It’s been two years of severe drought here in Oklahoma.
It’s been so dry that ponds are drying up, rivers are muddy trickles and folks have almost forgotten what a real rain or snow storm looks like.
At the same time, I almost forgot what it was like to hit the trails after a good dirt-soaker.
I’ve been pining for precipitation. Over Christmas, I practically drooled at the prospect of a predicted blizzard (50 percent chance!), giving me the rare opportunity to log some miles in the snow.
All I got was sub-freezing temps, a 30-mph north wind and a whole lotta nuthin’. Cold, yes. But dry as a bone in Tulsa. My Christmas run was a chilly, windy miserable event that was only good when it was over.
But something funny happened this week. It rained. A few times. Over a couple of days.
Needless to say, we’ve needed this for awhile, and we need more of it. Much more.
But for this one day, it wasn’t the prospect of a drought-buster I was cheering. Nope. It was a chance to play in the mud.
A city run would not do. Wet pavement is wet pavement. Muddy trails, however, have their own bit of challenge and awesomeness.
A quick drive took me to the place you all should know well by now, Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness. The plan was to nail down about five miles of winding singletrack and seeing if my trusty trail treads would do me justice on the dirty mess that awaited.
It had been so long since I ran trails on a rainy day that some things actually surprised me.
Let’s start with what I already knew: Beware of slick rocks, especially on slopes. Sure way to bust your butt.
Enjoy the softer earth.
Check. It’s been concrete-like hardpan for so long, I was pretty spoiled by the softer feel of the damp earth from the last two days’ rain.
But not everything was so pleasurable.
All those big hills that gas me out going up and are so fun to bomb down on the other side aren’t quite as fun after a good soaker.
The earth is looser and less dense, therefore easier to rainwater to permeate.
That’s a fancy way of saying those hilly routes are freakin’ muddy. Like the kind of muddy that adds a bunch of weight to your shoes and makes going uphill something like running a slippery stairmill with ankle weights.
And on the downhill? Even better. You still get to collect mud on your shoes while attempting to do a standing glissade through the slop. If you don’t know your French or your mountaineering terms, “glissade” is a fancy term for sliding downhill. Usually it’s done on your butt. A standing glissade is sort of like skiing without skis. And in this case, without snow.
I’m glad I can ski. That skill came into play on short turns I was making where I otherwise may have landed with a hard splat on my posterior.
Mud running is hard, mostly because of the effort you expend to overcome slips going uphill and that aforementioned mud-collection on your shoes.
But once you’re clear of the bottoms and the slopes — say, a trail higher on ridge — it becomes a springy exercise in bliss. That’s how my run ended, traversing Turkey Mountain’s ridge on the last two miles in near solitude (turns out most people don’t like being out in the mud, explaining the uncharacteristically empty parking lot when I arrived).
That sort of solitude allows you to spot things like the whitetail doe that bounded away at my approach, or the bright red cardinal chirping away at the side of the trail. The moisture also unleashed long-trapped aromas of the forest that could only be described as sweet to the senses. I’ve heard that’s good for you, and I believe it.
By the time it was over, I was predictably filthy but exercised fully. My calves were splattered with the earthy gore issued forth by numerous puddles. Intermittent rain mixed with sweat left me soaked. I can’t complain about that, however. A muddy, sloppy and slippery five-miler is just what I wanted.
Blessings come from the rain. And blessings come in many forms.
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