Can you describe your last run?

So I actually managed to run 11 miles last week.  My knees cooperated for the most part and seemed to be less happy with all the yard work I did yesterday than the running.  I have decided to abandon all yard work from this point on…  Just running for me.

My right knee seems to be the least happy but is tolerable for the most part.  It actually feels better when I move around.  The left one is fine.

Still, the whole thing has had me very worried about not being able to run anymore and even though my runs are shorter, I have been forcing myself to pay attention to them a bit more.  I think anyone who does a repetitive workout like a run can become complacent over time and start to take things for granted.  We get so focused on numbers and effort that I think we can lose the joy of movement sometimes.  It’s only when we are seriously faced with the possibility of not getting to participate in the activity anymore that we are startled back to reality.

I was thinking about this on my Friday run.  I only went 3 miles but it was a good run.  I wanted to share it.

Bear Creek Trail is about a 5 mile, mostly crushed limestone trail that winds east to west from Cosmo Park to Albert Oakland Park in North Columbia.  It is the closest trail to my house, being less than 2 miles from my front door.  The fact that it is so close makes it even more of a shame that I don’t use it more.  The zero point for the trail is at the back of Cosmo park.  It leaves the park to the east and winds between a golf course and a nature area that contains some great single track for running or mountain biking.  A run through this area can add up to 4 miles of off road running to the fun.  The main feature of this first mile of the trail is a huge (and painful) hill that drops down into the creek bottom.  If you leave from this trail head, remember you have to come back UP that hill.  Once down at the bottom of the hill the trail winds creekside along Bear Creek for about 3 miles.  Although it is urban, you can barely tell for the first few miles as the trail winds and crisscrosses the creek.  Once past the dog park on Garth, the trail continues for another mile or so before appearing to end at Rangeline.  This is the only unfortunate section of this trail as you have to come off of the trail and run on sidewalks and through an industrial area in order to find the trail again.  The first time I did this part of the trail I had to turn back as there were no signs and I was sure I was lost.  However, you pick the trail back up behind some businesses and it continues on into Albert Oakland as it winds through a few neighborhoods and back up a hill into the back of the park.  Albert Oakland is known for it’s Frisbee golf  course and you can expect to see people playing at any time of year and in most any weather.  The trail switches from limestone to pavement here and that is the signal to turn around.  A round trip, out and back course is about 9 miles.

There are several access points along the way.  The one closest to my house is on Creasy Springs.  A sign and a simple parking lot are all that let you know you are there.  A porta potty sits at the trail head and the city keeps them clean and full so they are a safe bet in case of emergency.  Full facilities are at either end as well.  In all, a pretty decent resource.

On Friday I decided to run from the Creasy access to a spur that goes around a marsh and then up a hill into a neighborhood.  Then back down the hill to the dog park on Garth and back in.  It went something like this…

I started out at the same stiff trot that has been the norm for my runs of late.  It always takes me a while to get warmed up, but since my knees started hurting, it seems to take a little longer.  The trail from the parking lot goes out about 50 yards and then tees.  Go left and you get about a half mile of flat, quiet trail before you hit “the hill”.  My knees were not up to that yet so I meekly turned right and headed down toward the dog park.

Insistent on leaving winter behind me, I decided to wear shorts, even though it was just a tiny bit chilly.  A north breeze didn’t help but I knew that as soon as I warmed up I would be sweating, even though it was only about 45-50 degrees.

Bear Creek sets the path for the trail going this direction and it was swollen due to snow melt and recent rains.  The normally babbling creek was roaring in spots and threatening to come out of it’s banks.  While this may sound scary, it’s a normal occurrence.  This is an urban watershed and routinely floods in spots.  A minor irritation for the most part and the trail is built to handle it.  The water was a dirty tan color and moving pretty fast.  The trail, however, was dry for the most part.  Only a few very minor spots were even wet.

This time of year, the trail holds promise.  Early spring is a contrast of dead leaves and new sprouts.  Look close and you see bulbs popping through the dead fall and new buds at the ends of tree branches.  In the midwest spring is never really sure when to start.  Temperatures fluctuate so much that plant or animals that comes out too early can get a nasty surprise.  Some years everything buds and critters wake up, only to be frozen again by a late season storm.  However, the cautious optimism of nature is always encouraging.

I am always worried about stepping on a rock and rolling my ankle.  Given my track record, this is a legitimate concern.  However, on this day I couldn’t help looking up.  I wasn’t running that fast so I didn’t feel the need to spot every pebble that might hurt me and I really just wanted to soak it all in.

The birds this time of year are fun.  Still scruffy from winter but starting to get polished up for spring, the Cardinals, especially, are easy to hear and almost impossible to miss as they are so red against the dingy, late winter backdrop that they almost glow.  The birds on this trail are also pretty accustomed to people and several continued their singing even as I ran past them within a few feet.  It almost sounded like they were yelling in my ear.

The trail goes back under Creasy Springs and then hits a raised bridge that goes right along the creek.  It is the longest wooden bridge on this trail and is wedged between the water and a small cliff face.  This day, for some reason, the cliff face was loaded with squirrels.  A dozen or more  sounded like a small army tearing up the underbrush except for the one in the tree that decided to question my lineage as I went by.  Being cussed out by a squirrel adds a good bit of comedy to any run.

As I came off the bridge I was immediately struck by the sound of birds.  LOTS of birds.  This time of year we get migrating flocks of starlings through the area.  ENORMOUS flocks.  Sometimes numbering 10,000 or more.  This flock was not that big, maybe a thousand birds, but the racket was amazing.  Like a tree full of squeaky wheels all turning at the same time.  Mixed in with them (I didn’t know they did this) were dozens of Red Winged Blackbirds and Grackles.  All adding to the din.  As I ran up on the trees they were in they exploded out of them in a huge roar of wings.  Only to settle just across the trail and start rattling again.

Even as I was running past this noisy mess of feathers, the noise changed yet again.  As I crossed yet another bridge over the creek, I started hearing the unmistakable sound of a sure sign of spring.  Frogs.  As you cross the bridge, the trail splits off into several small spurs that wind around and through a natural (and man made) marsh.  And on this, only the second day over 60 this spring,  the peepers were out in force.  One of these little guys croaking for a mate is cute.  Thousands of them are so noisy it just makes your ears ring.  You can’t even understand it until you try to talk to someone in the midst of it and you CAN’T HEAR EACH OTHER.  One shouldn’t have to raise one’s voice to be heard over a frog… Just sayin’.

At one point the trail wound back by the flock of Starlings and between the two of them I was completely deaf.  The only other thing I could hear was an occasional soft, slow groan of another type of frog.  It was amazing.

I finally turned off the spur and picked up a new part of the trail that goes up a gradual hill into a neighborhood.  Steep sided hills with houses on both sides watch you all the way to the road.  It took a minute or two to get my hearing back.  I found myself jealous of the people who owned the houses.  And I wondered if they took as much advantage of this trail as they should.  I can’t imagine having a resource like this out my back door and not using it every day.  Of course… I did live within 3 blocks of a beach in SoCal and got sandy MAYBE 10 times in 13 years… so I know about wasting resources…

Because you immediately turn away from the drone of the marshes it gets quiet quickly.  The frogs and birds are replaced by casual conversations in back yards, the occasional car and the occasional dog barking.  Not so much as a threat to you for being in their territory but almost to say “take me with you”.  The dogs around here know there is always a party at the dog park and I was headed right at it.  They all wanted to go.

Once you get back down the hill you hit the trail again at the Garth dog park access.  Since this was the first warm day in a while, the dog park was packed.  I slowed down a bit to watch the fun as a pack of at least 20 dogs of all shapes and sizes did their best to cover themselves in mud, dog slobber and whatever else they could find to roll in.  I thought to myself that a romp in the mud did have a certain appeal…  Rolling in the other stuff… not so much.  I passed several more excited pooches as I made my turn back down the trail to head for home.  All happy and well adjusted.  One even turned around and ran with me for a while as he slipped out of his owner’s grip.  I stopped and exchanged pleasantries with him as his owner caught up and then moved on.

There was so much to see on this run.  Were they all this way?  What have I missed?  I didn’t want to stop but my current lack of fitness and my complaining knee were starting to weigh me down a bit so as sad as I was to stop, I was glad it was almost over.  So back past the frogs, the birds, the squirrels and the rest of it all I went.  Back to the tidy parking lot and my car.  But I lingered a bit down creekside.  I watched the fast moving water, the birds, the cars on the road above.

I need this.

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