Adventures On Unbeaten Paths
Running Trails In Acadiana
By Patrice Doucte
Only a runner could explain the enjoyment of jogging 10 miles while conceding to stop lights, texting drivers, city noises and unforgiving pavement. More and more of them, though, have reignited their passion for the sport by veering off-road into the quiet woods and taking the challenge of a more unpredictable terrain – trails.
A trail’s definition is as broad as its paths are winding. It’s any non-paved, off road surface, like a packed dirt road, a wood-chip or cinder-covered path, like at Girard Park, in Lafayette’s Oil Center. It can include a grassy trek, gravel roads, hills and wooden board walks, like at Chicot State Park near Ville Platte. Throughout Acadiana- and the state - there are several opportunities for runners, of all ages and levels, to experience the sheer pleasure, and at the same time excitement of trail running.
A Different Run
Trails are appealing for several reasons. First, how primal (and fun) is it to run through the woods like a wild person? Then there’s the variety aspect. If you run the same route around your neighborhood routinely, sooner or later, you’re going to get bored. Taking a detour to the trails can be a much-needed change of scenery for city residents.
Because you’re running in nature, expect a trail to be riddled with roots, muddy areas, over growth or streams and mounds of dirt; so, it often requires that you watch where you’re stepping. Trail runners find this kind of focus more exhilarating and energizing.
Scott Schilling, Interim Executive Director of TRAIL (Transportation Recreation Alternatives in Louisiana) has been running on trails for some 20 years and says he likes that the unpredictable terrain “keeps his mind engaged on what he’s doing and works more muscles.” “It’s a better workout for your core,” he says “plus, there’s more shade depending on where you’re running.”
The potential for injury is there, but because trails are softer than the road there’s more give when the foot hits the ground so there is reduced risks of injury to the body, in that respect, over time.
“In running on trails, there’s a lot less pounding on your body than running on concrete,” agrees Lafayette Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. John Schutte. “However, in order for your foot to run on an uneven surface your hind foot has to adapt to that unevenness,” he says. That’s why he suggests that first-time trail runners ease their way into it, doing a mile or two a week on a flat trail and then slowly increasing mileage and graduating to a more challenging route. Dr. Schutte recommends stretching the back, Achilles tendon and ham string before beginning each run.
Always a Story
Beyond the terrain and physical benefits, there’s a good chance of encountering a curious animal or two. Schilling has come across wild pigs, possums, owls; once while on a trail in Alabama he heard a startling sound, which turned out to be wild turkeys. And yes, there was a snake or two - mostly water snakes, he reassures.
Elizabeth Blum has run cross country for several years, and began trail running last summer in Chicot State Park. She remembers her first trail run with a knowing grin: “It was July or August and very hot. I had a “camelbak” for hydration (a back pack holding water with a long straw reaching the mouth.) I wasn’t used to running with a backpack, so that was an adjustment. After running into a huge spider web, my running partner and I armed ourselves with a stick for the rest of the run. I had bug bites and blisters, from wearing the wrong kind of socks. I wore my normal running shoes and tripped over my shoe laces a couple of times. My ankles tended to twist from the unevenness of the ground. But then, I saw a deer…and rabbits, and eventually got my canter and a rhythm and it turned into something much more pleasurable.” Elizabeth has run on the trails at Chicot four times in the past year. “It’s easier to run 10 miles in Chicot than 10 miles on the road, and the scenery is beautiful,” she says.
Shoes are definitely the most important accessory for any runner, but particularly for the trail runner. Mary Hays, Owner of Geaux Run in Lafayette, says it’s important to get shoes with a supportive sole and traction – for those muddy areas. Hays says not all trail shoes are meant for pavement because the rough pavement will wear down the traction.
More tips to make your trail run enjoyable:
• Research your trail before you run- to know what to expect.
• Inform someone of your plans, including what time you plan on finishing.
• Preferably run with a partner.
• Be aware of your surroundings & trail rules.
• Bring your cell phone (NOTE: Coverage is limited in some woody areas).
• Wear shoes with strong, supportive soles & preferably bungie shoe laces.
• Wear cushioned/compression socks.
• Run with a light backpack.
• Bring enough water and nutrition.
• Wear long sleeves or something you don’t mind getting dirty or snagged
• Apply tick or bug spray
• Bring a towel and a change of clothes, socks and shoes for afterward.
• Find a local trail running group to get more helpful info (i.e. PaixRunning.com; CajunRunning.com)
If you’re ready to take a recess from beating the pavements or want to get into nature, try trail runs. You’ll be into a mellow vibe in no time, refreshed and hooked on this truly unique experience.