Wishing for an Independence day from mountain bikers

Welcome to Stillwell – but beware

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 3.75 miles

I often feel that trail runners get less respect than hikers and mountain bikers. Most articles I read about trail activities emphasize hiking and biking and rarely, if ever, mention running. Last year I donated to the Rails to Trails Conservancy which (I’ve concluded) spends most of its budget sending emails and letters to patrons asking for more money. Whenever RtTC writes about trail usage, it’s only about cycling.

My town has a great Preserve called Stillwell Woods. Described on the nassaucounty.gov website as: “A 270-acre preserve and multiple-use area, Stillwell Woods offers a blend of old field and oak barrens communities, the latter of which includes plants and animals that are more typical of habitats farther east on Long Island.” It also mentions (I’ve bolded relevant text): “The Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail for hikers runs through the preserve; there are also bicycle trails and equestrian trails.”    

So why does mentioning or not mentioning running matter? It matters because of the mindset of the people who use the Preserve. 270 acres is a large area and there are many paths to travel. There should be plenty of room for everyone on the trails and everyone should acknowledge that. But, except in rare occasions, bikers ride the trails with abandon with little regard for anyone making their way around on two feet. I’ve had enough encounters with mountain bikers to sense the resentment that many have for trail runners.

I arrived at Stillwell around 8:00 AM this morning for my Independence Day run and saw a few people preparing their bikes. It seemed less crowded than usual and I assumed I’d have a nice peaceful run. I did not. Almost from the start, I was in conflict with mountain bikers. My first turn off the trail head was partially blocked by two stationary riders who were chatting until I’d passed them to enter a side trail. 30 seconds later, these riders came up from behind, forcing me off the narrow single track so they could get by.

I had a few other encounters with bikers after that. In each case I would hear someone just seconds before I saw them. The bikers didn’t slow down, apologize for making me jump off the path or bother to warn me that more riders were coming up right behind them. In one case, a second rider appeared so suddenly that I had to leap out of the way to avoid them. I snagged my foot on a root and it almost took me down.

My body whipped around exactly like it did a few months ago when I tripped on broken sidewalk during a run. I wrenched my back when that happened and the resulting pain was so bad my wife had to come get me. I didn’t run again for three full weeks. Today was a different story. Once I righted myself, I expected the sharp pain that I’d experienced from my ruptured disc. Besides feeling slightly shaken up, I was fine, with no discomfort whatsoever.

Looks a lot more peaceful from this height

I carefully made my way out of the woods after that and continued running past the trail head for another half mile. Stillwell is always an experience. The continuously changing terrain provides an interesting and challenging workout. I’m planning for a Runsketeer rendezvous at Beg Hog (my new name for Bethpage) tomorrow and I’m happy that I’ll be able to get a fourth run in on Monday. I will be dealing with cyclists on the bike trail, but they seem to be a more thoughtful breed than those at Stillwell.

Which side should you run on a bike trail?

My halfway point on the northern trail

Today’s run (Bethpage State Park): 6.5 miles

I managed to get out of the house fairly early this morning and got to Bethpage just after 7:00 AM. The heat was moderate at that time and conditions were pleasant at the start. I’d taken along the cooling bandanna in anticipation of the rapidly increasing temperature and I think it helped. The morning sun was low enough to be blocked by the trees, so the first miles on the northern bike path were well shaded.

As I made my way up the hill leading to the trail head, I thought about the New Hyde Park 8K that was due to start at 8:30. I’ve run the last four races, but I decided to skip it this year. I didn’t really like my experience in 2012. It’s a fine event that I’ve enjoyed in the past, but I felt it was time for a change. Besides that, I don’t feel prepared for competitive running right now.

My first steps on the bike trail felt odd. Had someone told me that I’d gained 30 lbs. overnight, I probably would have believed them. It was Virtual Heaviness Syndrome, as explained here in simple terms. I didn’t feel especially tired or low on energy, my body just felt heavy. I figured I’d propel myself along and hope for the best.

There were a surprising number of cyclists on the trail and a smaller number of runners and walkers. I got plenty of “on your left!” warnings from approaching bikers. I began to wonder, after all these years, whether I should be running on the left side of the bike path, just like on the road. After studying the other runners and walkers, I decided there are no rules, but people generally keep to the right. I read later that runners should stay to the far left, but I think that person had a cycling-centric view. Probably wishful thinking, rather than accepted practice.

I was originally planning to run all the way to Washington Ave. and turn around, but that would have put me past 7 miles (out and back) and I wasn’t looking to do that today. Instead, I turned around where the trail showed 3.1 miles, making my total run (including segments from the trail to the lot) 6.5 miles. I ended up gaining strength as the run went on and finished strong.

I really like the the Bethpage trail because the out and back route makes base run distances seem more manageable. There are lots of hills and you feel like you’re getting a workout, but it’s never intolerable. I was able to stay relatively cool today by going early, but by mid summer it will be tough going. Fortunately, the wooded trails run directly below and/or adjacent to the paved trail, so I’ll be able to duck onto the dirt paths for some relief from the sun.

Stillwell trail run, frozen paths and a near collision

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 3.9 miles

I was hoping to get a trail run in over my last vacation but the timing never worked out. I did manage to cover a lot of miles during my time off, but the only time I traveled to run was the Hangover Fun Run on New Year’s Day. I was determined to get back to Stillwell this morning, where I did my first trail run of 2013.

It has been cold all week and today was no different. I dressed for freezing temperatures, including a base layer under my running pants. I was glad to have layers top and bottom when I stepped out of the car at Stillwell Woods to start my run.

The trail head and the main trail leading from it were covered with ice. I needed to step carefully as I made my way to an interior trail. There were a number of mountain bikers getting ready in the parking lot and I wondered how they’d fare on the slick and frozen surface. I never did see a biker on the path today. Perhaps they rethought their workouts after seeing the condition of the trails.

I wore my Helly Hansen Trail Lizards that eat up rough terrain. Their only shortcoming is the lack of a rock plate, which is normally a non-issue. Today it would have been provided great benefits, as the interior trails consisted of mud that was grooved by bike tires and refrozen as hard as rock. I needed to watch the trail closely to avoid slipping on the uneven surface.

About half a mile into the woods, I detected movement behind me. Thinking it might be bikers I moved to my right and soon saw two runners passing me on my left. There was no courtesy “Thank you”, which is fine, but I would have liked to know there was a third runner trailing behind them. I had just started to move back to the center when the third runner came along, and we almost collided. People generally say, “On your left!” in those situations but these guys were jerks.

I did my usual loop a couple of times and noticed that, in the short time I’d been running, the sun had started to melt the ice. What had been frozen earth became soft and slippery mud and I needed to adjust for that. I saw a few people out walking with their dogs but no other runners today. I completed my second loop feeling like I’d worked fairly hard, even for a run that didn’t quite go four miles.

Overall, it was a decent trail run. My last trail run went poorly (at Caleb Smith) and I appreciated the difference. I’m not sure where I’ll run tomorrow, but today I’m happy to have had another great experience in the woods.