For Running, Or For Hiking?

This morning I decided to FINALLY explore the dirt side trails that dart off the Blackwater Creek bike trail. I’ve been meaning to run them in hopes that they might provide a close-to-home day hike or two when I feel travel-weary. So I slipped on my Merrell All Out Peak trail runners and started down the post-rain wet asphalt to the first bounce-off point.

A few hundred feet down that first side trail I caught a deja vu Maine Appalachian Trail feeling (translation: rocks and roots. And more rocks). My run quickly became a brisk hike on the 50-degree angle of descent over the mixed, slippery terrain. I trust the sticky Vibram outsoles on my Merrells implicitly. I just don’t trust myself. Well, this version of me, anyway. Younger me would have charged down the hill and taken the bruises as they came, if they came.

Fortunately, older me is smarter (not to mention less agile) than younger me.

So I tiptoed until I hit the bottom of the hill, where it smoothed/leveled out for an easy cruise the rest of the three or four tenths of a mile. I determined to try that tricky spot on the way back to see if ascending might feel safer, and forged ahead, regaining the main bike path after a steep uphill featuring a quick switchback.

I ran just off the edge of the bike path; my All Out Peaks click and rumble like studded snow tires on anything other than dirt. Mercifully, the majority of the right-of-way beside the trail is mowed/maintained, so staying on grass is almost always possible.

A brief distance away another side trail beckoned, and I veered to the right to join it. This one was pure gold. Crossing two small bridges and running along the ridge above and eventually along the creek, it was smooth, fast and quiet. I did pass two women running with a dog, and a solo guy out for a morning cruise, but they didn’t take away from the experience. This section made the “keeper” list.

I bounded back up to the main trail and headed towards home. I broke off on the way and ran the first trail again, in reverse this time. The section I walked down on the way out I was able to run up on the way back. Of course, when ascending such a steep grade littered with rocks and roots, running becomes a relative term, at least for me. I was breathing pretty heavily when I regained the pancake flat asphalt of the bike trail, but I was well pleased with my effort.

An easy final quarter mile brought me to the trailhead and the end of my short four-plus mile run. It was misty and cool, my feet were muddy, and I was happy. Even better, there are miles of dirt side trails left for me to explore. Sadly, it’s a bit too pedestrian (if you’ll pardon the pun) to fit my definition of day hike material, but I do enjoy a good trail run, and definitely look forward to more of the same here.

Especially since this miles-long maze of dirt and asphalt is only a dozen minutes from home…

 

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864

Boy, was it hard to type that number. That’s my expected total running and hiking mileage for the year, combined. 64 miles hiking, and 800 miles running (might end up with 801 or 2, but I’ll use the round number for now).

Back in the marathoning days, double that number in running miles was an average to below-average year. But wanting to cut back to save my body and simply stay in shape for hiking, I figured a minimum of 1000 miles per year running/hiking would be a good baseline.

I didn’t even hit that.

Of course, moving had something to do with it. And living the first three months of the year in Maine and struggling to want to get outside in the winter months (seasonal affective disorder is REAL, people!) didn’t help. But living in Virginia means that I’ll have NO excuse to NOT hit that easy-peasy 1000-mile minimum, given both the milder winters and my proximity to so many great hiking trails, including the AT, of course.

2018 is the year I’ll find my stride again.

Pun intended.

Looking Ahead to 2018

Back in the marathon training days, I would sit myself down near the end of December to estimate the number of miles I would need to run in order to cruise through an easy spring and slightly faster fall marathon in the coming year. I usually exceeded my stated mileage goal, and suffered zero to minimal consequences during the races.

But running to stay in shape for hiking, and the number of hiking miles don’t lend themselves to the sort of X + Y = Z thinking inherent in planning miles for race training. Technically, I could hike and backpack without doing any running, so the number of miles I choose can be completely arbitrary. And the hiking miles could, theoretically at least, be whatever I ended up with at the end of the year.

That doesn’t work for me.

I’m too goal-oriented to willy-nilly my way through a year and be satisfied with whatever I get. Those years will come at some point, I’m sure, when the body breaks down and I can’t maintain any sort of strict schedule. But as long as I’m in good health and can push myself to achieve modest goals, I’m going to set them. This past year was a new frontier for me, as I tried to dial back the running from racing level to fitness level mileage and add hiking miles. Sadly, I failed to hit even the modest goals I set for both. I can conveniently blame moving to a new state for that. I guess.

Next year? I’ll hit the goal of combined running and hiking miles I’m using as a minimum benchmark. And I will do some actual, overnight backpacking. And when I’m sitting here doing this next year, I’ll be plotting and planning 2019 while congratulating myself on a job well done…

Streak Update: A month ago I posted about tackling the Runner’s World RunStreak. Well, so far, so good. I just wrapped up day 29 out of 40. I’ve only done one hike as a substitute for a run, a bit of a disappointment as I had hoped to hike three or four times. But it is, after all, a running streak, so I can’t be too discouraged with it. Looking forward to January 1st and the end!

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” ― John Muir