Gnarly trails and magic rocks


I remember that first gnarly trail to this day. I found it on my standard out/back run from the dorm. What looked like a little path turned into quite the discovery! Soon the whole cross county team started running it on a regular basis. In the past we had always sought out new training runs sometimes resorting to taking a van to distant places to log our miles. But this trail was different. We could run it over and over but it never got old. We called it the gnarly trail because it had everything: hills, creek crossings, mud, rocks even a few Tarzan vines. Time had no meaning because we never bothered to look at our watches. Simply put — this trail was fun!

Now, almost fifteen years later, I find I spend most of my running time on trails. I have grown accustomed to hours passing without notice. The excitement of never really knowing what lies around the next corner. The hunt for the next gnarly trail. But then again I am a trail and mountain runner. What’s in it for the road runner?

The next time you go on a run take notice of what happens when your foot strikes the ground. What happens when the next foot strikes the asphalt? And the next? If you are like most people the same thing happens again and again. The repetitive nature of running on a road can bring about our least favorite word — INJURY!

Contrast that to a trail run. I am talking trail here — not a paved bike path. Each individual foot strike is just that — individual. Throw in some rocks, slanted trails, and gravity defying curves and you give your feet and legs a well deserved natural break.

The same goes for the rest of your body and mind. On the road your running form seldom changes except for interruptions — cars, intersections, and the occasional whatever that always seems to break your zombie like trance. Even your mind rarely gets much excitement on a road run. After a while you may find yourself thinking of everything you were trying to get away from when you went on your run in the first place — work, bills and all those nasty little thoughts that creep in unless you run so hard that you only think about stopping. This tedium and monotony can bring about another not so favorite word — BURNOUT!

On a trail you must lift your knees to get over the rocks, torque your body to keep from falling over on the slants, and swing your arms wildly to keep from flying off the curves. Most of the time you are thinking about only one thing — the trail! You rarely end up in a zombie trance without having to pick yourself up off the very trail you so rudely forgot to think about.

The workout a trail run gives you may leave you feeling beat up but it will never leave you feeling beat down. A good trail run has an invigorating-one-with-the-world-who-cares-what-the-neighbors-say feeling. However, to get this feeling a good trail should have one or more of the following elements:

  • Magic rocks and roots the ones that trip you but you can never find afterwards.

  • Surprises the occasional fallen tree, psycho mountain biker, bear, horse poop, etc.

  • Scenic stopping points something so awesome that you actually feel OK about stopping for a few seconds and saying wow! Note: The actual time will vary depending on your little understood obsessive compulsive gene (OCG).

  • A small dose of risk lets face it, magic, and not so magic, rocks can hurt you.

  • A small dose of fear of getting lost and ending up in another state.

  • Remorse a good trail always makes you feel sorry that it is over no matter how tired you are.
After you find a trail with some of these elements — or a gnarly trail with all of them — you may find yourself not wanting to get back onto the roads. It’s a risk with many rewards! Wherever I travel I almost always manage to find an off-road adventure that has something new to get excited about. Even the biggest cities often have a park or a river with a trail around them. Sometimes however I find myself back on the roads where it seems like I constantly look at my watch. I am never quite sure if I am timing how far I have run, or how much longer before I get to stop.

If you are interested in a good 3 hour (or more) run in Colorado Springs that has all of the above elements except for the magic rocks and roots you might like the run a friend took me on. Park at the Broadmoor Hotel and run UP North Cheyenne Canyon. When you get to Helen Hunt Falls keep going UP until the road ends. At the cul-de-sac there are three dirt roads. You want to take Gold Camp road UP and to the west not the one that goes down to the city. This dirt road goes for what seems like forever and all the while going gently UP. It has three tunnels on it, the first of which is closed but we went through it anyway (there is your small dose of risk). Right after the tunnel you get your first scenic stopping point or if you do not have an OCG it could be you tenth stop by now. A lot of gentle UP and a few scenic stopping points later you will come to the second tunnel. A short time later you come to the third tunnel. By this time you are looking straight over at the NORAD antenna (This is where I waited for my friend and made him tell me just how long our “2 hour” run was going to be — we were almost at 2 hours yet I knew we had to run way down there... I should have seen it coming with all the UP on this run). After the last tunnel you will wonder if you are going to end UP in Cripple Creek but eventually, after some more UP, you come to Old Stage Road and get to turn left down (very steep at first) through some awesome forest. The road levels out but by this time you are so tired you will wonder why you were complaining about the downhill. Once you do get sight of the city — it will be there — head toward the Broadmoor to finish your run. Although I was relieved to find out that I was still in Colorado it was one of those runs I hated to see end — even though I was tired.

Once the snow melts we can stay off the roads and go in search of magic rocks.

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