Rocky Run Trail 5K

We’ve had an unusually cold, wet spring this year. Not so great for my basil plants (which turned black and died after a week of rain) but very nice for runners like me who prefer cool weather races. I’ve been trying take advantage of this “nice” weather by running as many races as possible, including two trail races last weekend and one this weekend.  That’s a lot of trails! And also a lot of race recaps that I need to catch up on. Here’s the first of three…

On Friday the 13th of May I ran the Rocky Run YMCA’s Trail 5K for the third year in a row. Last year I led the women for the entire race, but then got passed decisively in the final quarter mile. I never knew placing second could feel like such a huge defeat until that moment! This year I vowed to do things differently. I wanted to start out slower to ensure that I’d have energy left at the end. That way I could be the person doing the passing, or at least putting up more of a fight if a woman tried to pass me.

I crossed the start line with a small field of 5K runners at 6:30PM. I had initially thought I’d just tuck in behind whatever woman looked like she was going the fastest, but then I realized that I was that woman so I set off behind the men at a comfortable pace. After 0.4 miles of pavement the course plunged down a hill and entered the woods.

It had rained all week so the steep descent on single-track trails was a slippery, muddy mess. I was very thankful for the big treads on my trail shoes and only found myself reaching out to catch my balance on a tree a few times as I picked my way down the hill. The trail eventually flattened out and the terrain changed to thick, wet, lumpy grass with a few ruts and rocks thrown in for good measure. Definitely better than the mud slide, but still not the easiest footing.

I trudged along, very aware of the fact that I was once again sitting in the first place female spot. That’s a stressful position to be in when you know that you have a huge, muddy uphill waiting for you towards the end of the race! As I neared the turnaround point I could hear a woman close behind me saying “good job!” to the men who were passing us on their way back to the finish. I remember thinking “Uh oh… she must be feeling REALLY good if she’s still talking at this point of the race!!” I hit the turnaround with her about 15 feet behind me and started the long climb back towards the YMCA.

Rocky Run Trail 5K Stats_

The lumpy grass seemed twice as hard to navigate the second time around but I was utterly determined not to give up my lead. With less than a mile to go I passed a little boy and again heard the woman behind me, enthusiastically urging him on as she also passed him. How was she still this cheerful??? (Note to self: talking a lot during a race is a great way to psych out the runner ahead of you!!)

I reached the steep uphill feeling tired and somewhat detached, like my brain was floating through a foggy haze. Even through the haze I could feel how badly I wanted to stay ahead. I pushed up the slope and suddenly emerged out of the woods sooner than I expected. There was still a steep section of parking lot ahead of me, but I was back on firm ground!! At this point last year I had nothing left but this year I actually felt a little surge as my muddy shoes hit the pavement. I powered my way up to the top of the parking lot and looked behind me with 0.3 miles to go… the cheerful woman was nowhere in sight!!!!

Even though I had not seen a woman behind me I wasn’t going to leave my victory to chance. I gave the final loop around the Y’s playing fields everything I had and somehow was able to find enough speed to pass a guy in the last turn of the race. I sprinted across the finish and smiled when I heard the race timer say “first place female!”

Rocky Run post-race

I finished in 26:43. Only 7 seconds faster than last year, but with more challenging conditions and significantly better execution and outcome. I didn’t give up my lead and I fought hard right up to the end. Woohoo!!

My first place prize was a 75 minute massage at the Y. I think I’m going to need it after all of these spring races! Next up: a recap of the Turtle Trot trail 5K that I ran 38 hours after Rocky Run… Continue reading

Trail Running: I’m Hooked!

Big news on the blog today… I think I’m turning into a trail runner!  It all began on January 17th when I avoided the trails and chose the easier road course at the Pickle Run.  After the race was over two Trail-Picklers cheerfully informed me that the trails were WAY more fun than the boring out-and-back road course.  They suggested that I give the trails a try in the future and I took their advice to heart.

Yaktrax Trail Run

The Sunday after returning home from Vegas I took Piper out on a walk/jog in Ridley Creek State Park to see for myself how fun this whole trail running thing could be.  I LOVED IT!! The snowy trail wound around in the woods, up hills and over little frozen creeks.  Every once in a while the trail would intersect the paved multi-use park road and Piper and I would dash across, pausing just long enough to glimpse a few road-runners before diving back into the woods on the other side.  Piper shouldn’t be running any significant distance yet since she’s still very young, but we couldn’t stop ourselves from breaking out into a slow jog on the beautiful trails.  Piper’s tail was up in the air and wagging the entire time.  😊  (Side note: Piper is going to be an awesome running buddy someday!!)

I headed out onto the Ridley Creek trails again on Tuesday, this time ready for a more serious run and armed with a new pair of Yaktrax to help with traction on the snow and ice.  I parked at area 14 and enjoyed a hilly route that followed sections of the blue, white and yellow trails.  I completed 4 miles in 44:44… a lot slower than my normal road runs but given the rough terrain and snow that was fine by me.

Saturday I was at it again, now venturing out on the Darlington and Rocky Run sections of my beloved Middletown Township trails network.  The area around the parking lot looked melted and muddy so I initially left my Yaktrax in the car, but promptly turned around and grabbed them after immediately hitting a section of trail that was pure ice.  (Apparently ice stays on the trails even when it has melted everywhere else.  Who knew?)  This run was hillier than my forays in RCSP but quite enjoyable nonetheless.  After 5.1 miles at a slightly improved 10:12 pace I think it’s safe to say that I am officially hooked on trails.

Middletown Trails Run

In other big news…  After thirty-four 5Ks and four 5-milers I’m finally trying a new race distance – a 10K!!  I’ll be running the Tyler Arboretum 10K on April 11th.  It’s a trail race (!!!) with four creek crossings and – I quote – “TONS of elevation changes” so it’s a good thing I’m embracing this whole trail running thing now!!  Tyler Arboretum is right next to Ridley Creek State Park but I’ve never actually been there since they charge admission and don’t allow dogs.  I’m definitely looking forward to my first 10K!

I still have a lot to learn about trail running but here are a few things I’ve picked up so far:

  1. Trail running is different (harder!) than road running.  Just because the pace is slower doesn’t mean you’re not working as hard.
  2. Ice and snow remain on trails even when everything else is melted.  Yaktrax are awesome!
  3. Trail running is much more peaceful than road running.  Just you and the woods.  And your audiobook if you’re me.  (I’m 7 hours into Seabiscuit.)
  4. Trails are a great alternative to icy winter roads with their icky, salty, slushy shoulders.  I’d rather plan for constant ice and snow on the trails versus trying to dodge ice (and traffic) on the roads.
  5. Don’t get lost.  Run somewhere you’re familiar with, plot your route ahead of time, use a mapping app on your phone… whatever you need to do.  I would want to hike a new trail with Matt and Piper first to get a feel for it before attempting to run anywhere new alone.
  6. Tell someone where you’re going.  I let Matt know my plan and also use the cool “LiveTrack” feature on my Garmin so he can watch my run in real time on his phone if he wants to.
  7. Be safe!  So far I have felt very safe at Ridley Creek State Park and on the Middletown Trails, in part because they’re places I go all the time and also because honestly, what crazy predator would be hiding out in the woods on a 19° winter day on the off chance that a lone runner passes by?  Still, if I’m going to be running solo I might need to invest in some pepper spray…?

Runners!! What trail running tips would you add to my list??

The Darlington Trail (Piper-style!)

Darlington Trail Hike 10-31-14On Halloween Matt and I took Piper hiking on the Darlington Trail.  The Darlington Trail is a public hiking trail in Middletown Township, Delaware County, PA that winds along Chester Creek and an abandoned section of railroad that once connected Media to West Chester.  Naturally, I brought my camera along to document this adventure and wanted to share a few of my favorite shots here.

Warning… lots of cute puppy photos ahead!!! 😊

Piper loved climbing around on the train tracks and even walked on one track balance beam-style for a few steps.

Piper on the train tracks 3Piper on the train tracks 1Piper on the train tracks 2

In order to get a good photo angle of little Piper I ended up lying down on the tracks, which put me at the perfect level for a surprise puppy attack!

Surprise puppy attack on the tracks!

Piper was a total ham on the hike and kept pausing to look at the camera.

Piper 3PiperPiper the GSP PuppyPiper 2

Even when Piper got a break from walking she still made a point of looking at the camera!

Piper keeping an eye on me Piper takes a break from hiking

At the end of the hike little Piper happily snoozed in my arms on the drive home.  She is such a sweetie.

Piper sitting in the grass-

That’s it for this hike, but don’t worry, I have photos from a more recent hiking adventure that I will share soon!  🙂

Double Trail Run Weekend

This weekend I ran TWO 5K trail races and I had a great time!  The first race was the Rocky Run 5K hosted by the Rocky Run YMCA in Media, PA on Friday night.  This race was originally scheduled for May 16th but it had to be postponed due to extremely heavy rainfall (over 2.5″ inches in 8 hours).  Postponing the race was a good call – the extra two weeks gave the winding trails behind the Y time to dry out and Friday’s weather was absolutely perfect.

Annie Rocky Run 5K

The Y’s 5K course started out on a short pavement loop before entering the woods on the Rocky Run Trail.  (This trail is part of a large network of trails in Middletown Township including the Darlington and Linvill Trails… if you’re in the area I’d highly recommend checking them out!)  I’ve spent a lot of time hiking on these trails but I’ve never actually run on them so Friday’s race was a new experience for me.  The first 1 1/2 miles seemed pretty easy and I felt good as I dodged tree roots, mud, and rocks.  At the halfway turnaround I discovered that I was the 2nd place woman (woohoo!) which put some pressure on me to keep up my pace for the second half of the race.  I didn’t know how far behind me the 3rd place woman was, but I do remember the second half of the race feeling MUCH harder than the first half, probably because it was almost entirely uphill!

Rocky Run 5K Runkeeper Stats

The last mile wasn’t pretty, but I held onto my second place spot and finished in 27:40, good enough for 14th overall out of 88 runners, 2nd place female, and 1st in my age group.  The overall female winner was actually also in my age group but I got the AG award since she got the overall award.  🙂  The Rocky Run 5K marked the first time I’ve won an actual prize in a race — a $25 gift certificate to a local running store!! — and also helped me realize that I might REALLY like trail runs!

After my great off-road experience on Friday night, I decided to sign up for another local trail race on Sunday morning.  This race was Radnor Conservancy’s Race for Open Space 5K Trail Run.  It was held at the Willows mansion/park in Villanova, PA which is actually where my parents got married back in 1983!  Despite the Willows only being about 20 minutes from my house I’ve never actually been there, so it was pretty neat to visit the alcove and gardens that I’ve only ever seen in old wedding portraits.  I was surprised to discover that my parents’ wedding ceremony site is now a parking lot… I guess modern-day weddings happen somewhere else on the property??

Much like the Rocky Run 5K, the Race for Open Space started on a short stretch of pavement before entering the woods on winding, hilly trails.  My Runkeeper App couldn’t get a good GPS signal during the race and it reported that I had already run 5 miles after only 7:46 had elapsed.  Whoops!  The Runkeeper app continued to malfunction throughout the race (at one point it told that my mile split was 81 miles per hour!!) but it was useful just to know the race time even if the miles were way off.  I thought that this course seemed harder than the Rocky Run course so I was pleasantly surprised when I finished in 25:49… nearly 2 minutes faster than Friday’s time.  Yay!!

My 25:49 finish was good enough for 31st overall out of 96 runners, 10th place female, and 1st place in my age group.  🙂  Considering that I had not originally been planning to run any races this weekend, I was pretty thrilled with how my two trail races turned out.  Now I really can’t wait to do the Run-A-Muck trail race in September… I have a feeling that I am going to be able to improve significantly on my 35+ minute time from last year!!

My next race is the Media 5 Miler on June 20th.  This is a road race (which should feel easy after tree roots, rocks and mud!) and, with over 1500 runners, it will be the biggest race that I’ve run in so far.  Less than 3 weeks to go!

Miles since last post:  53.8
Days since last post:  13
Avg. Daily Miles since 7/18/13: 4.81
2014 TOTAL MILES: 721.3

Related Posts:
•  Run for Victory 5K (5/18/14)
•  Elwyn 5K (5/3/14)
•  St. Tim’s 5K (4/26/14)
•  Rick’s Run 5K (4/19/14)
•  Las Vegas Security 5K (4/3/14)
•  Color Out Cancer 5K (3/30/14)
•  Athlete’s Closet March 5 Miler (3/1/14)
•  Athlete’s Closet February 5K (2/1/14)
•  Athlete’s Closet January 5K (1/4/14)
•  New Year’s Eve 5K at the YMCA (12/31/13)
•  Athlete’s Closet December 5K (12/14/13)
•  Turkey Trot 5K (11/28/13)
•  Trinity Presbyterian 5K (11/2/13)
•  Oy Vey 5K (10/27/13)
•  Fueled Up & Fired Up 5K (10/19/13)
•  Run-A-Muck 5K (9/22/13)
•  The Challenge Begins: 100 Mile iPad Mini Challenge (7/23/13)

The Darlington Trail (Middletown Trails)

As the weather gets cooler I find myself getting the urge to go hiking in the woods with Matt and Bailey.  We took a nice 2 mile walk at Okehocking Preserve last week but, since that’s already been featured on my blog, I thought I’d write about another one of our favorite hiking spots: Darlington Trail in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.

The Darlington Trail is part of the wonderful “Middletown Trails” network that is owned and maintained by Middletown Township.  You can view a map showing the rough location of each of the six trails in my Linvill Trail post from last March.

One of my favorite parts about the Darlington Trail is that it crisscrosses an old rail line.  These tracks used to carry passenger trains from Media to West Chester (an extension of the current-day Septa R3 Media/Elwyn line) but now they are only used by the occasional freight train traveling at night towards Philadelphia from a nearby quarry.  We’ve never seen a train on this stretch of tracks during the daytime so we always feel very safe walking along (or on!) the tracks.

The train tracks cross high over the Chester Creek in two spots.  I wouldn’t recommend trying to walk across the rail bridges on foot because the space between each of the railroad cross ties is completely open to the creek 30 or so feet below.  Seeing the water rush by below your feet is pretty disconcerting when you are standing on a bridge that’s only a couple of feet wide with no handrails or guardrails!

The first time we hiked the Darlington Trail we were exploring the tracks and somehow ended up on the wrong side of one of the bridges.  Bailey definitely would have fallen right through the holes between the ties if we had tried to walk on the bridge so Matt concluded that the only way to get her to the other side was to carry her.  Luckily she was very calm and stayed perfectly still while Matt tiptoed from tie to tie across the bridge!  (Note: you do not have to cross the bridges in order to hike the trail!)

The bridge doesn’t look very intimidating from here, but when you get closer and realize that there’s nothing but air between the rail ties it might make you feel a bit unnerved when walking over it!

The terrain is quite varied on the Darlington Trail.  At some points you snake along the wide bank of Chester Creek (great for dogs who like the water!) and in other spots you hike through rolling farmlands and are rewarded with a great view of the surrounding area and the trail as it continues on in the distance.

According to the trail map, the entire loop is about 2.75 miles long.  The trail is well maintained and is clearly marked with yellow diamond-shaped trail signs.  We usually park in the lot located on Darlington Road just north of the road’s intersection with Route 1 / Baltimore Pike in Glen Mills, PA.  You can also park near the original Wawa dairy (yes, THE Wawa!) on Valley Road just north of Route 1.

If you live in the Delaware County/Chester County area and ever decide to hike the Darlington Trail I would love to hear what you think of it!  Do you have a favorite section of trail (or does your dog have a favorite section of the creek?)  🙂  Please share!

Linvill and Indian Orchard Trails (Middletown Trails)

A few years ago when we lived in Media we discovered that there were miles of hiking trails in our neighboring township.  While this kind of revelation may not be that shocking for many people in most parts of the country, we live in the Philadelphia suburbs and this was quite a pleasant surprise for us.  We immediately started to explore the Middletown Township Trails and have since hiked each of the six trails multiple times.

General Location of each of the Middletown Trails

One of our favorite trails is the Linvill Trail.  It follows the perimeter of the awesome Linvilla Orchards, home of pick your own apples (and blueberries, peaches, strawberries, you name it), a brand new garden center, haunted hayrides, and, my favorite, cut your own Christmas trees.  We’ve cut down a tree with Matt’s family for the past 6+ years and we always get our tree (a frazier fir) from the pre-cut tree area in the market.

A field of Linvilla Christmas Trees

The Linvill Trail and its neighbor, the Indian Orchard Trail, wind around through beautiful, quiet woods and wide open fields.  I especially like the few spots where you suddenly stumble upon an old, crumbly spring house, a ‘hidden’ swim club, or, (my absolute favorite!!) abandoned railroad tracks.  You can take an easy detour off of the Linvill Trail and visit the Chester Creek Branch, a single track that is completely falling apart and overgrown.  (But be careful, parts will collapse and slide into Chester Creek if you don’t watch your step!!)

Eventually the Chester Creek Branch is supposed to become a Rail-Trail.  Although I know that this will be great for the overall community, I love seeing the actual abandoned tracks and having the right-of-way to ourselves.  It just won’t be the same once it’s paved over and populated with bikers and runners… Oh well!

Bailey on the Chester Creek Branch tracks looking down over Chester Creek

Another underutilized right-of-way on the Linvill Trail is the huge swath of land that has been cut back for a gas pipeline.  Although the initial lack of vegetation can be a surprise at first, I like pipeline right-of-ways because they create a whole new open area in the woods to explore.  Every once in a while you’ll come to a point where you can see along the pipeline for several hundred yards which is kind of a neat sight in an otherwise dense forest.  According to the township map, this pipeline is also slated to become a ‘future trail’ at some point.

Matt and Bailey walking down the Linvill Pipeline Right-of-Way

I’ll finish this post off with another photo of the beautiful fields of Linvilla Orchards.  For more information on the Linvill and Indian Orchard Trails, check out the trail map (with my notes!) or visit the Middletown Township Trails web site!

Linvilla Orchards

Linvill & Indian Orchard Trail Map (with my notes!) click to enlarge