The old adage of “practice how you play” certainly applies to trail races. A lot of my training up to this point for the Afton Trail race 50k has been on streets and “managed” paths and yes, even the treadmill. But with the warm weather showing up sooner than expected I’ve been able to get out on some trails and train the way I’ve been wanting to. I should have gotten out even sooner when there was snow on the ground but it is what it is.
Since it was so warm and beautiful out yesterday I decided to make the short trip from my house and drive down to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge/Minnesota River Bottoms. I had never ran this trail network before and now that I have, I’m very eager to go back. Starting at the Bloomington Ferry Rd. access point, I went for a 22 mile out and back. Because of the quick and drastic snowmelt, the trails were muddy. Really muddy. My Scott’s were constantly caked in mud and I was sliding all over the place. Whenever possible, I tried to run on the “shoulder” of the trail so that my feet could find better purchase in the soft ground. On multiple occasions it was unavoidable that I would plunge my foot into icy and muddy water up to the ankle and just when I thought it was drying out it’d happen again. Often times I thought this is what I Atreyu must have felt like in the Swamp of Sadness.
Despite the trail being in less than ideal conditions (including having to cross a waterway by way of a fallen tree), it was an awesome time. The undulating trail is relatively flat overall and though there’s not very many steep climbs, the terrain does change. Transitioning from running on mud, to sand, to hard-pack, to gravel, to dirt service road, and back to mud forces you to not only change your running strategy, but makes you work different muscle groups as well. The refuge itself is beautiful, and it wasn’t overly packed with people, despite being housed in the large suburb of Bloomington. In fact, if not for the occasional reminders of a highway I would run under, or a factory I’d catch a glimpse of on the other side of a lake, it’s very easy to forget that you’re in a major metropolitan area. The trails wind through beautiful trees and marshy areas and there are a lot of migratory waterfowl flying around and overhead. At one point on the return leg, I saw a pack (herd?) of no less than nine large white-tailed deer out for a forage in the warm weather.
Training in all types of conditions and preparing for all variables is all part of the training process. Whether it be a trail or road race, mountain bike race, backpacking trip, or climbing event, ideal conditions are rare. It is therefore imperative to put your mind and body into a space so that it can handle whatever, whenever. Hopefully running on mud trails will put me one step closer (pun intended) to be in that head space.