I left the house on Friday morning for my first non-race run in (gasp) two weeks. My leg of the Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K relay definitely took some gas out of my tank and I purposely had planned a couple of rest days to follow. A couple of days transformed into a few days and suddenly the Smith's Challenge was right on top of me. That race also proved to be a tough one and, between fatigue and life in general throwing some obstacles in the way, another week got away from me.
On the bright side, I was hungry for miles and excited to be back on the move. At least I was for the first mile-and-a-half. My calves felt strained and my feet were aching. I'd expected to be a bit stiff and out of practice, but I was disappointed at the level of my discomfort.
I made it to work and wondered throughout the day about the wisdom of planning to run home again that evening, but as 5:30 crept closer, I did a bit of self-examining and decided I really couldn't identify any specific pain or immediate cause for concern. Unfortunately, the same story wrote itself on the way home. Strain and ache again seemed the appropriate descriptions for what I was experiencing.
While playing back the last few weeks in my head, I was suddenly struck by something. I'd spent much (most) of the month prior running more trails and spending less time on paved surfaces. I grew convinced that my runs earlier that day weren't revealing any issues other than the fact that (get ready for the "duh" moment) roads are unforgiving. While there is far more decisioning to be done on trails, the terrain actually softens each blow far more than any macadam or concrete sidewalk.
I needed to get back on the trail and test my theory and hopefully rebolster confidence that my body wasn't just breaking down. Lindsay and Lily were off to a princess-themed birthday party on Saturday morning. I looked Piper right in the eye and swear I saw a gleam that confirmed her want to "run".
We consulted our checklist.
Dad's water? Check.
Pipe's water? Check.
Pipe's Cheerios? Check.
With all our essentials accounted for we headed off down the local rails-to-trail. My legs felt great. My lungs felt great. My hear, fickle beast, felt great. Piper squealed at every robin, oriole and darting chipmunk. Though not audibly, I squealed too. Despite the heat, the tree cover politely kept us cool and splintered the sunlight into dappled beauty. We perched for a moment above the passing creek, refilled Pipe's snack tray and wordlessly drank in the day.
Certainly there's a possibility that my legs had just warmed to the task after an initial jolt the day before. Regardless, the soft cinders of the trail were far more accommodating than Mt. Joy Road, a track for which I suspect I'll struggle to muster enthusiasm on Monday morning.
As a homeowner, a father of two and an equal partner in marriage, I'll be hard-pressed to forsake the road entirely. Being able to walk out the door and immediately be in motion gives the road a distinct advantage over the trail when time is limited. But, when the clock allows, you can bet I'll be looking for technical terrain.
I just can't wait to get off the road again. I only wish our stroller could tackle single track.