Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bluff Trail Revisited

This Saturday, we went tromping at the Lula Lake Land Trust. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of tromping, it's when you throw the entire family in the car, head out to some place in the wilderness and hike around until the kids get hungry, tired, and cranky. Tromping can also be enjoyed before you are married with kids. In this case, it often takes the form of a bunch of dudes running, jumping, and climbing around in the woods, all not wanting to be the wimp who first suggests that you start heading back, until you are all hungry, tired, and cranky.

That was this Saturday. Last Saturday, I decided to give the Bluff Trail another shot by starting at the other end: the Ochs Gateway. The trail starts with a half mile decent including a couple of switch backs before flattening out and running along the ridge. It was only 8:30 in the morning, but it was already hot and still plenty humid. It had also rained a bit the day before, and while it wasn't really muddy, the ground wasn't exactly bone dry either. It had been a fairly full running week as I already had 30 miles on my legs, and I was hoping to claim 10 more to top 40 for the first time since January. I've run trails like this one maybe three times in my life, so that makes me, you know, pretty much completely new at this. What I lack in experience though, I at least like to think I overcome in observation.

Observation #1: it's hard to observe anything if you can't see. I realized pretty quickly that I had forgotten to put in my contacts, so I would be running blurry. In road running, I was taught to keep my head and eyes up, oriented towards the horizon, in the best position to spot the most likely thing to kill you while you are fussing around with your iPod: SUVs driven by teenagers texting while driving like the cops are chasing them. On the trail, I've realized pretty quickly that you have to pay much more visual attention to your feet, where they land, and where they are going next. One thing seemingly more likely to kill you than a bear (or a teenager) out on the Bluff Trail is fussing around with your iPod and running off of a cliff.

I'm nowhere near blind, but without correction, the world kind of looks like I've just opened my eyes up underwater in a pool. I could tell that I had less time to decide and adjust my stride length because the variances in the terrain just weren't obvious until I was right on top of them. I stubbed a toe and nearly tripped going up a rocky hill once. I ran face first into a big spider web, complete with spider which I am very grateful not to have swallowed (seriously, it was close, and I hate bugs). It was like the trail was sneaking up on me. I was having to concentrate too much on foot placement unnecessarily and at the expense of should have been an enjoyable run.

I past a group of about four hikers (five counting their dog) in the first half mile. I always feel a little awkward passing hikers while running, like this is really their sanctuary, and I'm running through it irreverently, but they smiled and let me pass. At the fork, I decided to explore a bit and cut back heading South down the trail. I followed a couple of side trails (the names escape me at the moment) and finally ended up emerging from the forest at Maggie Bluff. Seeing no other trail to follow, I turned around and headed back towards the Bluff Trail. By this point, it had become pretty obvious that I had made one minor miscalculation.

Observation #2: socks don't do crap against pointy rocks but actually do affect my ground feel noticeably. Yes, I normally run without socks. I'm a minimalist, so you already think I'm weird. This should not be surprising to you. I was running in my Trail Gloves like last time, but last time, the pointy rocks kept sneaking around the rock plate. I decided to see if adding a little something extra between the ground and my foot would help, plus padding out my skinny feet might keep the toe box from shouting "Olé!" as the rocks slid by. In short, all the socks did was hinder my ability to feel what I actually wanted to feel (non-painful, subtle, terrain feedback) while letting everything that I didn't want to feel right through, namely, the pointy rocks. Furthermore, I felt like I was rolling my ankle more than last week. One sensory organ was already handicapped, and the socks were handicapping a second. It was basically the unhappiest of mediums. I suppose that they also made my feet hotter too. In any case, they weren't helping me to cope with the blurry vision in the slightest.

I past that same group of hikers a second time. They were gracious again and didn't give me any dirty looks. I could tell that I was running slightly uphill on average this direction, and my legs were starting to get a little tired at this point, I really wanted to push through and get to 10 miles, but at 5.5 miles, I reached a fork, and rather than guess at which one to take, I decided it was time to head back to the car, meaning that this run would top out at just around 8 miles. Mini observation: trail running is more taxing per mile than road running. I could feel my legs really starting to fatigue, and my gait getting a bit sloppy. If I was going to get myself hurt out here, it was going to be now that I was tired, and probably on a wet rock surface.

Observation #3: pointy treads are great on every trail surface except for wet rock (and ice, but that wasn't really a problem). I love the tread on my Trail Gloves. If you've ever tried to run around a baseball diamond in anything other than cleats or run a race in the Northeast in February, you know what it's like to run a trail without proper trail footwear. Those treads let you turn on a dime and pull hills without your foot slipping on push off, that is, until you plant your foot confidently on the face of a wet rock. As I mentioned, it had rained the day before, and I was running on the morning shady side of the mountain. This being Summer, the leaves had pretty much created a leaky sauna, and every exposed rock bigger than my foot seemingly became a death trap. I at least felt like I needed to slow to walk in order not to bite it through these sections.

I past that same group of hikers one last time, and promised that this would be the last time. They thanked me for knocking down all the spider webs, which every short kid likes to hear. I ended up running out of steam and hiking the last quarter mile or so up the hill to my car, looking like I had just gotten out of the creek. Thankfully, I had brought a bottle of water with me, and even though it was less than cold at this point, I happily drank nearly the whole thing in about 10 seconds. I can't help but wonder if I could have gone longer if I had some hydration on the trail. I've never run with Camelbak, but I'm interested to try it now.

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