Let trail running take you to all the pretty places in Garfield County, and farther
Somewhere toward the top of Spring Creek outside Steamboat Springs during one of my early trail-running races, I realized my mentor in that unique discipline, Pete Heck, was still behind me.
I found it a little odd, because Pete was usually way ahead of my pace. Except for the start line, I’d usually only see him a couple of orange slices and bagel bites into his post-race recovery at the finish.
Once we hit the dirt road on top headed toward the turn back downhill onto the single-track trail, there he was passing me by — but within striking distance if I could just keep it together.
It didn’t last long, as Pete kicked into his mountain-goat-like stride down the rocky, root-ridden path and into the aspen groves, soon well out of sight.
Later, when we got together for a training run up Avalanche Creek near Redstone, I asked what his secret was on those technical downhills.
Unlike his deftness of foot, I often found myself a bit too tentative trying to make sure my strides hit the right spot on the path and that I didn’t go tumbling into the adjacent stream.
“Just let it fly,” was all he said — or something to that effect.
At least those are the words that stuck in my head.
It became my mantra on the many downhills since, and a metaphor for one of my greatest passions — trail running.
Pete died unexpectedly earlier this spring. I dedicate this piece to him — let it fly, my friend.
Trail runners are indeed unique, and not always of the same mold as those hardcore, super-fast runners you find leading the pack at the Saturday 5K street race.
Quite the opposite, because for trail runners it’s more about getting deeper into the woods, or higher onto the mountain to get to that special place, than it is about the time it took to get there.
“When you tell people you just got back from a trail run, instead of, ‘What was your time?’ it’s ‘Where’d you go?,’” said Brion After, owner of the Independence Run and Hike store in Carbondale.
“‘Oh, you got to the lake? What was the view like? What path did you take?’”
When he first opened the store in the late 2000s, After said about 65% of his shoe sales were road shoes and 35% trail shoes.
“Now that’s almost completely flipped,” he said of the ever-growing popularity of trail running.
“It’s not that sales of road shoes have gone down, but there’s just that many more people out running the trails,” After said.
And they’re not necessarily all road-running converts.
A lot of them are avid hikers who’ve taken to running or power-hiking at a faster clip so they can get to a farther destination in the same amount of time.
“It is a lot about the places you get to see,” After said. “I got into trail running myself because I was always late for work getting back from a hike, and it was just faster to run to the lake I wanted to see than it was to walk.
“There’s just this incredible sense of accomplishment when you run to the top of something. It just feels more freeing,” he said.
Store Manager Kyle Jones started working at the running store when he moved to Carbondale from Austin, Texas, in part so he could be part of that culture.
“Power-hiking is not a road running term, but it is a very popular trail running term,” Jones said.
There’s an art to it, and a lot of it is mental.
“Sometimes you just get out there and get lost in your head, and all of sudden you realize you’ve gone 5 or 6 miles, when the same effort would get you to 2 or 3 miles on the road,” he said.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t take care to watch where you’re going so you don’t get tripped up, especially on a steep downhill.
“It’s just much more fun, because you’re watching where you put every single foot step, and at the same time getting lost in nature,” he said. “Mentally, not only does the time go faster, it’s a break from the real world.”
A good starter for anyone wanting to give trail running a try is the Wulfsohn Mountain Park trail system behind the Glenwood Springs Community Center, which features a variety of loops of varying degrees of difficulty.
Karla Araneda, who splits her time between Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, was out with her dog, Velcro, running on the connector trail between Wulfsohn Park and Red Mountain Thursday morning.
“We moved here from Arkansas, and it’s hard to find a place to let your dog off leash there, so that’s what I like about trail running here,” she said.
She said the Wulfsohn trails and Red Mountain are her go-to spots to trail run in Glenwood Springs, and when she’s in Grand Junction she said she usually runs the Lunch Loop trails.
“It’s just more peaceful to run on trails, and I think you just get to enjoy God’s creation more than you do on the road,” Araneda said.
Bridgett Shepard of Carbondale was out running on the Red Hill trails earlier this week. Normally, she said, she runs with her dogs but was out by herself this particular outing.
“I like the solo aspect of it, and just being outside,” Shepard said. “It’s kind of like hiking, but you can get to places faster.”
The culture around trail race events is also appealing, she said.
“It’s a fun way to meet some cool people, and the events are always in some pretty cool places,” she said.
After said there is a distinct difference between road shoes and trail running shoes, and doesn’t advise trail running in the slicker-soled road shoes.
“Road shoes also don’t move around a lot, and you want that flexibility on the trail,” he said. “You’ll want something that fits your foot and also fits the terrain you’re on.”
Pacing is also important when out trail running, especially on the uphills, he added.
“You’ll probably be going significantly slower than you would on the road, so don’t worry about pounding out that 8-, 9-, 10-minute mile that you’re used to,” After said.
“And, really, it’s OK to walk.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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