrowed) I’ll be there. And not only that, I’ll know how to find the horse poop.