Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Running Through It at South Mountain

By Steve Peterson

Time off from running, even if it is enforced, causes me to stir. When my mind wanders from home life or work, I naturally go to running. Will I feel okay the next time? Will I recover eventually and get back to the carefree runs I discovered around the second month of sticking to it? In injury (and other ailments) one starts to think that you will never be healthy again.

Riding NJ Transit
Having found myself with a day with no parental duties, I decided to venture out to a new bit of land to do some random running around in the woods. Regardless of how I felt a few minutes in, I knew that once I got a mile into the trail, there was no stopping until I was done. Sort of an ass-backwards approach to testing how well my knee would react, but I felt cooped up and crazy.

I was without car, so I ventured out to Milburn on New Jersey Transit. The trail head sat right across the street from the train station.

What I noticed as I walked up the road to the various trails branching out from the reservation parking lot was how hot and muggy it was. The trip started later than I had originally planned and took longer than I thought to get there, so now I was heading out in the middle of the day. I had 40oz. of water, and what looked like no chance to buy more when I got back to the station.

Trail Head
I had no map with me and was only slightly familiar with the trails. I had researched online sites and blogs and found some discussion around the intermittent trail flashes and rocky terrain. I picked a lane and headed up a sloping, rocky trail. By rocky, I mean crushed, large chunks of rock, the type found on railroad tracks. I climbed up and around the largest slope in the forest. When I reached what seemed to be the top, I found a single track tearing down the other side.

After a quick two miles, I re-entered the parking lot. Not what I was expecting.

 I knew I should have headed out on the Rahway Trail that was marked just before the lot. This was a single, mostly dirt track heading into the dark woods. I decided to head down the trail and see where it would take me.

The rough trail turned through the woods, running along small streams and reservoirs. Every hundred feet or so, I would have to look up quickly to scan the trees in the distance looking for white flashes. Occasionally, I lost sight of them and would have to wander through the pine needles to look for the trail. As I got weaker in and more depleted in the heat, scanning became a dangerous game. Every so often, I'd catch a hard toe on some root or rock and nearly stumble into the water below me. In the end, no twisted ankles, but I did get a blackened toenail out of the deal.

Eventually, I found myself hitting the end of the trail (as far I was willing to go). I came out of thick, low-lying bushes and found myself up against a highway guardrail. I guessed that I would have had to cross the highway and find the trail on the other side. Knowing that I was about two miles from the lot,and that I would have to stumble my way blindly through the woods, I backtracked. When I got back to the trail head I was spent. The trails had been a peaceful respite from the city, and it was a pleasure to get out for long periods of time away from anyone. It was quiet out there in the middle of the burbs.

An hour of waiting and two trains and I was home.

The thing I love about running is that every time I venture out, it could be the hardest, most excruciating thing I've encountered, but I get through it. From the first full mile that I ran without walking, to longer distances, cold, dark mornings, each time I get to ask myself "idiot, why not stop?" And each time, I keep going.

A fully depleted, lighter, weaker me