Little Manatee River State Park 5/31/17
Total distance: 13 miles (2 loops) Total time: 90 minutes 5 seconds Pace: 6.9 min/mile
Wilderness ranking: 3/5 Ruggedness ranking: 2/5 Enjoyability ranking: 3/5
Wildlife: raccoon tracks, hog damage, bird songs, barred owl, squirrels, white-tailed doe, pigeon
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
It’s been over four years since I have set out to run anything longer than a 5k. The reason, or I should say the excuse, for this extended drought is my son, who is 4, and my daughter, who is 2. Interestingly though, they are also a large part of my motivation for getting back into running. I woke up this morning intent that the first run of my “running wild”endeavor is to be a 13 mile double loop of a hiking trail I have been eager to explore. It was without a doubt outside my comfort range, but within the scope of my ability. I have always felt that any truly rewarding pursuit should push you beyond what you know, and even beyond what you think, you can accomplish. This run was rewarding in that respect and, as is usually the case when running in the wild, there was an unexpected, more spiritual reward as well.
The trail run itself was not so much remarkable as mere enjoyable. The trail was well-worn, well-marked, and quite tame in most places. The surroundings, however, were quite varied and kept in a natural state. I passed through oak hammocks, scrub-oak forest, pine flat-woods, and some wetland habitats. It was very refreshing to enter into different surroundings every mile or so of trail, giving the impression that I was covering much more ground than time or distance indicated. The highlight of this trail is a stretch that runs alongside the Little Manatee River with numerous clearings and views of sandy banks and slow-moving water. It is serene yet energizing in a way that only a river seems to accomplish so effortlessly. After passing the last views of Little Manatee, a short undulating stretch of soft sandy path leads slightly uphill to the end of the loop and turning point.
My day began at 2:15 a.m. as I had agreed to drive my mom to the airport for an early morning flight, a both wise and foolish decision. I arrived at the trailhead in the dark and waited until 6:00 a.m. to begin running. The day was clear, but still dark as sunrise was about 30 minutes away. The temperature was 75ºF, humidity 87%, and wind 4 mph. I wore my New Balance 10v1 Minimus Trail shoes, a very thin soled and flexible pair of minimalist running shoes that reflect a barefoot running style, and carried a small pack with about a 1/2 liter of water. I didn’t need snacks, trail map, or any other supplies so my load was pretty light and I easily could have left the small pack behind altogether. My pace was slow for the first mile as I ran through dark, dense oak trees with only the first glimpses of daybreak finding the trail’s surface. I will admit that more than once I caught a glimpse of a shadowy Florida panther or black bear that vanished as my eyes focused better. As the day warmed up, so did my legs, and my pace quickened to reach the point of highest return- this is what I call the speed that allows me to push myself hard without leaving myself vulnerable to injury. I was running close to 6.5 minute miles, slowing on rough terrain and pausing for a few pictures. I made the turn-around point feeling good and confident, and soon after found the zone. Every runner longs for the zone, but I can only imagine it feels and works differently for each person. For me, the zone is when my breathing, effort level, and stride coincide so well it seems possible to keep running at that pace indefinitely. I’ve heard it described as a feeling of running in place while the path comes to you, however for me it is as though I am being pulled forward by the path ahead and pushed by a wave of momentum generated by the ground I have just covered. This is when distance running is easy, and it lasted until the last mile and a half- then I lost it. When you lose the zone it is fruitless to try to find it again. Instead I had to fight, grind, claw my way to the end trying to maintain the pace that was so effortless just minutes ago. I managed to run the last gradual ascent and accelerate down the final flat bit of trail to finish in 90 minutes and 5 seconds. I ran the loop counter-clockwise followed immediately by a 180 degree turn and a clockwise loop, each one in 45 minutes. My pace ended up around 6.9 minutes per mile, which included five quick stops for pictures and a brief pause at the turn-around to drink half my water. For my first long run in a long time, I was very satisfied with my pace and how I felt afterwards.
Wildlife was not abundant on this run, but I had a few encounters. First, I ran through about a dozen spider webs that traversed the trail, an experience I am used to from growing up in a log cabin on a summer camp, but still don’t enjoy. I heard many species of bird but only saw a few flying from branch to branch as the sun rose. I had a close encounter with a barred owl that swooped silently about 10 feet above my head, and an even closer encounter with a large white-tailed doe that I startled near the river’s edge. At first taking the shape of another Florida panther, it jumped through saw palmetto bushes just feet in front of me and dashed off away from the river. I ran through some areas with significant wild pig damage but saw no sign of the hogs themselves. I felt a definite sense of connection with the untamed woods in this area, however a few spots come so close to a bordering development that I could see the manicured lawns and houses, which unfortunately stole away the feeling of being lost in nature.
I was able to hear the voice out here, though, which is what I am always searching for. This is not a real voice, although perhaps it has more wisdom than that. It is not God’s voice, or even my voice, so much as it is simply clarity. It is a voice that comes from the wild places and says, “you are right where you need to be; drink it in. It is good.” It is a peaceful voice, and a daring voice, calling you deeper into the mysteries that only nature has left. I never sense this voice when running on a treadmill or around a track, and rarely when running in neighborhoods and roads. It is a calling to be a part of something greater than yourself, connecting you to the past and the ever-present. This is what makes me come alive and why I run in the wild.