Just another day learning the trails

As an admitted temperature wimp, I have been struggling to convince myself to get out there and just run. I’ve been doing most of my running around my neighborhood, where I have to do two meandering loops to get in 3 miles — and, frankly, it’s boring, which doesn’t help when I’m feeling unmotivated. Add a fresh dusting of snow over some of the ice and old snow along the edges of the local roads, and I really don’t feel like just getting in the quick, local run.

That said, yesterday was a day to run. While the temperature was just barely over 20 degrees, the sun was out, the sky was bright blue, and there was no breeze. I knew that, once I got out there and got moving, the sun would feel great.

Needing a change of scenery — but not feeling brave enough to tackle any challenging trails alone, since most of them would be covered in snow — I hopped in my car and headed to a nearby trailhead for the Perkiomen Trail. It doesn’t sound like much of a change from my local route — a flat, paved rail trail — but it was exactly the change of scenery I needed, and it ended up being an excellent trail workout!

We’ve had snow a couple of times, with some warmer temps (40 and up) between snows; plus, we had another dusting of snow — not quite an inch — overnight.  The trail hasn’t been cleared between snows, so the snow has been trampled, partially thawed, re-frozen, then added to by new snow, and seen a lot of additional traffic — cross-country skiers, hikers, runners, folks out walking their dogs, and even someone on a fatbike, judging by the tracks I saw. Add the new snow, and it made for an uneven, but somewhat forgiving, surface — a great way to practice some skills I’m going to need for some of the rocky, uneven trails I want to be running, without also dealing with hills and other terrain at the same time.

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I found that, just as on some of the more challenging terrain that MLC has taken me, the uneven snowpack forced me to focus on two particular aspects of my form:

  1. Foot strike — I needed to keep my center of gravity balanced over the ball of my foot and my toes. Every time I took a “normal” (heel-striking) stride, the hard, rough surface of ice and compacted snow would deflect my foot aside and I’d roll my ankle. But if I focused on staying on my toes, and picking my feet up as quickly as possible, barely letting my heel touch at all, I got all the cushioning benefits of the snowpack and protected my ankles.
  2. Stride length — in order to get my feet up quickly, and keep my center of gravity stable, I had to significantly shorten my strides. Every time my stride lengthened, it meant I was putting a foot down well ahead of my center of gravity, and there went my ankle again.

My overall pace was pretty slow yesterday, but my heart rate was up in a good range and I was generating enough body heat that the cold stopped bothering me pretty quickly. I took two walk breaks in my 3.8 miles, both during the second half of the run, when I was starting to have trouble staying up on my toes. As soon as I felt myself coming down on my heels, getting sloppy with my strides, I would walk for about 30 seconds and stretch my legs, and then I’d be good to go again.

In addition to getting a much better trail workout than I expected, I also got the benefit of almost an hour of sunshine (I had to walk back out for some pictures!) and some truly beautiful scenery along the mostly-frozen Perkiomen Creek.

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