After 10 years of helping organize Trail Mix Race, this was the year I finally had an opportunity to participate in it. Three brave souls and I formed a four-person team to run on the soft trail conditions found in the springtime at Lake Rebecca Park Reserve. Needless to say, the 12.5K trail race was a mud run.
The freeze/thaw cycle hit just about peak and the race happened the week after Minnesota received a two-foot dumping of snow in mid-April. The course was partial snow, mostly mud, and over a foot of standing water in spots.
It took me over an hour and 20 minutes to complete one lap — and I was only doing one! The people running the ultra course had to complete four of these; I’m not sure what type of mindset someone needs to run a 50K in mid-April, but they are a rare breed of people.
All of this aside, there is no place I would rather run than in a local park. We are fortunate to have miles of trails and thousands of acres of land at our doorsteps (or within a few miles of us). Running in a regional park is one way I personally “even out.” I have found that the time outside helps calm my anxieties and the exercise boosts my endorphins. While I will admit it is hard to get started some days, I never regret taking the time to go for a run, and I am a better person for having done so.
It is also a thousand times better than running on the “dreadmill.” Your routes can change as often as you want. At a minimum, your environment will change from day to day with the seasons, and it is fun to see a bare forest turn into lush green shade and then transform into vibrant fall colors. Running in parks and on regional trails has allowed me to encounter many kinds of wildlife, including deer, fox, pheasants, coyotes, minks, and all sorts of birds.
I consider the parks as my gym membership. It is one that we all pay for through our taxes and it is one we should take advantage of to be physically active in, particularly here in Minnesota. If you are new to running (or to running outdoors), here are a few tips I recommend:
- Look at a map of the park before you go out. Check out the distances and intersections where you can turn.
- Determine if you want to run on paved trails or turf trails – yes, they are very different running experiences, and each has their perks.
- I prefer morning runs. I find early mornings are the best in the summer as it is cooler and the bugs aren’t out yet.
- Put on bug spray and sunscreen before getting on the trail. Sometimes the bugs can be annoying, but they can be a great motivator to not stop!
- For your first run on a new course, give yourself more time than you would normally; that way, you won’t feel rushed and it helps you feel out the course.
- Start easy. When getting into running, it is better to finish when you feel like you have more to give than to go all out. I’d start with a mile or two at a simple jog or fast walk.
- Hydrate. I generally leave my water bottle in the car, but oftentimes I plan my runs around where there is water at my start/finish.
- Enjoy it. This is something you do for you, not for anybody else. You won’t regret the impact it has on your life.
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