Newbie, again

“Mr. Cann, we expect you to stay off of that trail. You need to give the woods a chance to rehabilitate.” Eighteen months ago, a pair of park service cops arrived at my door. They gave me crap about the wooded-trail starting behind my house.

Decades ago, I was a hardcore runner. A serious ten-miler, a sub-seven pace. Ten miles was a popular distance—this was before the half-marathon caught on. Before knee-bursitis hobbled me. My mileage became medically limited—a maximum of four-miles per week. Frustrated, I quit running altogether.

Six or seven years ago, I started up again. I rebooted my running form. I stretched religiously. I ran only trails. I progressed slowly. By summer’s end, I was good for a pair of five-mile runs per week. But always with a whisper of knee-pain. Always on the edge of a full-scale bursitis flare-up.

Behind my house is a national park. A wooded portion that no one uses. Swamps, poison ivy and brambles. Interesting to explore in the winter, all but impassable in the summer. Just beyond these woods is the trail-head. Parking for a ten-mile hiking loop. Popular with the equestrians, mandatory for the local trail-runners. One hundred yards from my back door.

But I couldn’t get there. To run to the trail-head required an out-of-the-way paved route that ate up a mile and a half of my limited running mileage. And then I had to get back. My five-mile trail-run included three miles of pavement. Because the park roads were one-way, driving to the parking lot was a five-mile round trip. I needed to find a way through the woods.

It started innocently enough—clearing out some of the brambles behind my house so my kids could play in the woods. Animal paths and old hiking trails were evident beneath the brush. I followed the paths, scraping away the poison ivy, digging up the brambles, bridging the wet areas with the fields stones I found stacked in the woods. In two or three weekends, I broke through to the parking lot. Ten miles of running trails starting at my back door.

And so, I started my current incarnation as a distance runner. A trail runner. A quick warm up in my back yard, start up my watch and gallop off into the woods. More trail than I could handle. My go-to run was a seven mile out-and-back. Leaving six and a half miles of the trail network completely unexplored.

And then the cops came. I haven’t used my trail since.

Ultimately, they did me a favor. I still craved my seven trail-miles, but now I was forced to add on the three paved miles. I began stretching out my distances. By last October, I took my longest run—a 50K to celebrate my birthday. Thirty-one miles, mostly on park trails, but with ten paved miles to round out the distance.

And then I stopped running.

Burned out? Maybe, but also injured. My increased mileage activated a persistent case of plantar fasciitis. I took the winter off.

Now I’m a newbie. My four-month break has completely dismantled my cardio-vascular capacity. It tricked my legs into atrophy. My first run of the season, a two-mile jaunt, left me shocked and humbled. Two miles on a flat, hard packed trail. It might have been uphill… in sand… with a headwind. I was immediately anaerobic and out of energy after a quarter mile. My calves hurt for a week.

I’ve now completed five runs. One of them felt pretty good. The rest were a repeat of the first—sucking wind and pushing through pain. Not the familiar pain of fasciitis or bursitis, but the long-forgotten pain of unused muscles, untested lungs.

The remnants of my backyard path are still visible. The brambles haven’t returned to that area I cleared out for my kids so many years ago. A quick jaunt through the woods would give me simple access and allow me to easily knock out these short reacquaintance runs completely on trails. But the lingering threat of arrest keeps me off that trail. Now I’m driving into the park, twenty-five minutes in the car to take a twenty-minute run. I hope I can rebuild my mileage quickly.


10 thoughts on “Newbie, again

  1. I’m intrigued: So you find running on trails to be better/easier than running on pavement? I can appreciate that pavement is unrelenting and will be harder on the knees, but I always fear trail running because of the uneven surfaces and roots and rocks jutting out everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Because of the roots and rocks, you’re forced to alter your stride. Shorter, longer, side-to-side. This creates more balanced leg muscles, which reduces injury. The run also becomes more of a core workout. So the full body aspect of the run helps as well. I’ve fallen once in a trail run, and that was when I was trying a new medication that left me spacey. The ankle concern is valid, but over time, your ankles will become stronger because of the uneven terrain and I think that concern mostly goes away. Plus, there are no cars, no traffic lights, no catcalls (which never happens to me anyway). But don’t run alone in the woods.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m confused as to why cops came to talk to you about running in the woods. Are you not allowed to do that? Surely a singe runner loping between the trees isn’t going to do any damage?

    I can’t even run ONE mile, so I’m very impressed by your athletic ability!


  3. So…. question… how did all this start? I mean the running, not the injuries 🙂 because frankly i’m a pretty weak person strongly interested in running.. 😛 i do run, on the treadmill (sad, I know… but i don’t have a national park nearby) but it’s like 1 minute of running and then two minutes of crawling to catch my breath.. how do u get over that??? push through the pain??? aaaargh!!! anyway… i admire your persistence in running… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t really know. I started running when I was a teen and I really love the feeling of pushing hard. I think the 1 minute on, two minutes off is actually the way they recommend starting. Then it’s 90 seconds of each then 2 minutes of running, etc. And GET OFF THE TREADMILL! No wonder you don’t like it.

      Liked by 1 person

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