Sand, Roots, and Hills

Looks can be deceiving. That lovely trail is hiding many dangers.

Looks can be deceiving. That lovely trail is hiding many dangers.

Yesterday most of my family members ran some type of survival/mud run – you know the kind, with walls to climb over, ropes to swing on, and moats of mud to slosh through. They do so many of those that I can’t tell you which one this was, except their team was raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project.

I did not go. I volunteered to babysit my sister’s kids, got a mani-pedi, and ultimately didn’t get covered in mud. But I met up with the group afterwards for pool party/BBQ, and listened to war-stories. Two of my sisters-in-law got injured and didn’t finish the race. My sister and niece were hobbling around like someone had thrown stones at them. My brothers and brother-in-law worked very hard to show that the whole thing is no-big-deal. Oh, and the same group is doing this again next weekend.

I have absolutely no desire to join them. Running is challenging enough when you are on flat, even ground. I’ve never been the type to want to get dirty, and I don’t think I could climb a rope if my life depended on it. Plus, I have lots of concerns about getting hurt.  When I was in my twenties I was in a car accident that messed up my ankle badly. I can run 7, 8, or 9 miles and then struggle going down stairs. I trip easily and frequently lose my balance for no reason at all. I can only run in one specific brand of running shoes because I both pronate and supinate at the same time. (Yes, I’m that talented!)

So much pretty in one run.

So much pretty in one run.

After the BBQ I was ready to go out for my regularly scheduled, no-mud, no-obstacle run.  I asked my brother for a good trail for running by him, hoping to run somewhere new and unexpected. I should have considered the source. His idea of a good trail, as evidenced by his morning’s adventure, would not necessarily be my idea of a good trail. Hindsight is, as you know, 20/20. He directed me to a small park not too far away.  It was only a 2.25 mile trail, so I’d have to run a few times to get my 5 mile goal, but it was pretty and the paths were wide and easy to run, he assured me. His wife suggested I could extend the run by hitting the beach at the end of the trail.

And it was lovely, actually. Soft trails, right through the pine barrens along the south shore of Long Island.  I almost missed the entrance because it is partially hidden, and there was only room for about 10 cars in the lot, which meant not too many people were going to be in the park.  Perfect, I thought.

I started running and within two minutes I tripped and went sprawling. That’s when I noticed the roots. The path (not quite as wide as I had been led to believe) was covered in pine needles which hid the fact that it also housed a labyrinth of exposed tree roots.  Upon further inspection I noticed how the path thinned and widened, twisted and turned without warning. I re-calibrated my expectations, slowed down my pace and started watching my steps. The lush paths were now my first obstacle.

The next thing to slow me down were the hills.  Every time I run hills I think, “I need to do this more,” because it totally wipes me out. These were not serious hills, like when I ran Ft. Tryon Park. These were just enough to cause me to struggle, but not enough to stop running.  I might not have worried about the hills, except I was already struggling with the roots.

At what pace can you no longer call it running? The sand slows me down, but I'm still moving.

At what pace can you no longer call it running? The sand slows me down, but I’m still moving.

And next came the sand. Now, full disclosure here, I could have skipped the sand and stayed on the path, but, like hills, sand is something I think I feel I should be working on, and here it was. I think my thinking was “My pace is already shot, I might as well add another challenge,” or something along those lines. I think sand is challenging for everyone, but it is particularly challenging for me because of my weak ankles. There was a time where I couldn’t even walk in the sand, so running in sand is potential precarious as well as exhausting. I tried to stay as close to the shore, for the harder-packed sand.  It wasn’t fast, but the view was awesome.

Anyway, I ended up doing 6 miles rather than 5.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t increase my speed, but I felt good the whole way so I just kept going. I ran the whole trail two and a half times. The upshot was that I felt like I had done my own survival run by the end. Sure, my obstacles are just tiny roots, not giant walls, but for me they are about as much of an obstacle as I can handle. At least for now.

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