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.

Twisting and turning on the Bethpage trails

So that’s where I ran – thanks Garmin!

Today’s run (Bethpage trails): 3.25 miles

I’d hoped to cover more than three miles on the wooded trails at Bethpage this morning, but that distance turned out to be more than enough. I really like Bethpage’s trails because they are well groomed and diverse. The terrain varies between mulch, dirt, loose rocks and sand. I don’t care much for the sandy parts, but they are just part of the challenge.

In terms of technical terrain, Stillwell has it beat, but Bethpage provides some fun twisty trails that seem to go in circles but really just wind around (see top of picture). I usually get disoriented when running in the woods and today was no exception. I’m always surprised where I come out. Today it was at the top of the big hill along the paved bike trail.

The humidity was high and I felt like the week’s activities were catching up to me as I neared the finish of my run. I circled the parking lot before calling it a workout and headed back home to start our day, which is also my last day of vacation. It’s been a great week and it’s always disappointing when a vacation ends. Even though this turned out to be  a low mileage week for running, it was a high mileage week for everything else.