Thursday, December 8, 2011

Crabtree Lake Trail Revisited

Back in October I wrote about short section of The Lake Trail around Lake Crabree in Morrisville and pretty much decided to save it for minimalist shoe running when the winter finally arrives. It must be all the Trail Runner archives I've been reading that got me to throw caution to the wind and run the whole 6 (or so) miles of the trail barefoot at whatever cost. So, on a sunny Saturday morning I did just that:
Map and Elevation Profile of The Lake Trail around Lake Crabtree in Morrisville, NC
This is not a trail for a barefoot running novice. Going counterclockwise from the first parking lot from the entrance, the first 2-2.5 miles are OK. The trail turns very rooty shortly after leaving Evans Road. At mile 3 it turns rocky in addition to rooty, and, excluding the paved greenway section after mile 4, stays that way to the end. I will definitely need more barefoot miles under my belt and a good rest before attempting this trail again.

See the original Lake Trail review for different options. For this particular run, I came in through the Aviation Parkway entrance and parked in the first lot on the right. It hasn't rained for several days prior to this run, so I wasn't worried about the trail gates being closed at mile 5 at Old Reedy Creek Road access.

Miles 0-2: 
The start is across the grassy field from the parking lot. There's a large sign and a clearing in the tall grass:
The Lake Trail: Start
After the soggy grassy section the trail turns into the woods for a short little section and emerges next to the Aviation Parkway. I didn't see any broken glass on the trail, but always pay extra attention when running barefoot next to busy roads. After Aviation Parkway the trail turns back into the woods and emerges next to Evans road.

Miles 2-3
After Evans Road the trail heads back into the woods. In the woods the trail turns rooty with many roots running perpendicular to the trail. Many of these are covered by recently fallen leaves and when stepped on tend to dig into the arches. It gets pretty painful after several of such steps as the arches get bruised.
The Lake Trail around Lake Crabtree Covered with Leaves
Miles 3-4
Somewhere around mile 3 more rocks start appearing on the trail. Normally rocks aren't an issue, but after having the arches tenderized by the roots, they start to hurt.
Rocks Along the Lake Trail around Lake Crabtree
Miles 4-5
Around mile 4 the trail dumps you out onto the Black Creek Greenway, which runs from West Dynasty Road up to the Old Reedy Creek entrance to the Lake Crabtree Park.

Mile 6
After the greenway the trail runs along Crabtree mountain biking trails, which tend to have sharp granite gravel sticking out of the packed dirt of the singletrack. After 5 miles of fairly difficult trail, the gravel doesn't feel too good.

Coming closer to the parking lot and finishing the run, a barefooter is rewarded with a short section of sandy beach and a finishing run across the field back to the parking lot.
Lake Crabtree Sandy Beach, Volleyball Court and Grassy Field.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hemlock Bluffs Single Track

Hemlock Bluffs is a nature preserve in Cary, NC with about 3 miles of single track. The trail is very soft and most of it is covered in mulch. Oak trees are abundant, but I didn't feel any acorns on the trail probably because they sink into the soft train underfoot. The trails is minimally rooty, and I felt no rocks under leaves.

The biggest issue was actually the mulch. It is fairly coarse and contains up to half-inch wide pieces that dig into your mid foot as you try to land on the front of the foot. As the fore foot makes contact with the ground the arch of the foot is a loaded spring ready to release the energy into forward momentum. the arch also lacks the cushioning that the ball, the side and the heel develop through barefoot running. So, as the arch lands across a half inch stick, there's nothing to spread the contact and, frankly, sometimes it hurts.
Hemlock Bluffs Mulch
That said, I think the trail is very runnable in bare feet. Maybe the mid foot can become conditioned to this kind of landing.
Hemlock Bluffs Trail Map
Swift Creek Loop Trail

The trails starts off with a fairly long set of steps, but is otherwise flat. A third of the trail is run on a raised wooden walkway that was a tad slippery even dry. It provided a good surface to check the running form for pushing off with your feet: push off and your foot slips.

Swift Creek Loop Trail Raised Walkway
Chestnut Oak Loop Trail
A third of this trail is covered in mulch and the rest of was covered by recently fallen leaves.

The trail is not flat, but hills are short, and at 1.2 miles, it is quick and enjoyable.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cary Soccer Park Trail in Pictures

Cary Soccer Park's cross country trail is still the best trail I found to run barefoot around Cary. I initially reviewed it a couple of weeks ago, but decided to update that post with pictures. Here's the trail map from the original review. Start at the blue marker, loop around the blue loop, come back to the grass field and run around the park finishing at the yellow marker for a 3-mile run.

Cary Soccer Park Cross Country Trail Map
The Start. The sign is small. Large electrical transformers are much easier to spot.

Looking down the grass field from the start.

Trail surface is pretty much packed dust...

... with small sections of gravel that can be avoided easily.

Coming back onto the grass field after the short 1-mile loop and also when closing in on the finish. The start is off in the distance on the left. The trail on the left is leads from the start into the woods. The white line along the right side of the field marks the trail.

After the field the trail crosses the road and hangs a left around the parking lot. Look on the right side of the fence. The trail is mostly grass with gravel and sand sections.

Past the parking lot the trail enters the woods once again with a couple of short hills and lose gravel sections.

Near the parking lot:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Lake Trail: southern lake Crabtree

The Lake Trail is 6 miles of singletrack circumventing Lake Crabtree in The Lake Crabtree County Park.

The first thing to note is that the trail shares part of its route with the Crabtree mountain biking trails, which can be closed after rain. When that happens, the gate at the Reedy Creek Road access is padlocked, which prevents the loop from being completed. If the trail is run counter clockwise having started at the park access, you won't find out about the gate until after running close to 5 miles. So, I'd recommend starting at Reedy Creek Road and checking the gate first.

The half mile of singletrack that I ran on the southern edge of this trail that veers off of the Black Creek Greenway was rough, and I think it would be rough shod or barefoot. The barefoot challenge lies in large acorns peppering the trail. In addition, there are sections of trail peppered in white granite gravel, which felt sharper than regular gravel.

In general, this section of the trail was very rooty. Sections of trail "stairs" (made out of two-by-fours) made running awkward even when not barefoot.

Overall, this is should be doable in minimalist shoes. I intend to test this theory once colder weather forces me into VFF's.

There are at least three different ways to access the trail:
  1. From the Lake Crabtree County Park. Park entrance is from Aviation Parkway.
  2. From Old Reedy Creek Road parking by the water treatment plant. Go through the parking lot gates and take the paved greenway around the southern edge of the lake for a clock wise loop, or go through another gate at the bottom of the dirt descent to the lake for a counter-clockwise loop.
  3. Via the Black Creek Greenway starting at Dynasty Road just of off Harrison Avenue. Take the paved greenway for 1.75 (or so) miles. The Lake Trail veers off to the left via a foot bridge. The trail junction is marked.

Lake Crabtree Parking Access

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cary (WakeMed) Soccer Park Trail Review

Cary (WakeMed) Soccer Park trails are the nicest I found so far for beginning barefoot running. I have been thinking of trying the William B. Umstead State Park bridle trails, but haven't gotten out there yet.

The surface is mostly packed dust with small rocks (quarter inch or so). Section of the trail that runs North of the parking lot used to be grass, but has been worn down to clay, sand and gravel. It can be easily avoided by running on adjacent grassy section. Otherwise, gravel is limited to small sections of trail where it is sparse enough to be avoided by careful foot placement.

The trail has a few short and not very steep hills. It tends to get washed out after heavy rain fall, but it seems that it gets filled in and repaired within a couple of days by whoever maintains it.

The large grassy area on the East side where the start (blue) and finish (yellow) markers are is very nice for drills or just to get off a hard surface.

Looking at the map shown below, the start is at the blue marker. It matches up with a light pole with all the electrical transformers under it. The first mile is marked by a blue trail, the second mile by a red one and the third miles by a green one. The finish, at 3 miles, is the yellow marker.

Follow the trail into the woods and hang a right at the first split following the blue line on the map. Loop around the trail, and as you come to T in the trail, take a left to head back to the grassy field. At the field hug the grassy outside. Follow the trail around the edges of the park. The finish is marked by a sign saying "3 miles."

Cary Soccer Park Trail Map

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On gravel

Last night, after getting through almost half of Barefoot Ken Bob's book, I resolved to run the neighborhood trail bare. This morning is the perfect running weather for me: 46F/8C, crisp and clear. But this is the coldest I've ever walked barefoot, let alone ran barefoot along a gravely trail.

Let me back up just a bit. Up to this point I logged a total of 8 miles barefoot. All 8 were run on a familiar trail that is mostly packed dust and grass, and all 8 felt pretty good. That was before I started reading Ken Bob's book. Now that I understood some of what his book teaches, I was eager to try it out on a trail with more character. And by "character", I mean gravel.

All things considered, the run went well. The 3/4-mile gravel section went better than expected. I was channeling Ken Bob and keeping my shoulders and calves relaxed and knees bent. As much as possible I kept my feet relaxed too, but the gravel definitely slowed me down quite a bit. It was somewhat painful but not enough not to be enjoyable on a level. I kept thinking that this could replace my morning coffee.

The gravel section is in the first mile of the trail, and the cool weather may have helped some also by keeping my feet numb. Once home, showered and warm, I can feel some sore spots on the bottom of the feet, but nothing that feels like an injury.

The amazing thing was my foot muscles and calves do not ache, like they have been so far during barefoot and minimalist shoe runs. I'll take this as an indication that I am grokking Ken Bob's advice and doing something right. That said, it will probably be a while before I run this trail again.