Month: December 2017

Bryant Grove Trail – Review

Bryant Grove Trail – Review

The Mad Cows were on the mooooove yesterday!  Say what?  My local running group is the Mad Cow Running Company (MCRC), located in Murfreesboro, TN.  For some strange reason, we like each other enough to crawl out of bed on a frosty Saturday morning to hit the trails.  We have a really great and dedicated group of folks so it isn’t uncommon for some of the herd to drive for an hour (or more) to find our next great trail running adventure.

Being in Tennessee, we have access to so many wonderful trails, it seems like I should start sharing the details with everyone else.  As such, I will try to share information about the trails we encounter when the herd is on the move.  Yesterday, MCRC went for a fun run on the Bryant Grove Trail.

Here the basics of the trail:

Location:  The trail is located in Long Hunter State Park (2910 Hobson Pike, Hermitage, TN 37076) – go in the main entrance of the park, make your first left, and the trail head is on the right hand side of the parking lot near the play ground.  There are number of other great trails in Long Hunter State Park, including a beautiful 2 mile paved loop around the lake, but we’ll focus on the Bryant Grove Trail for the purposes of this post.

Length:  The trail is 4 miles out and 4 miles back for a total distance of 8 miles.  The trail does NOT loop.

What else? The park opens at 8 am (sometimes earlier in the summer) and closes at sunset.  No pets allowed on this trail or in the Couchville Lake Recreation area.  There are bathrooms at both ends of the trail.  The trail is clearly marked with white blazes and mile markers.  And if you really like the trail, there is a 9 mile race there in August, sponsored by the Nashville Striders, called the Wild Thang 9 miler.

In my mind, this is one of the best trails for new trail runners.  The trail has minimal elevation gain (approximately 200 ft) over the course of the trail, so that runners can focus on the run.  Most of the folks I have talked to about becoming trail runners report that their biggest fear is tripping and twisting and ankle or falling and getting really hurt.  This is always a risk, but this trail is not super technical so it allows runners to get their trail legs.  In fact, yesterday I ran this trail as my first trail run after spraining my ankle at a trail race in mid-December.

I like this trail because it gives me an opportunity to run fast due to large open stretches without a lot of obstacles.  And let’s face it, the best part of trail running is the adrenaline high of zipping through the woods.  There are a few more technical spots that allow you to test out “quick feet”.  With short stretches of rocks and roots coming in clusters, some quick feet are needed to keep moving without tripping.  This is a good place to practice the skill.  If you are new to trails and want to get better at quick feet and improve ankle stability, I highly recommend jump roping.

If you come from the Couchville Lake Recreational Area side, you will pass by beautiful views of the water on your right during the first mile.  There is a mixture of cedar tree groves and single track trail but also plenty of parts of the trail where you can run two folks across.  The deer in the area are without fear and it isn’t uncommon for them to walk out onto the trail to investigate the people.  If you are lucky, and get up early on a cold day, you may also see some frost flowers like the herd found yesterday.

In short, this trail offers a lot of opportunities for new and veteran runners. For those dabbling in trail running, the trail allows runners the chance to practice basic trail running skills of quick feet and the ever important, picking up of your feet (so you don’t trip) without having to worry about hills, poor trail markings, or an overgrown trail.  As for veteran runners, it is a great place to practice raw trail speed.

The Currency of our Field

The Currency of our Field

In every field, there is a “currency” – a method by which we and our peers can assess our level of achievement.  The word currency comes from Middle English: “curraunt”, meaning “in circulation”, in the most specific use of the word, it refers to money in any form when in actual use or circulation is used as a medium of exchange.  I like this definition because the key elements in defining currency are 1.) being in circulation and 2.) being a medium of exchange – something of value to the users.

Let’s start with the first element of currency, being in circulation.  This may in fact be the most important part of the definition for us as humans.  We always want to be in circulation.  We want to be on the road, in the game, at the table, and we want to be relevant.  We as humans are terrified of becoming irrelevant and removed from circulation.

As for the second element of currency, a medium of exchange, in every walk of life, there is a currency by which we as a collective field, profession, and human race, assess achievement or value to ourselves and our communities.  As a scientist, our currency is often papers published, grant funding obtained, patents submitted, and in some cases tenure achieved.  As runners, our form of currency is typically PR’s (personal records), the ubiquitous Strava data, and “bling”.

“Bling” is the shiny medals, pint glasses, kitsch, and the most coveted bling, the belt buckle that accompanies the completion of a race and is tangible symbol of achievement in our community.  In an ever growing competition for our race registration dollars, races from 5K’s to 100 milers (or more) often give out bling of epic proportions to attract prospective runners.  Some races are giving our medals of dinner platter dimension and topping out at greater than 3 lbs.  That’s a veritable albatross to carry after a long and grueling run.

For ultra runners, the greatest currency is the belt buckle.  But of course, no one is quite sure when the belt buckle should be awarded.  I have heard from some members of the ultra community that a belt buckle is the highest level of achievement and should only be awarded to runners who have mastered (or suffered) the 100 mile plus distance.  Others maintain 50 miles of suffering is sufficient to warrant a belt buckle.  However, one thing that most ultra runners will agree upon is that belt buckles should never be given for anything less than 50 miles as that seemingly “cheapens” the awarding of a belt buckle because it is no longer special at shorter distances.  I have earned a belt buckle at distances ranging from a 50 K (see picture above from the Arctic Frog 50 K) to a 100 miler.  I also earned one after completing 5 marathons in 5 days.  I never felt I hadn’t earned it when I was presented with the belt buckle.

This issue of awarding belt buckles for certain distances or considering giving participation medals to race finishers (of any distance) is all one and the same; should we reserve our currency for only those runners who prove that can suffer the most or run the furthest?  It is a fine line between recognizing achievement in our field without becoming elitist.  I think at the end of the day, it comes down to each of us in how we choose to view our bling.  I have run a lot of races and have a lot of bling.  And in all honesty, when I look at 5 K participation medals and 100 mile belt buckles, I see the same thing, a memory.  A wonderful memory of a struggle, a challenge, fellowship with my running tribe, and the thrill of a finish.  I have run 5 K’s at paces well beyond my normal ability and wanted to lose my cookies at the finish.  Is that somehow less suffering or achievement than crawling to a finish of a 100 mile race?  Maybe.  But not to me.  If I give all of my talent and effort to a race, I have achieved and do not mind if the Race Director wants to give me a token to remember that effort.  That being said, I am far more grumpy with a medal when I have run poorly and not given my best effort, because then I am stuck with a memory of weakness and perceived failure.

I think that ultimately, it all washes out.  The most determined people who seek the toughest races and will be granted medals, buckles, or the coveted Croix de Barque as merited by their effort.  And the community knows the hardest races and will appreciate the struggle and the accompanying bling.

As for the rest of us mortals, maybe the currency is not the bling or the buckle, maybe it is the memory.  The memory that reminds us that we are in circulation.  That we sped down the trails (or roads) with reckless abandon and felt truly alive.  That we ran with our tribe (or herd) and struggled together and found value in a hard earned finish and a cold pint of beer (or chocolate milk) at the finish.  That in the end, we enjoyed fellowship and told stories about other races and running foolishness and that we held value to ourselves and our peers by simply showing up and giving our best effort to drive competition and excellence.  That we did not squander the gift that is running.  That most definitely is a currency of immeasurable value.

 

 

The White Runners

The White Runners

The White Runners, is a not so veiled reference to the White Walkers of Game of Thrones fame, an ancient race of humanoid ice creatures, who come from North of the Wall.  The White Runners (Walkers) are thousands of years old, from the time preceding the Age of Heroes. Born of powerful and untested magic.

Now you’re talking.

This is how I want to see myself as we slowly creep away from the Winter Solstice, with short days, and long nights.  A period of raw cold and wind.  Ice and snow.  I want to see myself as a creature born of powerful magic to usher in an Age of Heroes. A fierce runner.  In reality, when temps dip below 30 F, I want to don  fuzzy socks and fleecy sweat pants, wrap myself in a blanket, and beach myself in front of the electric fireplace like an overstuffed woolly burrito.  That image is infinitely less sexy.

I know that when temps are low and nights are long, others are still training . . .and so must I.  So how do you convince yourself to hit the trails when a Netflix GoT’s binge and tacos await?

Let’s start with how to dress.  The rule of thumb is that you should always dress for 20 degrees warmer than ambient temperature, as you will heat up when you start running.  For me, I consider windchill in the ambient temperature.  So . . .this morning’s temps at my house are a blistering 15 F.  This means my gear selection should reflect what I would wear in 35 F temps.  A few key tips:  1.) dress in layers with a moisture wicking base layer – this will pull moisture away from your skin so you don’t sit in your own sweat and get cold; 2.) wear outer layers that allow for temperature modulation – 3/4 zip shirts, vests, zippers in the sleeves/underarms; 3.)  if it’s windy, add a wind resistant, light weight outer layer; and 4.) Protect your face/ears and hands with hats, gloves, and buffs.  Additional ideas for how to dress can be found using this handy dandy tool.  And don’t forget for night runs, add reflective gear and headlamps – nobody needs to finally get motivated to brave the cold night for a run only to be sideswiped by a taco truck.

Now that you’re dressed to impress, how do you motivate yourself to get out the door?  For me, the hardest part is the first few minutes in the cold.  If I have a couple minutes standing around before I start running, I will surely lose motivation.  So, I always arrive at run group with just minutes to spare so I can hop right from my warm car to the back of my running pack until the blood flow gets going.  When running from home or work, I like to get all my gear on and warm up in the house/office (i.e. doing a few chores or stretches).  I have heard that some folks will drink a cup of hot coffee or cocoa to warm up before the run.  I also knew someone who took a hot shower and then went for a run.  They liked starting warm and fantasizing about returning to the hot shower after their run.

Regardless of how you do it, the principle is the same, start warm and get going.  Science agrees, you need to raise your energy level to make it easier to get over the energy of activation.  Say what?  For every chemical reaction (like fuel combustion in an engine), a certain amount of energy needs to be put into the system; you need to get over an “energy hump” (aka – energy of activation) to get the reaction to easily proceed.  And guess what. . .most chemical reactions use heat to reach the energy of activation.  So, grab the warm socks, chug a cup of Joe, and do a few jumping jacks, then get moving!

Winter is also a good time to set running “dates” and goals for the New Year.  Motivation to go out into the frozen tundra is easier found when you have a bunch of friends waiting for you.  We are fortunate in that we have multiple local running groups that meet during the week.  I am guaranteed to get in my week night runs when I meet up with my running family.  I also have several folks in my running group who have set ambitious goals for the new year – running their first marathon or ultra-marathon.  Big goals means big commitment so there is no room for slacking during the winter months.

So now that we are armed with the tools to face the cold and dark, it is time to rekindle our fierceness for running with more Game of Thrones references:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. . . I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”

Aww yeah.  It’s time to run.