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Trail Runner

Trails.  What can I say. I love trails.  There's so much I could write about trails. The freedom.  The adventure.  The work, hard work when running.  The beauty of running away from the cars, crowds, and seeing majestic creation.  

Here is an article I wrote the day I felt I truely became a Trail Runner.  I'd always loved running on trails, but this one was special.  Not a 3 or 4 mile run, but a brutal 17 mile into the unknown – I had no idea what I was getting myself into. 



Wrote this after a 17 mile trail run; 1 week after a full marathon, and 1 week before another full marathon. 

May 25, 2009

Ever since my cousin Deborah wrote her “Random thoughts I had during my 5 mile run today…” I have wanted to write something similar. I thought about writing one for my first 20 mile run, but it was rather boring, so finally I’ll share my thoughts that led to and occurred during May 24, 2009 seventeen mile run.


I chose the run for several reasons:

• I needed a long training run between Capital City and San Diego Marathons

• I wanted to test my theory that my body recovers quicker than normal from long runs or marathons (probably because of my age)

• And I needed to run a long trail run in preparation for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K run in 2 weeks


After May 17th Marathon, I took everyone’s advice to take it easy and not run for a while. So Monday, I limped around from a stiff ankle, Tuesday I did 2 miles on an elliptical to loosen up, took off Wednesday and tested my limits by running with the trail runners Thursday evening. While running, Matt told me his story that after one of his marathons, he ran 5 miles without thinking much on the Wednesday after his race, which sent him into a spiral state in which his body forced him to not run for several weeks. I listened intently hoping this would not happen to me. But I ran very very slow for 4 miles and enjoyed it. Took Friday off, but had so much energy that day, I could feel my cells begging me for exercise. I biked 5 miles, but I could not sleep because of the excess energy and ran a good 6 miles Saturday morning with the Club Oly runners as a recovery run. I still had tons of energy all day and decided (based on above) I would run a 15 mile trail run in the morning. Again I could not sleep much (maybe 5 hours at the most) got up, ate an orange and banana, drank some water and Gatorade (mixed powder Glacier Breeze, blue) and met with two other seasoned trail runners. Since they got a coffee drink, I tried a Java Chocolate type drink which I believed would help me get through the run. I am so glad I did. We got out to the trail head around 9am when I asked Herb how much they were bringing to drink. He said this was a “Two-bottle run.” So I had both my 20oz bottles full of Gatorade and proceeded on a long adventure. I apologize for the long winded introduction, but hey, I’m the one writing this:) I’ll try to write the next portion in first person as I remember my thoughts.


First ½ mile – still warming up, breathing hard as my breathing rate equalizes with me heart rate. 


Yeah, 1 mile down, 14 to go. I love trail running. This is so beautiful. I think I can bring my family out here for the hike they have been dying to go on. Its so green. Nice trail(s), but no views. Feeling good, trying not to get too far behind from Herb and Chris. 


They’re talking but I’m not saying much, just enjoying the trail and concentrating on the ground. I remember Debbie talking about how trail running requires much more concentration and makes you tired quicker. Yes, this does require intense concentration, but I love it. Every step, so quick, so exact, so precise. It becomes a game, going up and down the switchbacks, trying to keep a good enough pace behind the runners so I can calculate my next 5-10 steps, foot placement, but not falling behind where I can’t see them.


Miles 3 and 4 breeze by. At 47 minutes into the run, we cross a gravel 4-wheeling road and I take a bathroom stop. Herb reminds me if I brought any gel, that now is a good time. Yes, I forgot. I have 4 total servings of gel for the run. 15 miles meant with my Gatorade, 4 gels, and 4 Endurolytes, I should be good. I take a serving of gel. Then I notice I am in “the zone” because I feel perfect and everything is going great. Between miles 7.5 and 9 I lose sight of Herb an Chris, and keep wondering if there was a turn I missed. Just keep going. I think I took another gel. When I catch up with them, Herb keeps mentioning how this is the ‘fun’ running, easy stuff, but we will have the hard part later. I keep wondering how hard, the ‘real trail running’ will get. Miles 10-11 are probably the best of the day. Still beautiful scenery and the trail is nice. 


Part II of Anatomy of a 17 mile Trail Run: Survival mode


Finally we reach an open clearing at mile 11. Herb reiterates the fact that we have been going down this whole time (which seemed more or less up to me) and points out that we have a deep decent into this valley and then we will follow the River back up the mountain on the other side where we parked our car. But wait. We’ve gone 11 miles…1 more mile of deep decent, then 5 miles up hill? That equals 17 miles! Oh yeah, Herb says, he usually estimates and if he’s off by a couple miles, that’s pretty normal. Crap. I’ve taken I think 3 servings of gel and only have 2/3 of 1 Gatorade bottle left. That’s less than 15 ounces for 6 more miles. Crap. I really better sip sparingly. 


I actually lead down the deep decent and still feel good. The sun is out bright and we cruise down near a large mudslide that swept away an asphalt road a year or two ago. We stop for a second on Hell’s River bridge and I’m almost at 12 miles on my watch. Ok, five miles of uphill. I can do it. As soon as we start up the side of the river, the large mud slide becomes a really big obstacle. Yeah, all the trees from the entire slope are piled up over the trail. The only thing to do: start climbing. Over, under, over, over some more.


I am greeted by the official mile 12 by a quick fall off a log into some other logs, brush and mud. Somehow I still managed to have my gloves on. Both my hands sink in the mud, but somehow I’m ok. Only a bruised knee, arms, and mud on my clothes. As I pick myself up, I notice a foot long stick that looks like a dagger a few inches from my stomach and my manhood. Gosh that was close. Too close. We continue for either a ½ mile or mile uphill over all the fallen trees and through the mud made by secondary creeks.


When we finally get out of the dangerous trees, but can only jog for a couple yards at a time because there is so much brush, fallen wood and overgrown plants. Also, with the elevation grade going up, I couldn’t really run anyway. I think around 13 I catch up to Herb and Chris again standing on another bridge. I ask if they know if the water is good to drink or not. He says its at my own risk. Since I have an empty water bottle, I decide it’s worth the risk because I have less than 8 oz of Gatorade, and in case of an emergency, it wouldn’t hurt to have some water. I go ahead and drink some right there and know that I’ll accept my chances at that point. Somewhere I take my 4th and last gel, which tastes so good because I’m so hungry and getting sick of going uphill. Oh yeah, geez, I’ve done a frickin half-marathon already!


I still can’t really run because the trail is so covered in dead branches and plants. I go alone for the rest of the trip, only seeing Herb and Chris once at a road/trail junction. I’m so hungry and thirsty. I accept that I’m getting dehydrated, and can feel my calves getting very sore, just the beginning stages of cramping. At this point I’m doing 20 minute miles. So slow. I’ve been out here over 3 hours and just keep counting down how far till 17. I run out of Gatorade. I’m empty of everything. I’m getting pretty dizzy, but know I can make it another 2 miles. Its just so slow. I decide to drink the river water bottle and drink about half of it. I don’t really notice anything and am just a walking robot. 

Somewhere around 15.75 or 16 I finally have the thought that this is not fun. I also question my decision to enter the North Face challenge. If I can barely do 16, how can I do 31 miles? Well, at least I know there will be a trail…I’ll have plenty to drink, excess gels, and extra Endurolytes. I’ll also utilize the bag drop at mile 17.9 to restock myself with food and Gatorade. 

I actually see one other person coming towards me on a bike. He lets me know that the other two are sitting at a trail junction. I’ m so dizzy, dehydrated, and weak. But I think this will only make me stronger for next week’s marathon. Yes. San Diego will be nothing compared to this! I will get through this all. and my body will be stronger. 


I see the car. Horses. People. People on horses. You crazy people, go home! I’m delirious. I don’t care. Don’t care about anything. 17 miles. 17 freakin trail miles. Dirty. Stonger. Trying not to cramp.


Get back to the car. Get my baggie of chex cereal and a couple fig newtons. Yep, I only have 8-10 oz of Gatorade in the car. Oh well. We drive. I eat some of the chex but only enough where I can wash it down with a few sips of Gatorade. Gosh, usually I drink ¾ gallon of water by this point everyday, yet today I’ve had a quart and a half over 4 hours. 

Thanks Herb, really, thanks. I’ll just be better prepared next time


Jeep. Yep, still no water. I always have extra water bottles. Not today. Drive 15 miles home. Need water or Gatorade. Wait, take a picture. Drink. Drink slowly. Eat. Eat tuna, mayonnaise, cheese, and avocado. Yeah, I’m on perfect track to try my first carbo depletion and then carbo load before the race. Either way, I’ll have plenty of pasta 3-4 days before the race. Drink. My stomach can only take a few glasses. 


After a couple hours I feel back to normal again. Just some sore legs. Yes, I will be stronger. I am so happy I didn’t injure myself by pushing myself too hard a week after the marathon. Yes, I do recover faster than normal. Ok, I promise God, I won’t miss church again for a long time unless it’s a race. No more missing church for trail runs or training runs. Ok, I’ll make everyone happy by taking Monday off. Memorial Day will be a day of rest. But I’ll be there for Tuesday’s run. And Wednesday and Thursday’s 4 mile trail run. Friday and Saturday rest. Sunday- 26.2 miles will be pretty easy in San Diego:)



Exmoor Marathon – Endurance LIfe Coastal Trail Series April 14, 2012 by Israel The Runner


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