Aiko’s Trek Through the West: The Trail Run

I had originally conceived of this trip as centered on trail running, but had no specific plans. Well, that just changed. In trying to figure out what to do for the 4th of July, I noticed that the town of Lander, WY kicks off their festivities with a half marathon. Since Lander was recommended to me by a trio of Wyomingites (I looked it up, that is what you call them) I ran into in the Glacier back country, and since their 4th of July celebrations sound generally awesome, I decided to sign up.

My biggest trepidation is that this race starts at 6 in the morning. I assume this is to minimize the heat stroke, which I appreciate, but I have never, ever run that early.

But let me back up. I’m a runner, as you may have surmised, and when I first thought of doing this trip it was inspired by the idea of driving from site to site around the west, setting up camp, and running. Possibly training for a race. But it’s surprisingly hard to research trail runs specifically, and setting up traveling training plans was far more effort than I wanted to put into a vacation, especially after the grind of marathon training.

See, I spent this past spring training for a marathon, but once the long runs started pushing past 13 miles, my knees had something to say about that. Something along the lines of, “Fuck you.” So I dropped the training a few weeks shy of my race, downgraded to the half marathon, and put myself into physical therapy. I was able to run the half just fine, and PT left me feeling stronger and more stable and ready to run.

Trail running has a few benefits. One, it provides a change of pace in a sport that can get… repetitive, to say the least. Second, it provides a softer running surface, which is easier on your joints. Third, the uneven terrain challenges different muscles. And lastly, the soft surface is ideal for adjusting to your hippie-dippie barefoot running shoes that have proven injurious on hard surfaces.

No, I don’t have Vibram the toe-shoes; I was on the verge of getting them, and then Merrell came out with a shoes that uses the Vibram sole but is close-toed. They’re basically glorified aqua-socks from what I can tell. But I read that “Born to Run” book and read the Harvard guys’ preliminary research on the biomechanics of barefoot running, so I’ve been convinced that it’s something at least worth trying.

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Merrell Trailgloves

The barefoot shoes really, truly work different muscles, and you have to start slowly. I tried to go for a 3 mile run off the bat in them, and I couldn’t walk for a week. Since then I’ve built up to doing 4 miles or so, but running on trails will work more different muscles.

I went for a run in Farragut State Park, ID, which was fantastic. They have a nice lake-front trail that joins up with other trail systems so you can go for as long or short, hard or easy a run as you want. I went for about 4.5 miles, which was just fine; my calves were plenty sore the next day, and I had a little blister on the sole of one foot. That makes sense, since there’s no padding in my shoes.

You look delicious and defenseless.

I did not do any trail running in Glacier National Park, because that is bear country. You don’t want to be moving fast enough to scare the crap out of the animals, but not fast enough to escape if one of those animals happens to be a bear. Or a mountain lion. Who probably figures that something slower, weaker, and more oblivious than a deer would make a great snack.

I hope to do at least one run to stretch my legs before the race on Monday, but if I’m not able to I’m figuring the hiking I’ve done in the past couple of days was sufficiently vigorous cross-training. I will let you all know how it turns out.

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