There is a place that is a five-minute drive from my home that makes me remember why I began to run.
Every once in a while, I get too caught up in going faster or farther, and I begin to lose the spark I had when I was first beginning to run. It starts to feel like a job; and not only that, it starts to feel like a job I am not very well qualified for.
When those times come, and I begin to think about giving up the whole sport altogether, some little voice reminds me that it might be time to go somewhere…unpaved. And I get in my car, and I head to Lebanon Hills Regional Park to get back to the center of things.
Today was one of the last days in Minnesota when I could run outside before the snow comes, and when I found myself with a couple of hours without children or errands, I changed into my gear and got myself ready for a nice long run in the woods. The temps here are in the 30′s, so I wear a long-sleeved tech shirt with a cotton T over it (to wick away sweat and keep me drier), and a light windbreaker over it. I don’t go out anymore without my hat, and usually I add an ear-covering headband for good measure.
One of the really fantastic things about this park is that it is full of trails (and maps), so you can decide how energetic you feel each time you come and modify your distance. Feeling kind of worn-out? One lap around Jensen lake is about 2 miles. Don’t want to do laps? There is a path out and back that winds through a series of small lakes that will run about 4 miles. Feeling really intense? You could find trails to run on without repeating your path for 15 or 20 miles. I haven’t quite worked up to that level, but give me time!
I recently finished a 5k in White Bear Lake called Fast Before the Feast – an event that is put on by Tri-Fitness, and after donating my bag of groceries to the local food shelf I found out that I had won some super awesome K-Swiss Trail runners in a drawing! I am generally not one of those people who wins things constantly, so I was pretty stoked about the whole thing :) After I went in to the store to claim them, I found out that they are great for trails and for snow, so I’m looking forward to using them when the weather turns…challenging. So today was the inaugural run with the trail shoes, and I’m happy to report that they fit amazingly. No blisters, no weird rubbing pain, nothing but excellent grip on those gravelly paths. If anyone out there likes to run on dirt, I can’t say enough good things about them! I also can’t say enough good things about Tri-Fitness’s store. Not only do they have great drawing prizes (thanks again, TF!), I didn’t feel like a total imposter walking in and looking at running gear. My experiences thus far in the fitness store world haven’t been what I would call welcoming (to my 30 something non-buff self), so I was really grateful that the person who was helping me actually looked me in the eye and gave me genuine tips for improving my running rather than just writing me off as another jogging suburbanite housewife. Even though I live 30 minutes from the store, I’ll probably get my running shoes from them for as long as I live here. I’m not getting anything out of recommending them, I just know how disheartening it can be to have a salesperson treat you like you are a waste of the time they could be spending with “real athletes”. So thumbs up, Tri-Fitness.
Anyway, I knew that if I wanted to be able to enjoy the path before it gets itself covered in snow, today was the day. I headed out, knowing that I wanted to cover about 5 miles and get around one of the larger lakes. There are some serious hills out here, more of the constant up-and-down variety, and less of the gently rolling kind. So my pace was slower than normal, but I looked at it as strength training :) (and stopping to take pictures wasn’t really helping either).
I really love running on dirt trails more than anything else. Treadmills remind me of that summer that I did temp work stuffing envelopes, and running on sidewalks near busy road puts stress knots in my shoulders. To get outside, away from all the traffic and noise and crowds, that is the one place where I really feel alive and awake.
I love the patches of cattails by the water, the changes the trail makes as it goes from sand to gravel to dirt, and looking out for roots and holes to jump over. I love that every person whose path I cross seems just as pleased as I am to be there, like we are all pretty happy with ourselves for finding this place and making the time just to be there at that moment.
I love that there are patches of path that have been made into bridges, as a safeguard against flooding lakes. The curving lines of the paths against the jagged lines of the trees is something that I don’t think I will ever grow tired of seeing as I come around a bend.
Away from the housing developments and suburbs, you can actually see what nature looks like as the seasons change in a big-picture sort of way. When I first began to run here in the summer, the lakes were full of ducks and zipping dragonflies, and now there are mounds of beaver dams all along the shoreline.
Even though the bright colors of fall are gone now, I still think it’s so beautiful out here. Things never look in pictures the way they do in real life, and that is certainly true in this case. I wish I had the stamina and the knees to be out here every day, but I guess I feel happy just knowing that I will be able to come here as long as I decide to keep exercising outdoors.
There is a bridge about 3 miles into this run, and the first time I ever crossed it I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to the other side. There are beams missing, and neither the beginning nor the end of the bridge actually touch the ground – it becomes a kind of stunted diving board that you jump over, hoping that today won’t be the day that the sucker finally snaps. It’s bowed and uneven, and it creaks as I cross it. Even though I am pretty sure that I will end up falling through one of these days, I still smile when I see it. I’m not sure why.
I hope that there are places that you can go to feel happy and alive, especially when you are making the time to exercise. It shouldn’t feel like a job, or a punishment, no matter what it is you like to do.
I can’t wait to get out here again, even after the snow comes.