As I approached the parking lot there was a buzz of activity as a group of young children were being led by their teachers to the ranger’s station. Yellow schools buses filled the parking lot. There were several park rangers in sight. Some speaking to groups of children while others were being interviewed in front of a video camera. This was surprising considering it was a Friday morning in March. As I readied myself for my run I noticed the maple trees were tapped and steam was coming from the maple sugar shed. The unexpected activity all made sense now. The maple sap is running. A sure sign of spring is maple sugaring at Breakheart. So long old man winter!
Today will be my second trail run in a week. I have been avoiding the trails out of concern the terrain would aggravate my cervical spinal stenosis and the plantar fasciitis in my feet. Nearly all of my runs in the past 7 weeks have been done on a synthetic track or on flat roads around town. With spring fast approaching and the start of the Grand Tree trail race series in sight, I really want to test myself on the trails.
My last run took me on some steep sections of the Ridge trail up to Ash Hill. This time I decided to avoid any major climbs. I exited the parking lot on a short stretch of pavement and headed for the woods. With the sounds of excited children fading behind me I turned right onto the Saugus River trail. I haven’t run this trail in nearly nine months but I immediately notice something different about it. The trail was much wider than before, wide enough for a vehicle. The surface was smooth. Gone were the rocks and ruts so familiar to me from past runs. I continued up the wide, smooth incline, thankful for the easy start but curious as to the reason. As I crested the hill my question was answered. I was shocked to see a white and orange warning marker of Tennessee Gas Pipeline. My eye caught one marker after another, clearly showing the path the underground gas main has cut through the forest. I was sickened by the sight and the thought of it. How could our public officials allow such an abuse of this beautiful and marvelous natural resource?
I moved on, descending to the lowest section of the trail. Efforts to redirect the winter run off were not successful and the entire trail on the descent was a washed-out mess of rocks, roots and ruts. The trail flattens and the bottom and I got to enjoy running in the soft, moist dirt. The Saugus River trail as you may have guessed runs along the banks of the Saugus River. It’s a low-lying area and I wondered if the trail would be partially submerged under the high water level of the river. The water was deep and moving slowly but spared most of the trail. It amazes me that I am less than one mile from busy Route 1 yet my breathing and footsteps are the only sounds I hear. I slowly pick my way through the trail covered with tangled tree roots and slippery moss covered rocks. I’m cautious of my foot placement and wonder if the constant downward tilt of my head will strain my neck.
Finally the trail opens up and I pick up the pace a bit. I cross over the river on a wooden footbridge. I encounter a walker coming from the opposite direction. I say hello but get no response. I wonder what motives a person who can not even exchange a simple greeting. I continue moving towards Camp Nihan. The trail is wide with good footing so I move quickly, well relatively speaking. Much of the trail is covered with a layer of pine needles muffling my footsteps are as I run under the tall pines. This is one of my favorite locations in Breakheart.
I cut across the Marsh Trail and head back to the river. My path is blocked by a large pine tree that has fallen across the trail. It’s too large to go around and too tall to go over. The only way to pass is to go through it. I scramble thought the branches and make it to the other side. I notice the laces of my Merrell Overdrive trail shoes are loose so I make a brief stop to tighten them. I had the same problem last time I wore these shoes. The claps definitely do not work well. I recommend wearing conventional laces.
I’m off again picking up the remainder of the Saugus River trail. The trail is rolling single track here. I begin to feel some pain in my arches. I’m sure it is due to the undulating terrain. I try not to get onto the balls of my feet when going uphill by this is difficult. I have kept my plantar fasciitis in check for the past month by running strictly on level ground. It seems I’m not yet ready to tackle hills no matter how insignificant. With the pain increasing I figure it’s best to cut the run short and head back to the ranger station. I cut over to the Fox Run trail, a rocky stretch of single track that will take me back to the parking lot. My feet are beginning to feel the effects of all the ups and downs and I am happy to see the trail coming to an end.
There is a campfire next to the station and I relax on the bench for a few moments. I stare into the orange flames and contemplate the run. I’m disappointed to learn that after all these many months of rest my body is still unable to handle trail running. I sit by the fire sipping on a Gatorade. Had I known my neck pain would return later in the day and remain with me until now, I would have drunk a beer or two instead. Oh well, it looks like I'm heading back to the track for my next workout.
Just shoot me!