Saturday, May 10, 2008

Road to Recovery?

I had a day off from work earlier in the week. It was a beautiful, sunny day around 65 degrees. Since it was so nice I decided to go for a run. I have been doing about 90% of my runs on the track at the Belmonte Middle School here in my town. I have been running there because the track has a soft synthetic surface. I have been avoiding the roads and trails due to a few medical problems. I have been waging a long-term battle with plantar fasciitis and cervical spinal stenosis. The flat, softer surface of the track keeps the pain in my feet and neck to a manageable level.

As I drove to the track I was thinking about how many laps I had run there in the past three months. Running more laps today, especially in this beautiful weather was something I was not looking forward to. Sure, I am happy to be running again even if it is on a track, but I thought I would be capable of much more by now. It has been nearly a year since I was first injured. No running, physical therapy, ultrasound and laser treatments, several medications and wearing a night splint and cervical collar have done little to improve my condition. It has been a difficult and discouraging year for me. After all that, I’m still not ready to throw in the towel so don’t write my eulogy yet.

As I approached the track I could sense the call of the woods arriving on gentle spring breezes. Yes, I do miss the trails at Breakheart Reservation but should I run there? My last two runs there were very unpleasant. My symptoms worsened for about a week after doing a short run on some easy trails. I thought it was a bad idea to attempt it again but since I was wearing my trail shoes anyway, I said, “What the @&%$”. I was off to the woods!

Once I arrived at Breakheart I decided to run some of the more difficult trails even though my past runs on easy trails caused pain. I started on the Ridge Trail. This trail is a mix of single and double track and is pretty rocky with some short steep hills. Care must be taken on some parts of this trail. If you look away for too long you could end up taking a long fall off the side of a high cliff. It is probably the most technical of all the trails in the reservation. The Ridge Trail is also one of the longest at nearly two mile in length. It was immediately apparent to me that the many hours of running on the smooth, flat track at Belmonte had not prepared me well for this trail. I began to breathe very heavy on the first hill and had to resort to power-hiking most to the climb. Once on the rocky outcropping of the ridge I had to scramble up the rocks. There was no way I could run them. This trail also requires some rock hopping in certain locations. I was not confident enough to try it and did not want to risk further injury so I walked most of these sections. I fact, I did a lot of walking on the steepest sections of the trail. I was relieved to make it to the power lines. This meant I had made it through the trail unscathed. It was just a short descent down to the paved road. I checked my
Garmin for the time. Thirty-three minutes to cover 1.8 miles. Damn, I’m slow!

Pictures from the Ridge Trail Below:

After short run on pavement, I turned onto the northwest section of the Saugus River trail. I like this trail because it is mostly single track that twists and turns and goes up and down. It’s also covered with pine needles, very easy running on my damaged feet. I picked up the pace here and tried to make up some time. This trail is clearly marked with yellow blazes on the trees. I guess I wasn’t paying attention because I soon found myself at a dead end. I could have backtracked to pick up the trail but instead decided to bushwhack my way out. I was pretty sure I knew where I was and could reacquire the trail again. After a short trek through brush, around some standing water and over a few downed pine trees I found the trail. More lost time but this is just a training run so I didn’t really care. The rest of the trail was dirt covered single track so I cranked up the pace once again. I ran up the stone steps at the end of the trail and made it to the paved road again. I turned right, ran downhill, and headed to the beach at Pearce Lake.

Pictures from the Saugus River Trail Below:

I ran across the sand at the beach and connected with the Pearce Lake Trail. This trail, as you may have guessed, runs the perimeter on the lake. It is fairly flat, mostly single track, with a lot of roots. At the beginning of the trail there are two small brooks that drain the overflow from the lake. They then merge into a single larger stream. The water level was low so I only had to skip a few rocks to cross. After running a short section of the trail I turned onto the Eagle Rock Trail. Once again the climb put me into an anaerobic state and I was soon forced into a power hike. I was really gasping for air when I strarting laughing to myself. It’s not that I was happy to be walking, but because I was thinking of last year’s Northern Nipmuck 16 mile trail race in Bigelow Hollow State Park. I was running the race with my friend Mary. We had done many long runs together prior to the race and we were in good shape at the time. We had run about 13 miles of the race when I began to get tired. I didn't have much to eat or drink and I was getting very fatigued. Each time we came to a big uphill I found it difficult to maintain pace with Mary and she put distance between us. Finally, at a very long, steep hill I just lost it. Mary had no idea she was pulling away and leaving me behind. When she got to the top of the hill, she turned back expecting to see me right behind her. I was still far down the hill. I motioned to her with my hands to keep going, not having enough oxygen to yell up to her to go on without me. We still laugh about it whenever the Nipmuck race is mentioned. Ok, back to my climb up Eagle Rock!

Pictures from Pearce Lake Trail Below:

I finally made it to the top of the hill (206’). I stopped at the top to rest a bit, have a drink of
Succeed and to take in the beautiful views. To the left was the lake and straight ahead I could see the Boston skyline. I began my descent down the hill which is all rock, and jagged I might add. I walked down to the bottom of the hill and got back onto the Pearce Lake trail. I ran this section fairly hard even though it’s uneven with lots of roots. I soon came upon some runoff from the road and picked my way across the stones keeping my feet dry. The pine trees are dense here and the pine needles can hide some gnarly roots. I stubbed my toe here but not bad enough to lose my balance. That was my only misstep the entire run. I usually fall a lot. Just kidding! Back on the pavement again and a short run over to the section Saugus River trail I haven’t run yet.

Pictures from Eagle Rock Below:

This section of trail runs along the banks of the Saugus River. Fortunately the weather has been dry and the water level has dropped since my last run here. I don’t really like this trail all that much. Lots of roots and rocks that require me to remain focused on the ground. I don’t like looking down for extended periods of time because it bothers my neck quite a bit. I took my time on the banks of the river and then picked up the pace once the trail widened and the footing was better. I climbed up the hill, picking my way thought the exposed rocks where the water had cut a deep grove into the soil. I was happy to know I was getting closer to the finish as I turned onto the Lodge Trail. At one time there was a hunting lodge here when the land was owned by a wealthy industrialist. Now, the only evidence of the lodge is the remains of the stone stairs that welcomed hunters and fishermen into the lodge. I really flew on this soft, easy trail but I knew this pace wouldn’t last. I was about to climb the steepest hill in the woods, Breakheart Hill at around a 45 degree incline! I didn’t even try to run any part of the hill. I walked it, zigzagging my way to the top. Getting down was even more of a challenge as the descent is very steep and rocky. I took my time getting off the hill. I didn’t want to take a tumble here being so close the end of the run. I was very pleased to see the Ranger’s station knowing I survived my first true test on the trails in nearly a year.

Pictures from Saugus River Trail Below:

My run covered 6.3 miles with 1300 feet of elevation gain and the same amount of elevation loss. It took me one hour and thirty-nine minutes to complete. Hey, I told you I walked a lot. Overall, I was very pleased with the run. I never had any foot pain and my neck pain was minimal. Maybe I’m on the road to recovery. Only time will tell.

Course View and Elevation Profile:

Sorry, I wanted to get pictures of the entire course but my camera battery died along the way. I should really check it once and a while.

Happy Trails!

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