By Peter Schuler
Trail running can be an enjoyable addition to any running program. What could be a better combination than aerobic exercise, peace and quiet and beautiful scenery?
Trail running has traditionally attracted an older crowd. Baby bommers with many miles on their legs quickly learn that the softer running surface is much more forgiving to the body than road running. Recovery time from a long trail run is much shorter than its equivalent spent pounding the pavement.
Some runners are reluctant to head out into the woods. Concerns include the possibility of spraining an ankle, having to look too often at one’s feet, falling, getting lost, having to drive too far to get one’s regular exercise, the fear of encountering insects, snakes and other type of unfriendly wildlife, and getting poison ivy.
While trail running may not be for everyone, the fears of most non-trail runners are for the most part overblown. Novices can start out of wearing ankle braces; trail runners soon learn that ankle strength and balance develop quickly with practice. Most of the area trails are well marked. Accurate maps are readily obtainable. Since the best seasons for trail running are fall, winter, and spring, most of the insect, wildlife and poison ivy issues are diminished. While one does need to pay attention to where one places his or her feet, the focus of concentration takes on a pleasant rhythmic, meditative quality. Time passes much too quickly on the trail.
For those who are serious about getting into trail running, a good pair of trail shoes is a wise investment. Running shoe and hiking boot manufacturers offer a range of options to provide for better traction, moisture resistance, and foot protection from rocks, roots, and other trail hazards. Keeping one’s feet dry in cold and freezing weather is an essential requirement.
Beginning trail runners should not venture out into the woods alone. Group trail running offers the opportunity for a nice social outing as well as providing additional safety and support in the event of an emergency. Carrying a small first aid kit is also a good idea. In addition to an accurate trail map, runners should carry a compass in order to avoid a reprise of “The Blair Witch Project” should the worst-case scenario occur. Cell phones are a wonderful convenience, but are usually not that reliable on many trails further out from Jefferson county.
CamelBak hydration systems are ideal for trail running excursions. The CamelBak permits the trail runner to efficiently carry enough water to last for an extended run, while for the most part allowing the runner’s arms to remain free. Sufficient food should also be packed away for the run; the Camel/Bak can also be used to pack food. Trail runners often choose to eat while walking uphill. Yes, I did say “walking.” Even experience and accomplished trail runners do not attempt to run up the steep climbs.
Probably the best place for novice trail runners to start is at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park. The trail surface is very good, the area is not very hilly, and one is never too far away from one’s car.
There are good trails to run in Seneca and Cherokee Parks, but they are a little more technical, with more abrupt ups and downs than Sawyer. These trails are frequently used by mountain bikes, so trail runners have to be heads-up on the narrow, single track trails. The trails in Iroquois Park is also suitable for running.
For the more seasoned trail runner, the Louisville area offers an array of choices an off-road running adventure. One popular destination is the Knobstone Trail, which offers frequent opportunities for “altitude adjustment,” a term some trail runners are fond of using. The Knobstone has some breathtaking scenery, which can be enjoyed because the trail itself is very trail runner friendly. Eight trailheads along the Knobstone provide the runners with parking and access to various points along the more than 50-miles of trail. The southern terminus of the trail is located at Deam Lake, near Borden, IN.
The Jefferson Memorial Forest, near Fairdale, KY is another wonderful place to run. Three separate sections of the Forest have their own trail systems.
Another popular trail running venue is Otter Creek Park, near Brandenburg, KY. The 7-mile “Otter Creek Trail” is a very enjoyable loop route that offers a variety of scenery. The high view over a bend in the Ohio is spectacular.
The Millennium Trail at Bernheim Forest, near Clermont, KY is the 13-mile trail which is especially challenging but extremely well marked.
For breathtaking scenery, trail runners willing to drive two hours can experience the beauty of the landscape at Red River Gorge, near Slade, KY and at Cave Run Lake, near Morehead, KY.
As the air begins to cool and leaves begin to change color, the time is right to consider adding the healthy and enjoyable experience of trail running into one’s regimen.
Pete Schuler is a Louisville attorney, a board member for the Cherokee Road Runners.