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In which I flex my mountain goat muscles and discover them to be lacking.


My legs have not been this sore in ages.

Long-neglected lateral muscles in my hips, shins, ankles, and feet have spent the past 48 hours protesting their sudden call-to-arms.

My shoulders and triceps are weeping at the prospect of tasks more basic than opening the refrigerator.

Even my quads, which get plenty of attention on a regular basis, are still whining about Sunday.

What was the amazing workout, you ask?

No, not some race.

Not P90x.

Not a Jillian Michaels video.

And obviously not strength training or yoga.

It was a simple trail run.

Let me rephrase that.

It was a real, true, no frills, mud-slinging, snow-scooting, river-fording, shoe-sucking, bushwacking, rambling, gambling, scrambling trail experience.

When I agreed to meet up with some of the runner folks I met at the race on Saturday, I anticipated from their description that this trail run would be less like running and more like “riking” (defined at eatdrinkrun as “running + hiking. “)

I was not disappointed.

I think it took our ragtag group of eight — a handful of sturdy guys, one high schooler, one other girl, and me — about two and a half hours to cover nine miles. Obviously, this included some stop-and-chat points, and I knew from the start that any attempt to keep a steady pace or worry about mileage would be wasted brain space.

If I had to describe the physical requirements of this experience, I would say that it was a combination between a soccer game, mountain climbing, gymnastics balance beam, and steeplechase. Occasionally we would stop to regroup or slow down to navigate more technical pieces of the trail, which allowed my heart rate to calm down. Whenever we found a flat portion of trail, however, we were bombing along at a solid clip.

I had a few moments of whiny internal frustration, particularly with the downhills.

The others were pros on these downhills: all spritely and agile — part-mountain goat, part-Indiana Jones — leaping effortlessly across scary precipices, bounding through thick, spiky patches of Devil’s Club, and nonchalantly somersaulting with fancy triple-axle backflips while negotiating any particularly harrowing piece of trail.

Meanwhile, I was 50 feet back, wimpering, wind-milling, wobbling, timidly scooting down on my butt and crab-walking through all areas presenting a high probability of getting punked by gravity.

I was pitiful. But on the uphills, at least, I held my own.

My favorite part of the run was this last, gargantuan hill. Other folks wisely stopped and walked, but I knew the run was almost over, so I decided to floor it up the hill and deal with the consequences later. One-quarter of the way up, the incline reduced my pace to a pathetic trickling jog. It burned. (It still burns). I finally found the top and was greeted by another infuriating downhill, and soon a few of the others came leaping by me like graceful ballet dancers as I bumbled clumsily down the rocky, slippery decline.

When I returned home, soaked, muddy, shivering, and hungry, I discovered with interest that my toenails were all blue with cold from having apparently forded one too many creeks and shoe-suckin’ mudflats.

It was grand.

Next time I will wear warmer socks.

How are your trail running muscles?  Mine need work. On the road I can outrun a fair number of folks, but on the trail I’m comparatively weak. I’m excited to add these weekend group trail excursions to my running life.

Have you ever competed in trail races?


20 Comments leave one →
  1. 11/09/2010 11:05

    How friggin’ cool! I am envious.

    And no, no trail races – yet.

  2. 11/09/2010 11:41

    First time visitor on your blog here-recommended by @dnorton. Anyways, trail running is not for the faint of heart, and trail racing definitely isn’t for the faint of heart! Even finding trail races is challenging, but I’ve done a few, and I’ve LOVED them. I find the camaraderie stronger and the post-race celebrations larger and more fun, like at the Hot Chili Challenge in Andover, NJ for instance.

    Here’s hoping your next trail run (or race!) is a little less strenuous and more enjoyable 🙂

    • 11/14/2010 15:29

      I (might?) have the opportunity to do some trail races next year if I don’t wimp out! I just googled the Hot Chili Challenge and it looks like a blast. The camaraderie/post-race celebration is huge motivation (…reward) for racing.

  3. 11/09/2010 11:59

    i’m sure my trail running muscles are not so present. for real. i need to work on that. how expensive are flights to AK?! hahah

    that sounds wicked cool and i’m wicked jealous for real. way to flex those muscles. woooooooooooooot. to use your words “you did some good honest work”

  4. 11/09/2010 13:19

    I am the same way! Trail running is so hard. I think the key to being good is too have no fear- and just fly down the hills- i have not mastered this. I have competed in a couple races and have been amazed everytime about how fit these people are… especially the older ones. I agree with Nicole- the commaraderie after a race is awesome too.

  5. DorkyAnt permalink
    11/09/2010 14:08

    How Cool – Sounds like so much fun. I’ve done one trail race (5miler) on some wickedly steep hilled, single trak trails and it was so much fun. I learned that you really have to pay attention to the markers and also to the rocks and leaves, etc. during a trail run – so no ipod. Almost ran off course twice but for the kind instructions of fellow runners! Sounds like a hard core training group!

    • 11/14/2010 15:32

      Oof, I didn’t even think about the challenge of finding markers on a trail course during a race. Thank goodness for other runners! Yeah, I never wear an ipod on the trails — too scurrrred of bears, and there’s enough sensory information to deal with already!

  6. 11/09/2010 16:19

    Hmm, the “trails” around me are paved, mostly glently rolling bike paths. I don’t think that counts as trail running, so I’m guessing my trail running muscles need SERIOUS work! Be nice to those beat up quads and toes for a few days, ok? 🙂

  7. 11/10/2010 08:47

    I’m in LOVE with the TRAIL!!! it hurts so good=muscle pain, not joint pain! my only caution is rolling my ankle. Your muscles will get stronger and you will feel so good when you run pavement!
    I hope youve been having a great week!

  8. 11/10/2010 11:30

    High school cross-country had some rough courses that probably came close to some trail races, but probably nothing like what you just did. Nice job!

    I think I would have to drive for several hours to get a rugged trail.

  9. 11/10/2010 12:08

    I was having weird feet problems pretty much all of last year, and road running seemed to exacerbate the pain. Somehow trail running – maybe because of the softer, dirt surface – didn’t hurt me so I did that almost exclusively and fell in love with it. It’s also a nice alternative during the winter when the roads are frozen/wet/slushy/etc. And there’s nothing like that feeling of coming home completely wrecked and muddy. 😉

  10. 11/10/2010 15:25

    trail running is ridiculous. even hiking over the weekend my calves/achilles were getting sore from the steep climbs. i’ve done one trail race (a 4-miler). it was a week after i ran a marathon. i was all “oh 4 miles, this will take like 28 minutes”. i think it actually took just shy of an hour. haha

  11. 11/10/2010 16:38

    it’s embarrassing to say, but i am very rarely amongst nature anymore. my environment consists of sidewalks and concrete buildings. when we were in NZ, we went for a hike but the slope was so steep, there was no physical WAY any running would be involved. my husband “ran down it”, i.e. free-falled. a week later, he’s still paying for it. why don’t they listen?:p

  12. 11/10/2010 22:21

    That sounds like a hard core trail run. I haven’t run a trail race since last year’s Six Foot Track, although that one, for me, is more riking than racing. I tend to er on the side of conservatism on the knarly stuff these days, having had more than my fair share of A over T episodes.

  13. 11/11/2010 04:20

    For the past two years, I’ve done a six-mile trail race on hiking trails. I sucked it up both years in different ways. Like you, I was a weenie on the downhills – unusual, because XC downhills bother me not, but something about the rocks and roots just freaked me out. It’s definitely a skill that you must practice, but hey yo, when in Alaska, do as the Alaskans. I’m sure you’ll be a semi-pro by the time you leave.

  14. 11/11/2010 23:04

    Trail runners are the friendliest people in the world. And running in soft trails saves you so much wear and tear on your legs. Plus mud and roots and rocks are just fun. Glad you enjoyed your trail run, hope you stay on the trails!

    • 11/14/2010 15:36

      I wasn’t feeling the mud, roots, and rocks so much at first, but gradually (over last week’s trail run and today’s), I started to look at them as a fun agility challenge rather than a nuisance. Now I like ’em a lot better! I am definitely staying on the trails. 🙂

  15. 11/14/2010 10:27

    Holy smokes – that is some workout!

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