Swapping tarmac for trails

I am a trail runner! As of recently. Very recent. Okay, just in the last few weeks, if we must be honest.

Not so long ago, you would have found me plodding around my neighborhood in my slow-but-steady pace or making the occasional foray to Carrier Park or the treadmill at my local Y. But that was so last year.

You see, 2011 is my year to shake things up. I’ve always admired trail runners and secretly aspired to be one — but I never knew quite where to start. So when Trish Brown’s book, Asheville Trail Running: Taking Bent Creek and the Mountains-to-Sea in Stride, arrived at Mountain Xpress in early December, I jumped at the chance to try it out.

Brown’s 168-page guide is divided into three main parts. The first, “The Nuts and Bolts of Trail Running,” covers everything from why run trails (Brown reassures us that it’s not just for the “hardcore” athlete) to more tangible aspects, such as pre-run planning, what to wear, what to carry, trail etiquette, navigating with your dog, what to look out for and more. This section answered every question I ever had and some I hadn’t thought of.

Parts two and three feature a total of 33 trails to choose from — 26 in the Bent Creek area and seven along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. There’s also a brief but interesting history included about both areas. The trails range anywhere from 1.45 to 20.6 miles long. Each comes with an overall description (so you know exactly what you’re getting into), clear directions and a map. In the back of the book they’re sorted by difficulty, so if you’re a novice like me you can start with a trail that sounds like it won’t take you too far out of your comfort zone.

In my case that meant “School Loop” at Bent Creek, which is 3.75 miles long and rated a modest 3 (out of a possible 20; the higher the number, the more difficult the trail run). The loop turned out to be a perfect mix of flat and incline (not too steep), and it features a particularly beautiful descent through a canopy of rhododendron near the end. It left me inspired instead of discouraged — which is what I had been afraid of — and I’ve been back to run it a second time, as well as to try out the flatter Long Lake Loop (also rated 3) and the more challenging Big Square Loop (rated 6). Both are also located at Bent Creek.

One thing that has surprised me is how well all the trails are marked. I‘ve been able to negotiate them quite easily (and with very little head scratching) just by referencing Brown’s directions and map as I go along.

Unfortunately, due to to our recent snowy, icy weather, I’ve been unable to try out any of the runs along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, but when the snow melts I’m particularly looking forward to running the “Obama Hike Out-N-Back” (yes, the infamous stretch our president and the first lady hiked less than a year ago.)

Probably one of the handiest aspects to Brown’s guide are the “carry cards” in the back. Each one is a mere quarter-page with basic directions on one side and a small map on the other. You can cut these out and laminate them for easy carrying — although Brown suggests copying and carrying the longer description your first time out. The book is spiral bound too, which makes photocopying easy.

I wish I could say that running trails is turning me from a plodder into a streaker, but no such luck. No matter. As Brown notes within the first few pages: “There are no rules on how fast you have to go, or how far. You can run for a while, then hike, and then stop to smell the flowers. And then, run once again. I do this so often, I have made up a new word for it: Riking — the combination of running and hiking.”

Thanks to Brown’s book, I hope to be doing a lot more riking in 2011.

Asheville Trail Running is endorsed by the Asheville Track Club and is available at Malaprop’s, Diamond Brand, REI and other outlets (for a full list visit Brown’s website at www.ashevilletrailrunning.com, where the book can also be purchased).

— Lisa Watters can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 100, or lwatters@mountainx.com.

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2 thoughts on “Swapping tarmac for trails

  1. Dana

    I would highly recommend buying some YakTrax (they’re like high-tech crampons that fit on running shoes) for winter running. I was given a pair for Xmas and they have opened up the world of snow and ice trail running. You get to be out on the trails that no one else wants to deal with, aside from the cross-country skiers.

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