At Stillwell, tie goes to the runner

Lots of time spent in the zone today

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 4 miles

Back in the days when running Stillwell Woods meant seeking out the most technical and challenging trails, I would measure my performance in terms of who got the best of whom (me versus Stillwell). Prior to my bout of pneumonia in early 2010, I was dedicated to hard running on trails and I looked for the most difficult terrain wherever I ran. Two months after being hospitalized for pneumonia, I ran the Xterra race at Stillwell as a way to prove that I still had it.

While my performance in the Xterra race was very good, I found myself less inclined to take on Stillwell’s steeper inclines and treacherous drops. I still ran there frequently, but I’d usually follow a loop that presented far fewer obstacles. Sort of a bunny trail, compared to sections of the black, yellow and white trails that have signs saying, “Most Difficult.” I told myself that my loop was better, because I never lost my way on it. Deep down I knew I was avoiding the unrelenting challenge of Stillwell’s inner paths, which I had nicknamed the “The Zone of Intensity.”

Trail conditions were rough at first, due to the deep grooves left by mountain bikers that had frozen as hard as stone. This always makes for tricky footing and the lack of a rock plate in my Helly Hansen Trail Lizards made for some uncomfortable landings. As I moved deeper into the woods, the trail conditions improved greatly. This is probably because the trails I was taking on would have been too hard for bikers to manage during yesterday’s rain, hail and snow.

Instead of my standard loop, I made a point of turning onto paths marked as more or most difficult. Yesterday’s hard running and today’s frigid cold had an energizing effect on me and I wanted to take advantage of that as long as I could.

On the tougher trails, very little time is spent on level terrain. You are either facing a series of climbing switchbacks or you’re looking down at them. Some descents are scary and slowing down or stopping could cause you to tumble down backward. It was just like old times! I was glad to maintain so much energy throughout these sections. By two miles I felt like I’d run more than double that distance.

The only way out is up
Perspective showing steepness

At one point I found myself at the bottom of a section where all trails out looked like 20% grades or more. I took a few seconds to assess which hill to climb. I didn’t want to pick the wrong one and find myself on the wrong side where I’d need to go through that exercise again. It turned out I chose wisely (I used the direction of the sun as a guide) and soon was on my way. A few minutes later I found myself in familiar territory outside the “Zone of Intensity.”

The rest of the run was far easier and I encountered many more people hiking and running on the flatter trails. Looking at my data on Garmin Connect, I can see that my pace outside the the “zone” was two minutes faster than when I was running through the tough sections. It was hard to believe that whole run took me less than 50 minutes.

Today and yesterday were great workouts that tested me in very different ways. I’m happy with my conditioning, but I’m not quite at target in terms of speed. I’ll continue to focus on that in the coming weeks and will continue to get trail runs in when practical. In the old days, I would usually report that Stillwell got the best of me on runs like this. Today, I’d call it a tie. And a tie at Stillwell is basically a win.

6 thoughts on “At Stillwell, tie goes to the runner

  1. Doesn't sound like a tie to me, it sounds as if you rose to the challenge and crushed the hell out of it! You are on fire these last 2 weeks! Wasn't it cold? I could not get out of my own way today, it was like I had to conserve heat. I think we're going to be a team to be reckoned with!


  2. I wouldn't say I crushed it, but I did far better than I expected. The trick will be to build on my current fitness.It was really cold, even with lots of layers. The worst was my hands. My gloves were too lightweight but eventually my body heat made it to my extremities. Go Runsketeers!


  3. One of these days we should all run Stillwell together. It looks like a lot of fun. I'll wear my wrist, knee, and shin guards (maybe a helmet, as well). Just don't lose me. It looks kind of Blair Witchy. You did great! I like how you found your way using the sun, how very pioneer-like. I'm so psyched about our run! Anyone know where the nearest Starbucks is to the park? 🙂


  4. I will research Starbucks locations. I think Team ER may be joining us as well. A group Stillwell run would be a blast. The only way we would lose you is if you ran as fast in the woods as you do on pavement. As C will tell you, Stillwell is no picnic, but with its rises and falls you can think of it as nature's roller coaster.


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