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Fitness: So What Is Up With Trail Running?

By Teresa Roberts

Psalm 139:14

I have been a runner for the past thirty years, and there is nothing I enjoy more than a rumble in the woods. Trail running is a variant on running that differs markedly from road running and track running. Generally, trail running takes place on hiking trails, fire roads, old logging roads, and the like. Most commonly these are single track trails and are inaccessible by road, except at the trail heads, as we have here at Matthews

State Forest. Trail running offers varying terrain; hills, deserts, forests, mountains, and narrow passages are common. Likewise, rough terrain and steep inclines may sometimes require hiking or scrambling to proceed. It is not unusual for runners to ascend and descend thousands of feet.

A perfect example of these distinguishing characteristics was the Swannanoa Splashdown, a race to raise funds for the World Olympiad of Water. They offered a 15K or 6K. I opted for the 15K (9.3 mi). The race was almost all on trail and began and ended with a 2,200 foot elevation at Lake Laurel on the beautiful grounds of Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina. The 15K course rises to an elevation of a 4,240 foot summit called High Windy, the highest point of the mighty Swannanoa Mountains. In case you didn’t catch the degree of the ascent, it was slightly over a two-thousand foot climb in approximately four and one half miles! This was a run that promised to test the fitness of even the elite runners, and it did. What you can’t factor in when you register for these races is the weather. This was the weekend we were in the single digits. When leaving the hotel for the race that morning my car revealed a six degree temperature. I am sure it was well below zero as we ascended our mountain. My only consolation was an assurance my body would warm up eventually from extreme exertion.

It was an incredibly beautiful run as most trail runs are. The extreme cold afforded sights you don’t normally see such as frozen waterfalls and icicles. There was a stream flowing down through the mountain. When the sun appeared it was something to behold as it glittered off the ice and a few unfrozen areas of water. No diamond compares to what I call “God’s diamonds,” which consist of sunlight glittering on the water. Areas of the trail were so steep I ran on my toes, leaning forward, to stay upright. I could literally reach out and touch the trail in front of me at times. The run became a march of high knee lifts. I loved the challenge! When I finally conquered and got to the top, it was worth it for the view!! What a great sense of accomplishment to “conquer” the mountain. I felt elation as though I had become a part of the eagle’s world. I did feel as though I was soaring as I took in the view from the top. Then reality set in… I had to go down what I had just come up.

Unlike most runners I “race” off the top of mountains. I hold nothing back. I suspect I have an unhealthy lack of fear. I always have. Some of us were just born with a need to live “life on the edge,” and I am one of those. It was quite an adrenaline rush to be slightly out of control as I laboriously tried to navigate my feet on the frozen solid ground. I knew if I fell, I would get hurt. I wasn’t sure I would be able to stop rolling unless I smacked into one of the accommodating, frozen solid, hard wood trees! This isn’t a “zone out” kind of sport. The constant changing of the terrain requires you to stay in the moment. I slid across my last frozen stream crossing the trail and approached the finish line. I crossed with a big frozen smile on my face and a thankful heart to God for keeping me safe and allowing me to “live life.”

Not all trail running has to be as adventurous or challenging as the one I chose to share with you. The majority of trail runners run slower, and are less competitive runners. Unlike the road runners, we normally don’t wear watches and time miles. We are out to enjoy the “finer things of life”-- God’s creation of the great outdoors. For those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the Twin Counties, we live in a trail runner’s heaven! We are surrounded with the opportunity to run some of nature’s finest. We have innumerable trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are a lot of old, logging trails, fire roads, and the like, all around us. We have mountain bike trails in Independence and at Matthews State Forest created by our local mountain bike riders. We are forever grateful to them. I love the run up to Fisher’s Peak. The view is incredible and it isn’t that strenuous or long.

One of my goals when I moved back to this area was to utilize our many opportunities for trail runs in this area. We will be having our first April 6, “ Matthews State Forest Trail Run!” All the information is on the website, masterpiecefitness.com. The $25 early bird registration cut off is March 20th. Registration after that date will be $30. The deadline will be April 1. No exceptions. Come join us. Walkers are welcome.

We have unpolluted, fresh air to breath in this area! Trail running is beautiful, inexpensive, and best of all no cars. May I encourage you to go out, and take advantage of what we so often take for granted.