Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sneak Peek

 The storms rolled through in the night, leaving in their wake light showers and crisp fall-like temperatures. As the last of the showers faded out and the sun started to make its presence known, my wife, her dog, and I headed out to Mammoth Cave National Park for some trail running. I had not spent much time on the trails this summer, and when I did run trails it was on a one mile loop at Lost River Cave. The trail there is nice and fun to run, but there are only so many times you can run the same loop so heading out of town was going to be great.

We dropped off our little girl, (thanks Grandma) and headed out to the park. We reached the ferry. For some reason I always get a little nervous driving on to the ferry. I always have an image in the back of my mind of the ferry twisting sideways or starting early and our car rolling off into the river. Once across the ferry, the roads became surrounded by the woods. It was different than the main road into the park. The main road feels like what it is, a roadway frequented by lots of people that happens to be in a national park. Across the ferry, however, things are different. The road seems not like part of the park, but like an intruder into the interior, tolerated by the wilderness, but never really welcomed.

We drove to our trail head, exited the car, prepared our gels, sport beans, and water, packing most of it in the Labrador/German Shepherd/Who-knows-what-kind-of-dog, Jack's backpack, then started running. At the start of the trail we ran past Good Springs Church, then onward into the woods. I don't know what it is about the wilderness, but it calms me. Going away from even the small city of Bowling Green, and getting out into the wilderness puts a smile on my face and sets me at ease. Having my wife next to me amplifies this feeling. The smell of moist earth, the dappled sun trying to dodge its way to the forest floor, the birds calling to one another, then the familiar sound of my feet and my wife's finding a rhythm as we run together.

My wife and I are very different runners really. I am faster, she is more adept at longer distances. Earlier this year we ran a trail half-marathon in Fall Creek Falls State Park. I finished significantly ahead of her, but took the next week off running and the following week only doing short and easy runs. She, on the other hand, ran another half marathon two weeks later. We don't run together often because of this, but when we do run together, we synergize. We overcome our differences simply because we choose to. I will run a little further and slower than if I were on my own. She will run a little shorter and faster. We compromise and find a way to make it work together.

This trail is fairly technical, plenty of elevation change, and wicked terrain that is magnified by its use by horse riders. On top of that, on this day it was sloppy due to the rain that had fallen overnight. Some parts were dry gravel, some were three inch deep mudholes punctuated by hoof prints. Some areas were hard packed earth, others were saturated sand traps. There were trails that had been cut deep by passing horses, shoulder width with walls up to my knees. Roots crossed the trail, jutted up from the trail, and even made horrible little root loop traps at dropoffs. Exposed rocks ranging in size from pebbles to boulders littered some trails necessitating a sort of slaloming gait. Negotiating all this with a dog on leash promised to be treacherous, but that good dog Jack moved well with me. After a short while, he gained the ability to intuitively know which branch of a braided path I would choose. If he chose wrong, he responded immediately to tension on the leash. When the trail was single track he would drop behind me. It amazed me how easy he was to run with.

I ran in front, trying to run a pace that would give me my workout without outpacing my wife. She communicated her needs from the back, and I tried to anticipate her needs before hearing them. I had even brought double the nutrition she had estimated she would need and that turned out to be the smartest thing I had done that day. We ran, calling out trail hazards to one another as well as calling out breathtaking views to one another. We pulled off the trail at times to patiently let mules coming the other way pass without being spooked, we passed hikers, and saw horseback riders. We saw the beginnings of fall colors in some of the trees. We ran for just over two hours. We returned to the car happy, rejuvenated, refreshed. It was the first two hours of the week that neither of us was thinking about work or bills or other stresses. It was the date that we needed. It was the confidence boost we both needed as we train for our races at Big South Fork at the end of the month. It was a wonderful sneak peek of fall.

Shoe review to come later.
It was also the first chance to get my new trail shoes muddy.