Monday, February 21, 2011

Silver River State Park

“Are you a runner?”

I beamed as I responded that I was, and forked over the $4.00 park admission to the ranger.

The next thing I knew, she was at my car window, trail map in hand, gleefully pointing out her favorite trails.

As I drove into the park my head swelled with the certainty that I had accomplished so much as a runner that I must certainly exude . . . runnerliness, a state of being in which it is immediately apparent to all who see me that I AM RUNNER! (Well . . . ok . . . so maybe she figured it out due to the fact that I was wearing my race shirt from last year’s Gasparilla Half Marathon which is a retina piercing shade of lime green; or maybe it could have been that my four bucks were clenched in a hand weighted down by a Garmin wristwatch so large it looks like it was intended for a radiation engorged giant from a 1950’s sci-fi movie. I prefer the whole “exuding runnerliness” explanation, so don’t burst my bubble.)

The Silver River State Park is a gem of the state park system located just off SR40 in Ocala. It has 15 miles of primitive hiking and biking trails arranged in a network of interconnected loops. On the advice of the amiable ranger I decided to start with the River Trails which, she reported, would provide me with spectacular views of the Silver River.

Just disregard the warning sign about black bears ;-}
The trailheads were easy to find, located near a small museum and a Cracker village.

This was my third run in my new Merrell Trail Glove shoes, and my second trail run in them. My calves still ached from a downtown run in them three days earlier. Wearing these shoes on city streets and sidewalks helped me to truly discover forefoot running for the first time. That discovery was followed, about two miles later, by the discovery that my calves are not ready for sustained running on my forefoot. I have been hobbling around ever since. Inactivity seemed to worsen the ache, so I was anxious to get this run started.

I quickly studied the trail map, grabbed my hand held water bottle, stashed my phone in my spibelt and set off on the River Trail.

The surface varied widely, including very hard limestone, sand, crushed gravel roads, and sometimes a thick layer of leaf litter that felt like I was running on down pillows, (except when it was concealing tree roots).

The River Trail is about 1.5 miles and leads to a canoe launch and a view of the River. The river, by the way, is spring fed and crystal clear. After reaching the river, I doubled back and took a detour onto a bike trail where I found one of the highlights of the run, a small loop trail called the Ft. King Military Loop. Here, the trail narrowed significantly and was often indiscernible. I had to rely on pink ribbons and yellow blazes on the trees to find my way.

If you look real hard you can see the pink ribbon marking the trail.
You feel everything in these shoes, so it does take attention to your foot placement to try to avoid uncomfortable encounters with rocks and roots. They performed well though and provided good traction, even on limestone still moist from the morning mist. About three miles into the run I felt a disconcerting pain in the top of my left foot after crossing a long and uncomfortable maze of roots. The pain wasn’t severe, it was just different from anything I had felt before. I slowed to walk it off but it seemed to matter little whether I was running or walking. So, of course, I ran. I felt some discomfort for the rest of the run but it did fade the longer I continued.

I followed the bike trails for a while and then doubled back to explore another trail recommended by the ranger, the Swamp Trail. The Swamp trail is a two mile loop that leads to a boardwalk passage through a swamp (no mystery there) to get to another view of the river. No venture into the Florida wilderness would be complete without a swamp.

I didn’t see very much wildlife during the run, other than birds and squirrels. I did see a lot of tracks. I reached the park around 8:30 am and had the feeling that if I had been able to start closer to sunrise there would have been a lot more to see. This is a great time of year to be outside too. The temperatures are still cool which means – no bugs!

The trails were almost deserted. Over the course of the morning I saw only a half dozen people and I think if had had explored some of the upland trails I could have run for hours without seeing anyone at all. I sometimes enjoy that kind of solitude.

Completing the Swamp Trail returned me to the trailhead where I was parked. I had run a little over five miles and was feeling great, even my foot, and would have loved to move on to one of the other trails. Unfortunately I had a full day of non-running activities ahead of me and a quick look at my watch confirmed that I needed to move on. I reluctantly left, but I will definitely return to explore the rest of this park.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Big Plans


Can you keep a secret?

All the pieces of the puzzle are starting to find their right places and the picture is becoming clear. It’s not official though, so I don’t feel like I should publicly announce it, at least not yet.

But, if you would like an obvious clue, check out my training programs page.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Test Driving the Merrell Trail Glove

The local marathon season is grinding to a close so I am planning to give trail running a go. This of course means – NEW SHOES!

As usual I agonized over the decision of what shoes to get for this purpose and after way too many hours spent researching and perusing reviews I narrowed my options to three.

1. New Balance MT 101. This seems to be an extremely popular and well tested trail runner. While it is more minimalist than many trail shoes, my main concern with it was that it seemed to be a step backward from the Saucony Kinvaras I have been wearing for the past few months. It is a very light weight shoe but it has a 10 mm heel drop that is more characteristic of more traditional running bricks (whoops - I meant shoes).

2. New Balance Minimus Trail. With a 4 mm heel drop (equal to my Kinvaras) and endorsed by ultra-marathoner Anton Krupicka (who supposedly contributed to the design) I am excited about this shoe and hope to try it someday. Unfortunately, it will not be available for another month (and I have a “thing” about instant gratification).

3. Merrell Trail Glove. Weighing in at a featherlight 6.2 oz., with a 0 mm heel drop and a Vibram sole, the Trail Glove is part of Merrell’s Barefoot Collection and is creating a lot of buzz. The decision to choose this shoe seemed inevitable when I received word that my local running store, Front Running Sports, just got them in stock (remember my “thing” for instant gratification). My only hesitation was the price (I also have a “thing” about parting with my hard earned cash). It retails for about $105, which seems pretty high for a shoe whose closest competition is supposed to be bare feet. A WVR discount at Front Running Sports helped to ease my pain.

(After purchasing my Trail Gloves, I was informed that Saucony is now offering a trail version of the Kinvara called the Peregrine available at a significantly lower coast than the Trail Glove. I don’t think this would have affected my decision though. I’m on my second pair of Kinvaras, ready to try something new, and I’m excited about trying a perfectly flat shoe. I also learned that Saucony has another new offering described as the Kinvara with “a touch of support” which makes me worry they are losing sight of what made the Kinvara successful in the first place.)

My first impression on seeing the Trail Glove was that it looks a bit like a clown shoe with its oversized toe box. The fit was almost as exactly as described in the product literature, snug around the mid-foot with a toe box that opens up wide to allow your toes to splay. It is cut low around the ankle and is very flexible. It is designed to be worn without socks and I ended up with a size 10, a full size smaller than usual.

The feel of the perfectly flat shoe was strange at first walking around the shop. I took it for a test run outside, both on pavement and on grass, and found that I was almost instantly up on my forefoot, especially on pavement.

The upper is a loose woven mesh that gives the shoe a pleasant ventilated feel on my sockless feet.

Armed with my new purchase I decided on the Lyonia Preserve for my first trail run. I was warned not to overdo it in my first runs or my calves would pay the price. I ended up running 4.8 miles on a mostly sandy trail with just a few challenging hills.

They performed well and I was pleased to find that I had no calf soreness afterward or any unusual leg pain at all. I think this is due to the many miles I have already put on my Kinvaras. I’m not convinced that the shoe, in and of itself, changed my stride significantly although I was very aware of how my foot was landing and the shoe provided a good feel for the ground. The sandy trail was very forgiving so I will have to wait see how they perform on less ideal surfaces and pavement. This run didn’t really test the shoes traction or its effectiveness as a barrier against roots, rocks, water or other hazards I might encounter off road. It was a great first test though and rest assured I plan to put these shoes through the ringer over the coming months.

Base of "Mt. Lyonia"
I did pick up quite a bit of sand and some debris from the run. In addition to sand that makes its way into the shoe around my ankles, I think it can also work its way in through the loosely woven upper. On a longer run I may need to stop to shake them out every once in a while.

I had some concerns about running without socks and was pleased to find that I didn’t suffer any rubbing on my heel. I did notice a small abrasion on the top of my left foot after the run, near the base of my big toe. Feeling around on the inside of the shoe I noticed a rough spot where the tongue is sewn to the shoe that may have been the culprit.  I think more careful attention to the lacing may prevent a repeat but I will have to keep an eye on this area in the future.

View from the summit of "Mt. Lyonia"
Elev: 49 ft*
*per my Garmin elevation profile ;-}

I’m very pleased so far and I’m looking forward to putting in many more miles on local trails in these shoes.

Update (5/3/2011):

I thought I should update my experience in the Trail Gloves now that I have more experience in them. I now have well over 100 miles in them including a 50k trail race. I absolutely love these shoes.

The chafing I experienced on the top of my foot, which I also noted in other reviews of the shoe, ceased by the 3rd wearing and after that they got more comfortable every time I laced them up. I don’t know if the shoe softened up or my foot calloused, or both, but the abrasion never returned, even during the 50k. I didn’t even suffer a single blister during that race.

My experience in them is limited to trail use with the exception of a single 4 mile run on pavement that really gave my calves a workout. I do plan giving them some street time now that the Florida racing season is basically over until the fall.

I have also become so infatuated with running sockless in the Trail Gloves that I tried, and now prefer, to do that in my favorite road shoe, the Saucony Kinvara.

You can read more about my experiences in them here (Silver River State Park) and here (Croom Fools Run 50k).

Monday, February 14, 2011


Congratulations to all my friends that participated in the National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer in Jacksonville yesterday. There were many first time finishers, PR’s galore, and at least one Boston Marathon qualifying effort that I know of already.

Watching you all train for and run this event has been inspiring.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Things that make you go hmmm . . .

I feel like I need to apologize for my last blog entry. It was kind of a downer and not typical of my usual optimism.

The hectic schedule of my non-running life keeps interfering with my running plans and I have been having trouble finding a race that fits well into my calendar. Combine that with a minor bout with runner’s knee and a couple of light weeks to heal and I was surprised by the dramatic effect on my mood.

An 18 mile long run this morning helped to set things right again and my spirits are lifted.

Which makes one wonder, if 18 miles makes me feel this good, could I run nearly twice that distance?

Hmmm . . . .