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.


  1. Everything about that looks awesome! I wish I had decided to become a runner when I still lived in Florida. I would have checked this place out for sure.

    But with that said - I don't know how you all do it with that constant heat and humidity! It must make running in cooler, non-humid locations feel that much easier?

  2. Ronda: I wish I had started a long time ago too. Regarding heat, it's all relative. To me, the 60's feel cool, the 70's feel comfortable and it's not until the thermometer gets into the 80's that the heat starts to bother me. It's really only during the hottest part of the summer that it's hard for me to find a comfortable time of day to run.

  3. I'm now at the point where if it is 45º or higher I consider that perfect! Everybody around me would think it is cold, but I function really well in those temps. I sucked last summer, but I think I will do better in the heat now that I have more running experience. Last year it was all new and I didn't have as much mental will power as I do now. Of course I will still suck when it gets in the triple digits!

  4. It's spring time in Florida. I know you're running, is there a new March section I'm not able to find.

  5. @Anonymous: I put a new post up. Thanks for prodding me.