A snapshot of the fall race season

Those fall long runs.

I do this thing every year when once the summer mountain trips come to a close, I get more serious about running and start training for fall races.

It usually goes down like this:

Step 1: I create a training schedule. It’s usually a mashup of something Hal Higdon has built, customized with a few things I think I need, and studded with weight training workouts. I wouldn’t advise following my lead. I’m not a running coach and am a confirmed midpack runner. If you really want to be successful, hire a coach. Or experiment like me and see what happens. The former is probably going to have a higher rate of success; the latter will be more interesting.

Step 2: Spend the first month of training bitching about how out of shape I am, bitching about the heat, and bitching about being too heavy, too beat up and too old to do this anymore. But I do it anyway because the thought of quitting a training program for any reason other than injury is abhorrent to me.

Step 3: Gradually peel off a few pounds, get more miles under my belt, see slight improvement in my running and continue bitching about the heat because autumn in Oklahoma is weird like that. Sometimes we get 80-degree days in November.

Step 4: On the last Saturday of October, toe the line at the Tulsa Run 15K. Up until then, I’ve felt too roly-poly to race, but I feel compelled to do this one. And then I realize that once it’s over, I can actually run a longer distance at speeds that don’t resemble a zombie shuffle. I wasn’t all that fast this year: 1:35:56, which isn’t my slowest 15K, but definitely not my fastest. If nothing else, it tells me that I can kick it up a gear or two when race day arrives.

Step 5: Suddenly reap the benefits of cooler temps, higher mileage volume, speed workouts and the mental edge that seems to appear every year after the Tulsa Run. The hill climbs aren’t as daunting, the flats breeze by and I bomb the downhills. Everything feels like it’s coming together. And maybe that half marathon at the end of November won’t be so bad. Maybe I won’t totally suck. That’s pretty much my goal for the Route 66 Marathon half every year: Don’t suck.

And so it goes. Running is funny like that. I’m a man of routines, so training schedules and daily rituals dovetail nicely into how I do things, and every fall I emerge fitter, faster and leaner than where I was in the summer. It shouldn’t be this way, of course. Ideally, I’d be in peak condition when I’m trying to will myself to 14,000 feet. But again, routines. And a not-so-productive affinity for tacos, barbecue and brews.

I’m looking forward to this year’s race, but I also recognize that I need to change the way I do things. I can’t destroy myself in the weight room for nine months of the year and expect to remain uninjured. My personal history alone tells me that. And I can’t eat everything in sight while dialing back my training. I mean, it’s great fun and all, and an awesome way to build a gut and love handles if that’s your thing. It’s not my thing, though sometimes I wonder.

Anyway, I’m less than two weeks out from my fall goal race. Knock on wood, I’m feeling good. The plantar fasciitis of the spring seems to be gone. So is the weird hip pain I’ve been nursing for more than 18 months. Once that race is done (however it turns out), I’ll need a new plan. Let’s just see how that goes.

Bob Doucette

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Summer of Nuun: Testing the Nuun Electrolytes hydration supplement

Sometimes I get lucky. A few months back, I found out I was a winner. A winner of stuff!

Race Advisors – a cool outfit that publishes reviews of races from all over – does a weekly giveaway to its social media followers, and my name turned up. What I got: A package of Nuun Electrolytes, made by a company that specializes in performance nutrition you need without all the sugar and other “extra” stuff that comes with so many other sports drinks and supplements.

I’ve heard of Nuun before. They’re all over the place on all things running. Part of the deal were four sleeves of tablets that I was free to use. At the time, summer was just getting ready to start, so this was a great time to do some experimenting.

WHAT IS IT?

Technically, each tablet of Nuun Electrolytes is designed to supplement 16 ounces of water with sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. When you work out, you sweat a lot. And that means more than losing just water. Certain nutrients are also lost, minerals that are essential to proper body function, especially during exercise.

But how does it work? Think of this visual: Have you ever used Alka-Seltzer? It works just like that. You take a glass/bottle of water, snag a Nuun tablet, and drop it in. It dissolves in effervescent fashion, and in about a minute, presto! You have an electrolyte-infused drink to replenish your body. It’s got 10 calories a pop, and a remarkably short ingredients list.

My guess is you can use this in one of two ways: Prepare the drink beforehand and bring a bottle of it with you as you run (for longer runs) or use it as a recovery tool after a hard workout.

HOW DID IT DO?

Over the summer, my miles drop. It’s freakin’ hot in Tulsa, so there aren’t many long runs happening for me. But when I run, I work hard and sweat a lot. If I’m not hydrated perfectly, those wonderful dehydration headaches appear, and I’m lethargic as can be, even if I down a bunch of water when I’m done. So my test was simple: Would Nuun help me avoid both?

I burned through a few tubes of Nuun tablets over the course of three hot months of running. So this isn’t a “try it a couple of times and review it” sort of test. I know I’m only one guy, but I think the duration of usage should count for something.

I’m also what might be called a “high-demand” person when it comes to post-workout recovery. I sweat buckets, even in mild temps, so that means I’m losing a lot of water and electrolytes at every workout.

The taste takes a little getting used to. It’s not sugar-sweet like a lot of popular sports drinks. My advice: Let the tablets dissolve for a minute, then drink. It goes down pretty good then.

But I also think it did its job. Sixteen ounces of a Nuun-infused drink definitely helped curb those headaches. And yeah, I did notice that the post-workout sluggishness that usually happens after a super-heated 90-minute workout was noticeably blunted. So that’s a win-win.

A further test would include taking a water bottle with Nuun in it, but I didn’t go that far. However, I do have numerous long runs planned in the coming weeks, and maybe that will be a good time to test it further.

But the bottom line is Nuun advertises that it not only helps you hydrate, but replenishes valuable minerals the body needs to keep working and recover more quickly. So far, so good. It seems to have done the job for me.

Price: A sleeve of 10 tablets is $7.

Disclaimer: Nuun and Race Advisors furnished me with four sleeves of tablets at no cost to me, and with no obligation of review or promotion.

Bob Doucette

The reality of being an athlete over 40

Most of these shoes are worn out, and these days I’m feeling every one of their miles.

When it comes to being an “athlete” over 40, it really is a tale in two parts. That’s what I’ve discovered, anyway.

Since I’ve turned 40, here are a few things that have happened…

I ran my fastest races.

I pulled my heaviest deadlift.

I ran my longest distance, then topped that a few months later by double.

I climbed tougher mountains and undertook more demanding adventures, including a couple of them solo.

At one point, I can genuinely say that I was in better shape in my 40s than I was at any other time in my life.

Age is just a number, right?

Well, hang on a minute. There’s a flip side to this coin. It’s something people tell you, but you must experience first-hand to appreciate.

When I get up in the morning, I hobble to the bathroom. Lingering plantar fasciitis remains a daily issue. And it’s not just when I first get up in the morning. Any time I get up from a long period of sitting (binging Netflix, being at work or whatever), the effect is the same. It takes me a few strides to smooth out my gait.

I also battle other injuries now more than ever. A shoulder tweak, an angry lower back, twitchy muscles, ankles sprained so many times that they retain permanent stiffness. A janky hip joint. Right now, all of these, plus the foot issues, hit me at once.

It’s a strange and irritating conundrum. When I’m out running, I can break out into a hill sprint or straightaway gallop as good or better than at any time in my 20s or 30s. But give me a couple of hours and I’m walking around the house with a bit of a hitch, gimp or whatnot. I need more sleep to recover, but my body wants me to be awake at all the wrong times.

I guess all this is making me a smarter runner and lifter. I don’t train through pain as much anymore. I train around it. Or just back off. Rehab in the form of postural alignment exercises, foam rolling and more has become more of the norm. But I won’t lie. It’s getting harder. Frustratingly so. It’s making me wonder if the best is behind me, if I’ll race in the fall, and if I need to curb my expectations when it comes to adventure.

It’s been said that life is a marathon and not a sprint. The Apostle Paul even mentioned that in his writings a couple of thousand years ago. The idea behind that is perseverance. Having run a marathon before, it’s easy to feel good about yourself at Mile 3, or Mile 8, or even Mile 13. It’s at Mile 18, or Mile 20, when you’ve already come so far, beat yourself up, and seemingly have too far to go that a race is decided. I’m not sure which mile I’m on, but it sure as hell ain’t Mile 3.

But that’s when I remember those long training miles. I’ve got to pace myself. Be smarter. Not blast my way through every adversity. “Be like water,” as Bruce Lee once said: to be still at times, to flow over when allowed, around when necessary, and crash when appropriate.

I’m learning. Pain is a great teacher. All I know for sure is I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to give in, give up what I love and live a smaller, less pain-inducing life. I know where that leads, and it’s not good.

I guess I need to be better at figuring out how to carry on a bigger life when my arms are a little heavier, my steps a fraction slower, and the aches more persistent. I don’t know any other way.

Bob Doucette

Welcome to the neighborhood: Cyclists, racing and a city’s biggest block party on Cry Baby Hill

Cyclists race by as crowds cheer – and drink – at the Riverside Criterium of Tulsa Tough on Cry Baby Hill.

When I got up Sunday morning, the parade was already started. Out my window, lines of people were strolling down the hill, coolers and lawn chairs in hand. Some were in costume. Most were dressed for the heat. Some were already half-tanked.

A typical Sunday morning for the third day of Tulsa Tough, an annual cycling race series and festival that has bike enthusiasts from across the country descend on T-town with all the spandex anyone could ever want. Crowds gather for all three days of Tulsa Tough, but it’s the third day, on Cry Baby Hill, that folks really get revved up.

And it happens in my neighborhood.

A little about my ‘hood: it’s tough to define. It’s older, right on the edge of downtown Tulsa, and built on the banks of the Arkansas River. It’s a mix of people, from bohemian to bums, families and retirees, living in stately older homes, shotgun houses, or in open fields not yet developed. It’s a place where you can watch incredible sunsets from your porch, or view transients stumbling down an alley. I feel perfectly safe here, but sometimes there are police helicopters and searchlights. Typical urban neighborhood, I suppose, and the site for the Riverside Criterium of Tulsa Tough.

So let’s talk about Tulsa Tough. This was the 13th year for the event, which attracts top cyclists from across the country and the world. For three days, they race through different courses downtown, and as the years have gone by the crowds have grown. There’s also a gran fondo ride that goes well outside the city and a townie ride where anyone with a set of wheels can take a more leisurely trek.

The climax of Tulsa Tough is the Riverside Criterium. It’s the toughest course, with steep inclines on every lap. I’m sure that’s something cyclists can appreciate and dread, but for most people, the Riverside Criterium is all about the scene that is Cry Baby Hill. It draws the biggest, most raucous crowds of the entire weekend, and I’d say most people are there more for the party than the races. Folks show up by the thousands.

It wasn’t always that way. When Tulsa Tough started, people in the neighborhood gathered at a house or two to watch the races, guzzle some beer and cheer them on. One legend has it that regulars at the Sound Pony, a downtown dive bar frequented by cyclists and other endurance athletes, started making the Sunday Tulsa Tough races a thing. However it started, someone built this party scene, and man, did it grow.

Today, the Riverview neighborhood is choked with Tulsa Tough spectators and revelers. There’s lots of skin, vats of beer, weird costumes and creepy baby-doll heads on sticks. There are a bunch of whistles and people in referee uniforms helping the crowds “mind the gap” so cyclists can actually freely race without fear of running into errant fans. It’s grown so big that the food truck cabal decided to come, and live music on a stage popped up. Debauchery of all sorts happens, though most people keep it in check. I think. Anyway, I tell people that Cry Baby Hill is an annual excuse to get drunk on a Sunday morning, and I think that’s mostly true.

Some of the cyclists get into it. If they’re not concentrated on actually winning, they’ll slow down and take a brew from the crowd before continuing. Cops are there in droves, as are paramedic crews. It’s hot out there, and sometimes the combination of a 12-pack of Natty Light and high heat/humidity doesn’t work out too well.

You might think the description of my neighborhood, the event, and the crowd is negative, but let me shut that down right now: I dig this scene. Endurance sports don’t get a lot of love, so when the hordes arrive to cheer on the competitors, I’m all for it. Come on down, invade the ‘hood for a few hours and have a good time. Too many parts of town (any town, really) are too buttoned down, becoming regimented to the point of lifelessness. My neighborhood is a trip pretty much every day, and I guess it’s fitting that Day Three of Tulsa Tough is sort of a holiday of weirdness for my weird little place.

That all of it surrounds cycling hits home, too. I don’t race, but I spend a decent amount of time in the saddle these days. I chose where I live so I could bike to work. It’s also close to a paved trail system that’s great for longer rides. I’m not a racer, but I get these people even if my ride costs less than the accessories they attach to theirs.

So how did all this go down for me? Well, as the crowds clogged my streets, I mowed my yard. Picked up a half-empty can of Coors Light kindly donated to my lawn. I dumped the rest out, recycled the can, then jumped on my bike and rode to the center of the action.

While recording part of the race from a more “family friendly” part of the course, a half-baked spectator noticed by Denver Broncos ballcap and proceeded to talk smack. Turns out, he was a Chiefs fan. They got us twice last year, but I reminded him that the Broncos have three Lombardis in the case to Kansas City’s one. He was forceful at first (I was hoping that this wouldn’t turn into a real fight), but chilled out long enough to have a more nuanced discussion about how the AFC West was going to play out. His girlfriend got bored, so we bro-hugged and they left.

I rode to a few more spots, taking pics and taking in the scene. Everywhere I went, the streets were lined with people, sometimes ten deep. Whistles would blow, a chase vehicle would zip by, and then a couple of cyclists would follow. Behind them, the whirring gears of a few dozen more cyclists, bunched up in the peloton, breezed by. The crowd cheered, yelled, rang their cowbells and took a swig from coozy-lined cans and red Solo cups.

This scene repeated itself for several hours until the last pro races were done. Podiums were mounted and trophies awarded. Fans eventually stumbled back into their houses, or toward their cars, and not a small number of them took the next day off.

What does this all mean? I’m not sure about the origins of Tulsa Tough. There’s a healthy cycling community in Tulsa, but not more than any other mid-sized city. Even so, Tulsa Tough is a huge success, an international draw, seemingly getting bigger every year. That an obscure endurance sport can become so huge here is encouraging, even if half the appeal is just showing up for the party. It’s a weird, geared-up and beer-soaked thread in a community tapestry that might otherwise be mildly bland.

Come next June, we’ll do it all over again. See ya next time for Year 14 of Tulsa Tough. Cry Baby Hill awaits.

Bob Doucette

Here’s what happens when a non-crossfitter does Murph

I have a basic approach when it comes to fitness. Do some running. Hike. Get on your bike. Lift heavy things. Lift, run, bike, hike for short.

But I like taking on different challenges, even if they’re out of my wheelhouse.

On Memorial Day, a lot of people like to do a Crossfit workout called “Murph.” I’m not a crossfitter, and I’ve got no plans to be. But they do some things right in the Crossfit world (they’re getting more people into barbell training than anything else right now), and some of these workouts are definitely worth trying.

So on Monday, I decided I join the legions doing Murph. For all you curious non-crossfitters, this one’s for you.

FIRST OF ALL…

Lt. Michael Murphy, aka “Murph.” (U.S. Navy photo)

Let’s get this straight, because it’s important: What is “Murph?”

The more accurate question is not what, but who.

“Murph” is Lt. Michael Murphy, a U.S. Navy SEAL who was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2005. If you’ve read the book “Lone Survivor” or saw the movie of the same title, then you know his story and that of his team. If you don’t know it, look it up. A small group of SEALS fought like hell against huge numerical odds, even while gravely wounded.

Murphy invented this workout, which he called “body armor.” Following his death, the workout was named in his honor.

So what’s the workout? Glad you asked.

THE WORKOUT

It’s simple: Run one mile, do 100 pull-ups, do 200 push-ups, do 300 body-weight squats, then run another mile.

Simple, right?

Well, there’s also this: In its strictest form, you also do this with a weighted 20-pound vest.

The goal is to do it in less than an hour. Really fit people can do it in 45 minutes.

Here’s what I figured: I run plenty. I lift several times a week. And I’m getting decent at pull-ups. Why not give it a shot?

SOME CAVEATS

I’m also a realist. I don’t own a weighted vest and didn’t have access to one. Being the first time I tried this, I decided to skip the weighted part.

Crossfitters will kip their pull-ups. I refuse. I’ll do them as strict as I can as long as I can.

I doubt there are many people who can do 100 pull-ups in a row, even if they’re kipping. Same is probably true of the other exercises. I’d be breaking these up into manageable chunks, hoping to make good time.

WHERE I DID IT

I went to a high school track/football field. The track offered me an easy way to measure out a mile and stay close to some water I brought.

The track was a good idea, but this plan had its problems. For starters, it was 91 degrees and mostly sunny, with a heat index of 95. That sort of heat will elevate your heart rate far above what it would normally be indoors or, say, any other time of year. Since I’d be doing the non-running exercises on the field, it would feel even hotter.

Also, there was a lack of decent places to do pull-ups. I settled for a soccer goal crossbar. The steel tubing didn’t offer much grip; it was fat enough that I was more “palming” the bar than gripping it. So that was working against me.

But hey, who cares? If you’re going to do Murph, don’t bitch about your problems. The workout will be hard enough as it is.

HOW IT WENT

The first mile run was a breeze, mostly because I didn’t push too hard. Maybe a 9:30 pace, trying to conserve energy for the work to come.

Once that was done, it was time for the pull-ups. I started doing sets of 6 to 8 reps, taking short breaks. But soon, the sheer volume was killing me. So I scaled it by switching from overhand grip pull-ups to underhand grip chin-ups. I know, lame. But I needed to get reps to move on.

By the time I got to 52 reps, I realized I’d be out there forever unless I found ways to knock out reps in the other exercises. So at the point, I supersetted chins with pull-ups and squats. That helped.

But dang, if this isn’t a whole other kind of fitness. I do all sorts of conditioning drills when I run, but this is just different. The steady flow of work and the heat radiating off the artificial turf surface I was on spiked my heart rate something good. By the time I was done with all that mess, it was time for that second mile-long run.

A zombie shuffle ensued. Maybe one of the slowest miles I’ve ever “run.”

When I was finished, I missed that 60-minute goal. By a lot. I definitely was not physically up to the task of making that goal. I shuffled off the field and into my car a sweaty, beat-down mess. Lesson learned. Murph is legit.

AFTERMATH

The next day, I was sore in some expected places, mostly in my shoulders and upper back. But not in my legs (you’d think 300 squats would have done something, but nope). But I was surprisingly sore in my abs. I wasn’t expecting that. Perhaps I should do more core, eh? Anyway, it was a built-in excuse to not lift the following day. I ran three miles and called it good.

THE TAKEAWAY

What I’ve learned about fitness is that when you do something different, expect to suck at it. I’ve learned this many times over.

I used to play a lot of basketball, maybe three or four times a week. And not that half-court BS, either. We ran the court, fast breaks and all. I got to where I could handle that. But run more than a couple of miles? I might as well have been trying to climb Mount Everest. Two different types of fitness.

Another example: Back when I was doing jujitsu, we had a new guy come in. He told us he’d be fine in terms of conditioning: The dude ran six miles a day. When the workout was over, he was outside puking in the parking lot. Once again, a different kind of fitness.

The same is true here. I know Murph is not indicative of everything Crossfit, but it is a good example of the type of training crossfitters do. Murph is not a strength test; It’s a conditioning test with some elements of strength involved. So while I lift frequently and hard and do my fair share of conditioning drills (400-meter intervals and negative split workouts come to mind), what I do is not going to go that far with something like Murph.

Crossfit bills itself as preparing its trainees to be fit enough to do anything at any time – they pride themselves as fitness “generalists” and through their Crossfit Games, aim to crown the winners as “the fittest people on earth.” There’s some truth to that, although Crossfit programming seems to create a lot of people who need shoulder surgeries.

But there is value in trying new things, and finding your weaknesses. On Monday, on that steaming hot high school track, Murph helped me find a few of mine. I might have to try it again.

Bob Doucette

Eight awesome people at the gym

The gym can be cursed with d-bags, but it can also be populated by solid citizens.

I’ve written about the gym characters that annoy us. A couple times, actually.

But to be fair, most people who head to the weight room aren’t preeners, meatheads and creeps out to ruin our workouts. In fact, there are some pretty good souls out there who make those gym sessions great. So this one’s for them.

The good trainer: A decent gym is going to employ trainers. Some of them are OK. Some of them suck. But some of them are great at their jobs. They’re knowledgeable, helpful and encouraging. They’re good teachers who not only talk to the talk, but walk the walk. Working with these folks usually leads to positive results. Sometimes they’re pricey, but when it’s all said and done, they’re worth every dime.

The reliable workout buddy: If you’re the type of person who trains with others, you know the value of having a workout partner who shows up, works hard and pushes you. Accountability matters to these people. There may be a sense of competition, but not in a weird or negative way. Instead, it’s fuel that makes both of you better. Iron sharpening iron, as it were. Both of you benefit.

The real-deals: We’ve all seen them. The powerfully built dudes. The rock-hard gals. They’re the ones who aren’t just regulars. They’re mission-oriented, working hard to create the strongest, fittest, healthiest versions of themselves that they can. You can take them one of two ways: Be jealous or be inspired. A lot of times, the real-deals are friendly enough to talk training, nutrition and whatnot to help you on your way. It’s not a bad idea to get to know them. You might learn a thing or two.

The elliptical dudes: These guys/gals might also be on some other machine where you work out, but at my gym, it’s three fellas who meet at the same time, mount up on three neighboring ellipticals and watch “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” while they break a sweat for 40 minutes or so. They’re old friends, they’re always there, and they know everyone by name. I don’t know how fit they’re getting, but there’s nothing but positive vibes from this trio as they do their thing, day after day. Keep on keepin’ on, fellas.

The spotters-in-a-pinch: To me, these are they guys who are doing their own thing, but we all know each other, all talk to each other and generally keep each other motivated. Occasionally, when we’re working on the same thing, we’ll lift a few sets together. And when the bar is loaded at a challenging weight, they’ll gladly spot you when asked. We’d all be workout buddies if our schedules and goals were more in sync, but even so, these familiar faces are often the ones that push you to go a little harder and get a little better. In a pinch.

The treadmill grinders: Not everyone likes to run on pavement every day, but they like running as much as they can. So you’ll see the treadmill grinders pounding out six miles in one workout, or doing their 8x400s, or perhaps some other run-based workout as they gear up for the next big race. Why are they admirable? Because it takes a serious amount of dedication to mount that treadmill and run on it every day. Once or twice a week is about all I can handle. More often than not, they’re better runners than me.

The exceptional instructor: Spin class. Cardio kickboxing. Group strength training. Zumba. And a bunch of other variations of the group exercise classes designed to make you sweat and push your heart rate through the roof. Most of us have been to one or more of these, and you can tell when the instructors are on their game. Learning how to lead these classes is a bunch of work, and the fitness level to not just lead the class, but to talk folks through it as you go takes a high degree or conditioning most of us don’t have. The best of them challenge you, encourage you and make you want to go back. What’s that? You can lead us to the edge of cardio-induced  insanity and back, do it with a smile on your face and keep us coming back for more? Yes, please.

The old warhorses: Years have given these folks a wealth of wrinkles and gray hairs. No matter. Decades of their lives have gone by and they’re still showing up, working hard and living awesome lives because they refuse to give in to the couch. Guy or gal, it doesn’t matter. A lifetime of fitness has endowed them with knowledge, experience and a brighter future than most of the world. They may even outlive you. Hell, they might even outlift, outrun or otherwise outdo you altogether. If you’re lucky – and consistent – maybe you’ll be an old warhorse one day, deadlifting twice as much as the young buck in his early 20s two stations down.

If you work out at a place with a lot of these people, consider yourself blessed. Stick with that place, because you know there are others that are too often filled with folks who don’t know the Gym Rat Code..

Bob Doucette

Sharing the love of trail running

Just one scene on my local trails.

Summer heat doesn’t excite me. But those daylight hours sure do.

Sunsets that start pushing the nine o’clock hour mean I have that much more time to do things outside. I had my eye on spring and summer when I asked my weekly run group if they’d be interested in doing some trail running.

In case you don’t know, I started leading a Friday evening run group through my local gym. Early on, we kept it close to home, running the streets near downtown Tulsa where the paths were more predictable and there was at least a semblance of street lights. All that is absent on the trails, and I wasn’t about to take people who were new to trail running for a night run. Even with headlamps, that’s a lot to ask of a trail running newbie. So I waited for the days to get longer.

For our first outing, we did a simple 3.5-mile loop. It’s one I’ve done dozens of times before, with a sweet cruise down a wooded ridgeline, then a roller-coaster, technical uphill climb back to the trailhead. My road runners weren’t quite used to the sustained uphill that comes with trails, or the steepness those inclines present. And don’t forget the tripping hazards. I guess I should confess that the only one who bit it that night was me.

Last week, it was the mostly the same crew, but with a few new faces. Most were, again, road runners who hadn’t been on these trails much, if at all.

I took them down that same ridge but chose a different path for our return to the trailhead. It’s one of my favorites, one that meanders down a ravine and across a now-dry creek bed before beginning a steady, switchbacking uphill ascent that doesn’t let up much. It’s technical and difficult, and one small slice of it is too steep to run. That part of the route is everything I love about trail running, cloaked it woodlands and scented with the sweet smells of springtime in the forest.

We’re all in decent shape. Some of the gang is clocking in at 23 minutes or less on their 5Ks (not me, of course). But everyone comes back from these trail runs a little humbled by the challenge. Twice I’ve asked if any of them wanted a little more, and both times they’ve all said they were cool with calling it a night. They enjoyed it but knew when it was time to head for the house.

In the past, I’ve run with groups who’d chill out at the trailhead, drink beer or maybe go for tacos. We’d talk about running, but also everything else about the outdoors: hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, you name it. I’ve found some kindred spirits in those groups and more than once, we’ve hit the road to hike distant trails and climb mountains big and small. Trail running is a gateway drug to all things outdoors that I cherish.

But the basics of it are what’s best. After that first run, one of the fellas talked about how much he enjoyed just being in the woods. No cars, no machines, none of that. Only the sounds of the forest and his footfalls. Being out there calmed his mind, he said.

Man, I can relate. I nodded in agreement, thinking about how a few years ago, in the months after I lost my job due to a layoff and weeks later, lost my oldest brother to cancer, it was running on these very same trails that proved to be the best medicine. I was hurting bad. But the earthen paths through the trees got me through. Years later, the trails opened a whole new chapter in my life.

I know that’s true for a lot of people. My story isn’t unique. But a lot of people could benefit from coming here, even if it’s just for a stroll. Being in wild places is a healthy thing.

And I guess that’s why these runs are special to me. I get to share these paths, these woods, and everything they hold. I get to take people to all my favorite places, “secret” routes that I discovered a long time ago. Maybe they’ll get what I got. Perhaps they’ll gain something different, but equally good.

We’ll keep running our downtown streets. I’m sure as the weeks plow into the summer, those will be some really hot, uncomfortable outings. But the long, sweltering days of summer will also give us enough daylight to take special trips to the trails. One thing is for certain: It’ll be worth the sweat.

The run group after a fun few miles on the trails. It’ll be a new route for them each time we go.

Bob Doucette