For the most part, I believe trails should be treated like a nice wine: savored and not rushed. But every once in a while you find one that begs to be consumed with abandon.
Two years ago we published five trails that we found to be especially speed-friendly, in large part because of their generally rockless and rootless treat. Today, we double the list, adding five more that we feel fit the bill.read more
It started as a mellow saunter, progressed to an up-tempo hike, then, on a modest downhill, evolved into a trot. It was one of my first hikes at the Triangle Land Conservancy’s new Brumley Forest property near Hillsborough, and the absence of rocks and tree roots coupled with the gentle flow reminded me of my bygone days of being able to run a 10-minute mile on trail.
For the most part, I believe trails should be treated like a nice wine: savored and not rushed. But every once in a while, you find one that begs to be consumed with abandon. Here are five trails/trail networks where speeding is understandable and should be tolerated.
1. Brumley Forest
There are about 15 miles of trail at Brumley Forest, half of which are open to mountain biking and have the best runner mojo. Wood Duck Way is a nice warm-up, connecting to the lengthy — 4.2 miles (more if you aren’t paying attention) — Springhouse Loop. You’ll find a few, brief rocky spots, engineered for the enjoyment of mountain bikers, but they break up the run with some focused tip-toeing. Throw in the whoop-de-doing Buckeye Loop and you’ve got 7.5 miles of fast, foot-friendly fun.
Two reasons to run this loop. First, it eschews the crowds that frequent the top of Pilot Mountain, where you can wait 30 minutes for a parking spot, and once you’re on the trail, you’re constantly dodging hikers. (You can begin this loop from the lonely Surry Line Road Access.) Second, it has it’s challenging moments (read: climbs) but none are severe and none last long. Plus, you’ll be spending your time in a nicely shaded hardwood forest, especially important on a summer run.
To indicate how threat-free most of this trail is, it’s one of the most popular cross-country courses in the region. It’s noted for its passing lanes, its push-me-but-don’t-break-me climbs, and its overall flow. As for the half mile or so that’s not part of the course, if you start from the gravel lot just inside the front gate and run clockwise, you’ll get it out of the way first, while you’re still fresh.
This multi-use network is shared by runners and mountain bikers, but the wide trails (in most spots) make it work for both. A traditional rating system for the mountain bikers makes it easy to see whether a trail is easy, intermediate, or holy-cow-how-did-I-wind-up-here? hard. Designed with mountain bikers in mind, the trail has good flow, and the compacted surface minimizes slippage. One caveat: while you don’t have to pay the Whitewater Center admission fee to run, you do have to pay to park: $5 a day, $40 a year.
The true joy of this hike isn’t the smooth running surface, or the absence of elevation. Rather, it’s the ever-changing scenery that makes this 5 miles fly by. You’ll run through a swamp, amid the longleafs of a pine savannah, along the lake, past a disc golf course — you’ll even catch a glimpse of the nuclear reactor over yonder. That smooth trail surface lets you enjoy the views and allows your endorphin-energized brain to emphasize the pure enjoyment of the run.
Dry weather bodes well for dry trails and mountain biking. Looking for a place to ride? Look here.
Hot weather is always conducive to paddling. If you’re not crazy about going far from home, check out the Great Outdoor Provision Co. list of places to paddle near seven North Carolina cities, here.
Don’t mind sweating on the trail? Our sister site, NCHikes.com, just posted its recommendedhikes for August; check it out here. nchikes.com If you’re looking for a place close to home, we again refer you to the Great Outdoor Provision Co. site and a rundown of hikes we’ve compiled for them.
When I get lost on a hike, the first thing I like to do when I get home is dig out the appropriate USGS map and figure where I went wrong. I call the exercise a topopsy. Similarly, after a race I like to take a few minutes to figure out what went right and what didn’t. Thus, a few minutes looking back at Saturday’s River Bound 15K at the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.
Right Good positioning at the start, in the third row. Trail races are tricky: ideally, there’s a funnel start where you can, quickly, jockey for position and fall in with runners of similar pace. Once you hit the singletrack opportunities to pass can be rare and dicey. Thus it’s crucial to make the most of the 200 yards or so of double track before the trail narrows and disappears into the woods.
Wrong At the 1 Mile mark I glance at my watch: 7 minutes, 24 seconds. Yikes! At best, I’m a 9:10- to 9:20-minute miler on trail. Throttle back, buddy.
Wrong In theory cutting back is be a good idea. Yet here I am, at 57, bounding through the woods with a bunch of 20 and 30somethings. I feel great!
Wrong Mile 2: 14:48. Really, It’s hot, humid and I’ve got more than seven miles to go. My training has been OK, I tell myself, with three or four runs a week and four over 10 miles. But this pace: can it last?
Wrong Mile 3: 24:14. Better, but still just over 8-minute miles. It occurs to me that my 9:20-minute pace is for a six-mile training run. For a 10-mile run I was flirting with a 10-minute pace. I shouldn’t worry about the guy who’s been on my tail the last half mile: ease up and let him pass.
Wrong Mile 4: 33:18. Hmm, that guy’s still on my tail. If he’s half as spent as I am, he’ll drop soon.
Wrong Mile 5: 42:14. I can’t remember the last time I walked this much in a race, at least in a shorter race. True, most of it was an intense hill — Goat Hill, I believe it’s called. I’m sure I walked it faster than I could have run it. Still, walking … . Shoulda let that guy pass a mile and a half back.
Wrong Mile 6: 52:53. In trouble. Walking anything exceeding a moderate incline. My hill training was pretty good; this feels more like a nutrition issue. I haven’t bonked in a long while, but I’m sensing that that peanut-butter-and-banana toast I had more than four hours ago is long gone. While it’s not crazy hot — probably only the low-to mid-80s — it is crazy humid. I’m drenched, my glasses keep slipping down my nose and I can hear my feet squishing in my shoes. I don’t feel so well.
Right Mile 7: A friendly woman and her son are manning the water stop. “You look great!” she says. I cough out a laugh. Unlike the previous three water stops, where little plastic cups were flung aside 20- 30- 40-yards up the trail, the only cups here are right at the stop. “People making this a rest-stop?” I ask. “Except for the fast ones,” she says. “They don’t even need water.” At 57, stopping is risky because it’s so hard to get the body moving again. Still, I need water. I drink one cup, ask for a refill, down that and take a third. The woman who will win the 20-24 age group comes from behind, slows, takes a cup, keeps moving. When she’s 40 yards down the trail I rev up the machine and lumber on.
Right Mile 8: The water has worked wonders. I’m not flying; in fact, my sweat-stung eyes make it hard to read my watch, so I have no idea how I’m doing, timewise. But I have run the entire last mile, including a gradual climb, and it’s felt pretty good.
Right Mile 9: We emerge from the single track and there is Kimberley Hefner of Rock Hill, S.C., who finished about 10 minutes earlier to win the women’s overall division in 1:15:17. She’s returned to yell encouragement — well, selective encouragement. “You go, girl!” she yells to Catherine Quinn of Matthews, the soon-to-be 20-24 women’s winner who I’ve somehow managed to keep in sight. “Don’t let these boys catch you!” Hefner adds. Quinn explodes in a comic sprint.
Wrong Mile 9.3, the Finish. I finish strong, too strong. I once boasted about finishing strong in a race and was told, “Guess you didn’t leave it all on the course. You should finish with nothing.” Well, shoot: I have to finish with something — I still have to walk to the car and drive to Cary.
In the end I could have trained more, but for a 15K I was pretty comfortable with the number of miles I put in (between 22 and 36 per week over three months). But I certainly could have trained better. I have no training plan: I just go out and run, my distance typically dictated by how much time I have. Nutritionally, I may have been slack on race morning, and I certainly needed to do more to hydrate before the race and stay hydrated during the race.
With a smarter training program I could have shaved a couple minutes from my time. But 3 minutes and 51 seconds — the amount I would have needed to edge out Ludwik Zon, who won our age category (55-59)? Ludwik, I’m guessing, takes a different approach to training. It turns out he’s an accomplished ultra runner; last year he completed the Leadville Trail 100 [mile] race, much of which is above 10,000 feet, in just over 29 hours. A year earlier, he completed the mountain biking version of the Leadville 100 in just over 11 hours.
Standing on the podium looking up at Ludwik a thought occurred: This guy probably doesn’t wake up and decide on a whim whether he’s going to run or ride that day.
Monday — never an easy time for the outdoors enthusiast. After a weekend of adventure, returning to the humdrum work-a-day world can make one melancholy. To help ease the transition, every Monday we feature a 90 Second Escape — essentially, a 90-second video or slide show of a place you’d probably rather be: a trail, a park, a greenway, a lake … anywhere as long as it’s not under a fluorescent bulb.
Today’s 90-Second Escape: Whitewater rafting at the NWC
Twice in the last week I ran into active types with a common dilemma: I have relatives I need to entertain, they aren’t all that active, but I’d like to do something adventurous with them. In both cases, the relatives were teenagers and in both cases the person with the entertainment dilemma was pretty sure their charges had adventure gene — it just hadn’t had a chance to flourish. And, surprisingly, in both cases neither person had experienced the obvious option: the National Whitewater Center usnwc.org in Charlotte.
As I’ve mentioned in this space, the NWC is about more than whitewater. That is, however, the obvious place to start, on the closed-circuit concrete river that offers class II and III fun. There’s also mountain biking, a climbing wall, 18 miles of trail, flat-water paddling, stand up paddleboarding, zip lines, canopy tours — everything you could want to jump-start your well-meaning but sluggish kin.
With that in mind, we revisit a previous trip to the NWC. Feel free to tag along — and don’t forget to hang on!
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