Today I ran at my most favorite place to run. I was so excited to get there and hop on the trails. I took my camera on this run (first and last time) so I could hopefully capture the essence of this special place and share it with you. Afterward, I asked a few other fellow runners if they could describe this place in one word. One person said, "Awesome...because that is how it makes me feel after my work out!" I couldn't have said it better. So please enjoy a little piece of my history which leads to where my favorite place to run is. And don’t forget to tweet to @SonoranDistProj to be entered into a drawing! Read on for further details!
I was born in Arizona and was raised about 100 miles north of the Phoenix area in the town of Prescott Valley. The elevation of the town was a little less than 5000 feet. Being at a higher elevation than Phoenix, Prescott Valley has four normal seasons. I loved the spring when everything was in full bloom. Fall season was my favorite because I loved to see the changes in the leaves of the trees. Winter was cold but fun because it would snow every now and then. Also, there was a variety of terrain to run on from mountains to old railroad trails and plenty of dirt roads. I loved running in the forest trails because you could smell the fresh pine and hear the ever so gentle whisper of the wind. It was very peaceful in the forest. The ground was soft dirt and accommodated for pounding the miles out. While living up north, I was able to run some fantastic routes. And then I moved...
I transferred to Arizona State University from my hometown college when I was a sophomore. It was my first move away from home and it was a bit of a shock to move to a big city which had completely different climate. I hadn't quite experienced a hot summer in Phoenix yet but as it began to heat up, I was amazed at how it felt like an oven to the face!
School started in August and so did the Cross Country season. My new teammates were welcoming and a few of the senior runners led the new runners along by showing us the routes from campus and off-campus. I wasn't so sure of all the surrounding pavement and I wondered how I was going to make an emergency pit stop with no trees or bushes to hide behind! (Another reason to love forests).
One of the running areas the veteran runners trained at was South Mountain Park. Most of the long runs were run at this park because there were plenty of trails, over 50 miles of trails! I can still remember the first time I ran there. My first trail experience at South was Desert Classic trail. It was a rocky trail that was mainly flat with a few undulating hills. I wasn't quite enjoying this trail, it was a bit harder to maneuver around with regards to footing and it was certainly not soft dirt or shaded! One could easily trip from the small rocks protruding throughout the ground! The scenery was so different from any "trail" I had seen before. Desert Classic sits below a pretty big mountain backdrop. But there are no large trees that provide a shaded area. There are plenty of saguaro cacti throughout the run and some other prickly succulents which could scrape you if you were not careful navigating the trails.
The long run for the week was ran on National trail. My first time running this trail was not the best experience. It was hot and I quickly tired on the ascent to a lookout point. I couldn't believe how steep the climb was and how rocky the trail was. I would have to say that it was a hard trail to run if you weren't mentally prepared for what laid ahead. Luckily my teammates knew the challenge of running National for the first time and eased up on the new runners. We made a detour at Fat Man's Pass which had an area where in order to get to the other side you had to fit through two tight giant boulders! We made our way back on towards the beginning of the trail.
As years went on, National trail became a staple in training and a measure of fitness. We didn't use GPS units to tell us how far or how fast we went, we used hitting land marks in a certain time. If we made it to the "parking lot" in a certain amount of time in the beginning of the season and 10 minutes faster weeks later, we knew we were progressing and getting fitter. It became a goal to get as far as possible until the turnaround point.
I may have not had the best experiences the first few times I ran at South Mountain Park but I definitely grew to love the trails. Sure it is hard to run on the trails and go up and down the steep hills but these things prepare you to be a tough runner. Also, the more I ran the trails, the better I became at navigating them. The trails also provide variability for your muscles and activate the ancillary muscles you would not normally use on the flat hard pavement or canal routes. The dirt surface may slow you down but the cushion provided can save your legs from being over trained.
Aside from the numerous benefits of training on the trails of South Mountain, there is the beauty of the Arizona desert nature. I have seen wildlife such as road runners, javelina, rabbits and even snakes (could do without coming across the snakes bit) and I have seen fat earthworms out on the trail (which seems impossible) in the monsoon season! The smell of the desert, whether running in the early morning or an evening run, is so refreshing and pleasant. It has a sweet scent to it which is invigorating. For these reasons along with all the training I have put in at South Mountain make it my all-time favorite place to run.
What is your favorite run? Tweet to @SonoranDistProj and tell us your favorite run and hash tag #FromWhereIRunSDP and #StayHydrated Let's make it fun: a randomly selected tweet will win a free tube of Nuun!
A cool fact about South Mountain Park:
It is approximately 16,000 acres and is the largest city park in the U.S.!
How many times has Priscilla fallen at South Mountain on the trails? Check out her Instagram and give her a follow @RunPSchultz The answer will be posted next week!
Happy Trail Running!