Stillwell Woods fun: toughest trail run this year

Finally found my way across the full preserve

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 4.5 miles

Now that the Barclays is over and Bethpage is open once again, I considered heading over to run the bike trail. But I changed my mind on venue and opted for Stillwell Woods instead. A few miles on the wooded trails is a great way to free your mind, body and soul. That is, if they don’t beat you to a pulp.

I usually run the same route at Stillwell that starts on the main trail and follows north, and then east, before looping back around to the trail head. I usually run it twice, for a distance of about 4 miles. I like this course because it’s primarily hard packed single-track, with a few rocky and hilly sections thrown in. The challenge of getting through this loop is moderate at best, but it’s a great experience running among the trees, plants and animals.

This morning’s Stillwell run started like usual, and I followed my standard loop until I turned left instead of right, just before the one mile point. This little change quickly turned the dial from easy to difficult. Instead of my familiar paths, I soon encountered the first of many sharp inclines up rock, scree and sand, followed by numerous steep, carved out, drops.

Technical trail running can be fun provided you’re wearing the right shoes and have an understanding of your course. I had neither, but I did my best. Thinking I’d run my usual route, I wore a pair of road shoes that performed remarkably well in most circumstances, but barely had enough bite for some particularly steep inclines.

I’d brought a compass and that was very helpful for navigating across the entire preserve. Still, I didn’t know what to expect from minute to minute. The route I’d taken brought me up and down, with almost no level sections between the one and three mile points. I began to get frustrated by this pattern because I didn’t know what lay ahead. I only knew it would be tough running.

Just when I started to think about taking a break or even walking some of the difficult sections, I found myself on a familiar trail that’s part of my normal route. Knowing the worst was over, I happily followed my way around to the trail head and ran the paved drive almost to the street and back. 

Ups and downs through the first three miles

What started as a routine Stillwell run turned out to be an exhausting hill workout with lots of technical terrain and obstacles. I needed to duck under or leap over a lot of stuff and all that sand was irritating. I was proud of myself for meeting every hill challenge head on. But I did need a mid-day recovery nap to get my energy back, so I could play soccer with my daughter.

Tomorrow I’ll go back on the road again. Perhaps I’ll head to Bethpage for six miles or so on the bike trail. After today’s run, that might feel easier than usual.

My course is harder than your course

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

I gave myself an extra day to recover this week and rested on both Sunday and Monday. The James Street hill played havoc on my calves and they have remained tight and sore over the past two days. I’ve noticed that I’ve done better walking upstairs than downstairs, so I planned a route this morning that began with an uphill section. That didn’t work out the way I’d expected and my calves and quads were unhappy. When I leveled off, I noticed that my gait felt more natural.

My first mile was sedate but I picked up the pace after that, and ended up with a credible time overall. I wore the Hattori’s, which I used for Cow Harbor, and wondered if I should have chosen the GTS-10’s or the Mirages, to provide a little more cushioning. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll go that way.

On my way into the office this morning I ran into a couple of friends, one of whom had recently run a 6.5 mile adventure race that included obstacles like water crossings and wall climbs. She said the race was intense and there were many Navy SEALS competing on that difficult course. I said, “Well, I ran up a big hill on Saturday.” Somehow James Street didn’t seem quite so impressive.

Perceived effort high plus "impossible" obstacles

Today’s run (street): 4 miles

More ow, than ouch!

I’ve been fortunate to avoid injuries that prevent my running, but lately I’ve experienced some painful tweaks in my knee, shin and Achilles tendon. These tweaks are mild and happily intermittent, but they make me wonder what’s behind them. I was reading an article on Runblogger (a very nice running site) about Achilles problems and, while I don’t think I have “Hagland’s structure”, I wondered if running in the Hattori’s is creating my Achilles issue. I began to think about running in a different shoe.

At the recent Dirty Sock 10K run, Paul mentioned that he trains in heavier cushioned shoes and races in lighter shoes. Right now he’s running in Saucony Mirages, a shoe I occasionally use for training and racing. The Mirage is a luxury ride compared to the Hattori’s, but it’s still low and relatively flat. I decided to dust off my Brooks GTS 10’s, a terrific shoe that I’d shelved for running due to their built-up platform.

Chicken soup for the foot

I went out purposely slow on this humid morning and intended to keep it that way. I know that an easy run should follow a hard run and yesterday’s speed work was just that. The Brooks felt really good and I cruised along for a couple of miles but picked up the pace after the second mile. By the time I reached 3.25 miles I was feeling a little fatigued. I thought about the idea of running to perceived effort versus a time goal. Over the next quarter mile I perceived plenty of effort as I approached the hilliest part of my route.

When I crested the highest section I took off fast and finished my run breathing hard and sweating heavily. I knew I’d probably pushed too hard and possibly invited further injury. My Achilles felt slightly sore and my right knee felt tender. But overall, I think I’m okay. My perceived effort certainly exceeded my performance metrics, but so what? As long as my injuries got no worse and my training advanced, I feel that I’m going in the right direction.

We’re getting close to the end of summer so, today, the Emerging Runner family held our “Impossible Obstacle Course” in the backyard. Due to the effects of hurricane Irene that landed lots of branches and leaves in the pool, we didn’t include a swimming portion. The event consisted of activities like soccer ball dribbling, basketball shooting, hockey stick bowling (don’t ask), a lacrosse throw and some running.  It was a nice second workout and we all had fun. Best of all, my knee and Achilles felt fine, both during and after.