Back in Austin, into the deep, dark woods…

My training plan for the year is going well, according to plan. Before heading down to Brazil, I had no idea how I’d be able to keep up with any running or biking or swimming there. But finding Quark was like a quirk of fate – it proved to be the best training for short distance I’ve done since I began running. I became faster and fitter and I certainly feel it. Bharath claims that the protein heavy diet certainly helped and I couldn’t help but agree. My diet in Austin tends to be more vegetarian friendly so perhaps all the (good) meat and fish I consumed in Brazil might have worked on the strength.

Anyway, back to training plan. So before I left, I’d decided I’d come back and begin training for a trail race. I’d sort of been dabbling in trail running in the summer, before it got ridiculously hot in TX and I felt better off on the bike or in the water, focusing thus on triathlons more than running. Which worked great. Training for triathlons actually gave a chance to the rest of my body to do some work than just working the legs. While in Brazil I registered myself for a 25k trail race in early March. I figured it would give me about 12 weeks to train, which I think is sufficient.

I joined Tejas Trails, a group run by Joe Prusaitis who’s like the godfather of ultra runing in Austin. He’s been running a long time and made the switch over from road to trails and from marathons to ultra distances. Trail runners are a different breed altogether. For one, they seem to be very annoyed by road runners’ obsessions with milliseconds etc. Of course, when you’re on the trails, you couldn’t possibly be thinking only about speed – you’re in the outdoors and surely you’d want to stop and smell the flowers. Which I do a lot. But they also seem to love running these crazy distances. I thought 25k is a lot but these guys are well into their 10th 100-miler runs. That’s when you’re running over-night, have to plan to eat, sleep and take bathroom breaks on the run. So far, it doesn’t sound very appealing to me AT ALL. I hope the group doesn’t mind that I won’t be doing any such crazy distances.

So I’m into my second week of training. Last Tuesday night I (barely) showed up at some off-the-beaten path entrance to the Bull Creek greenbelt in Austin. There are tons of little entrances to the trails around Austin and they are very well hidden. It was pitch-dark by the time I got there. Joe had asked me to bring a headlamp so I dutifully went to REI and paid 50 bucks for one (promptly returned it the next day when by 24 buck amazon product arrived). I met Joe and John, the two coaches – super nice and friendly folks. They introduced me to the close knit group of runners. The trail itself was about 1.5 miles long and Tues/Thur night workouts are speed ones. So one has to run these distances in loops as fast and as many as one can. Since it was my first time, I ran with John who’s quite loquacious and friendly. The entrance to the trail had ankle deep water so we walked across the water and then crossed another stream again. I think I did about 4-5 loops of that trail and it was fun! The trail was relatively flat and pebbly in a lot of spots and of course roots and lots of water. So I got to get my feet ‘wet’ in the real sense of the word. Last night’s run was equally wet. It was a shorter loop in a different part of Bull Creek but the water was upto my calves. Needless to say my tights got wet too AND it was pretty cold last night. I did about 5-6 loops and each loop took about 0:7:50 or so which is about average speed I’d say. So not bad.

Now Joe doesn’t organize the long runs. Instead the forum has people meeting up for longer runs around the various trails. Not sure I’m a big fan of the system because I don’t know the trails very well and obviously these are not no-drop runs. So I went on Saturday, to the Forest Ridge trail which you can access off behind the sub-division on Jester. I met up with a few of the runners who had bigger mileage goals than I did. Somehow I ended up running with Diane, who Joe calls Trail Mom. She’s been running with Joe’s group before he started Tejas. We ran at about similar pace and what I liked about her was that she didn’t mind walking up rocky hills, or slowing down the steeper declines and picking up pace during the flatter parts. During those parts we pretty much ran in single file but we kept talking. She showed me the trail and while I’m not sure I remember it all, we made little piles of rocks and sticks to mark the turns should we get separated. I of course had no intention of separating from her. We did the whole trail which is about 6 miles with a little scenic detour of about a little over half a mile. It was a gorgeous morning – December is fall in Austin – the trees were orange, the air was crisp and it had rained so Bull Creek had a little waterfall going. Here’s a pic I took.

While running last night, in the dark, through the water, through the woods, shining my lamp and only being able to see the radius of the lamp’s reach, I was thinking to myself how much Austin has changed me. A year and half ago, I wouldn’t even dream of being out in the cold and dark, let alone through dark water and now I thrive on that thrill. A lot of people close to me, B & Kanika included, have said they didn’t think the running bug would last. Frankly, I hadn’t thought it would either – but neither did I really think about it. But I’m happy about how it makes me feel. So here’s the song I dedicate to the trails…