First trail run of the season…or “Death in the Desert”

Most of Texas was blessed last week with some of the best rainfall we’ve had in months, and lake levels across the state reflected the results of that bounteous precipitation. However, one lake that didn’t get much benefit was Lake Travis, outside of Austin, as you can tell in the photo below.

Water in West Texas ditch

Sad, isn’t it? OK, just kidding*.That’s actually what’s left of the standing water in a ditch (of unknown origin and purpose) just south of our neighborhood. On those rare occasions when we get enough rain, this ditch becomes a magnet for pickup trucks driven by teenagers (or full grown men who wish they were teenagers) to go mudding.

I took the photo this afternoon during a run through the pastures surrounding our neighborhood. We normally have a dance class on Thursday nights, but our teacher canceled on us – I think she can take only so much of our ineptitude – and so I had an unexpected opportunity for a workout. It was the first time I’d been out on the trails, and I figured I should give it a try before it got too hot (today’s temps were in the upper 80s).

Running on trails is more entertaining than running in the street. I have to focus more on the terrain and foot placement (as well as being attuned to the possibility of rattlesnakes), and thus I don’t dwell quite as much on how miserably out of running shape I am. It did occur to me, however, that trail running is sort of like riding a conventional road bike in that you spend most of your time staring at what’s immediately in front of you instead of taking in all the surrounding scenery (as we can do on our recumbent bike).

Anyway, I also think that running on dirt is easier on my aging (aged?) legs and feet, and navigating the varying terrain is also good for my balance. All of these benefits are somewhat offset by the continuous feeling that I’m going to keel over and die at any moment due to the effects of unfamiliar exertion, but, hey…life is a risk, right?

Seriously, no matter how many cycling miles you get, no matter how many hours you spend on the elliptical, no matter how much iron you pump…the only way you get into running shape is to either go back in time forty years, or, you know, run. The former approach is desirable but unfortunately just out of reach, and the latter takes time and energy.

Nevertheless, it was a good run, if depressingly slow. But I’m at the point where it really doesn’t bother me to record 9:30 miles, especially if I can rationalize them by pointing out that trail running is inherently slower than street running. Plus, as I said before, this was like a free workout so it’s all good. Now, we’ll see if I’m singing that tune in the morning when I fall out of bed.

I didn’t spot a lot of wildlife – a few Texas spotted whiptails, a couple of cottontails and one jackrabbit, several pairs of quail, and zero rattlers. Barn swallows were swooping over the ditch water shown above, and I heard a few mockingbirds making fun of my running style. I also thought I caught a whiff of skunk at one point, but it was later in the run so it was probably just me.

If you think you’d like to try off-road running, I recommend getting some use-specific shoes. I really like my New Balance 910s – dumb name but great shoe. They’re stable, work well with my orthotics, and I never have to worry about trapping gravel in the treads that could scratch our hardwood floor. They look like a kid threw up eight flavors of cotton candy on them, but I can live with that.

*Well, actually, that photo isn’t all that far from reality for Lake Travis.