Gearing up for a trail race and the Great Austin Greenbelt

Ok here’s where this trail running business becomes a bit of a pain in the ass. The races are always in the middle of nowhere. So my race this weekend is a 3.5 hour drive away from Austin, in a small town called Rocksprings TX in a park called Camp Eagle. This isn’t your fun destination race where you fly into a fancy city, stay in a hotel, carb load at a fine pizza joint and wake up next day to drive about 10 minutes and look for parking for the next 30 minutes and then spend the following 40 minutes in line for a port-a-potty.

No, this is a race where you spend the night at a log cabin full of bunk beds, shared with other runners, pack your own bedding, food etc., or perhaps even camp out in the park. Wake up with the birds and go run your race. Sounds so awesome.

Well, what the race is like, will be the subject of a later post. Much as that sounds like a pain and really getting to the location is my # 1 stress point right now (not actually being able to run it), I am really excited about it. That’s because I fly in from Houston on Friday afternoon, have to get my stuff together and drive out by 6 pm and try my best to not get lost.

I guess I am not super worried about being able to run the distance because I have no time goal. Well, I’d like to finish in 3 hours but that might be tough given that this is a tough hilly terrain, full of rocks and stones and at least one stream crossing (there may be a wooden bridge) so I will be happy with 3.5. I did my last long run about 3 weeks ago which was over 13 miles so I am almost up to the distance (25k ~ 15 miles). What I realize more and more about trail running is that speed is for the elites. While you can run and run and get really fast on the road, being fast on trails is even more about core strength, flexibility and nimbleness. If those things are not there in you, you can get quite badly injured from rolling your foot on rocks and falling down. On the other hand, running on trails also makes you stronger at the core because if you’re not tucking your core in, you will have balance issues as you navigate rocky terrain.

Which brings me to the terrain in Central TX. Austin is so blessed to have a huge greenbelt with a catacomb of trails combing across the breadth of the city. The greenbelt is a large green space pretty much in the center of the city – somewhat like Central Park – except these are not manicured trails. The city of course takes care of them but many of the trails are unmarked and it’s quite, quite easy to get lost. Like today, we ran down this hill off TX 360 loop N, off Westgate area called the Hill of Life (HOL) to most trail runners. There’s also a Hill of Death somewhere. The HOL leads to one of the most oft-used trails called the Superhighway by trail runners because it’s used by a lot of people, dog walkers, families, hikers etc. to enjoy the outdoors. As a result it’s mostly flat and not as rocky. We used to go there for speed workouts. However around HOL, today we ran on a network of trails (thanks to Elizabeth, trail goddess, she knows them like the back of her hand) all across the cliffs over looking Barton Creek and we very ledgy, overlooking lower trails. Some of the trails around St. Eds are a steep fall and there have been runners who have fallen down (fortunately without further incident). One runner got stuck on a tree or he would have fallen about 30-40 ft.

These trails and the greenbelt in general, sort of runs parallel to TX 360, so there are multiple accesses to these trails from TX 360 and thereabouts. Some of these accesses are well hidden and obvious only when you know they’re there. One of the popular ones we do is called Moonshadow. We drive down to Southwest Pkwy and access the trails from behind a beautiful housing community called Travis Country. There are smaller trails along this part of greenbelt called the Powerline (flat, ugly trail runs along the power lines), Baloney – a rocky, ledgy trail that can be quite slippery when wet and an absolute butt workout. You can access Moonshadow from HOL which is on the other side of town and run through the greenbelt, cross the creek and run on trails called Shans, Sculpture Falls etc. There’s Forest Ridge, which is protected and you need a permit and St. Eds which is hilly as hell and we did our hill workouts here. The names are absolutely gorgeous. There are runners who know the entire network and run all day long on a Saturday, sometimes averaging 30-40 mile runs. Some of these crazy people even run at nights, especially during hot summer days.

Someone said to a picture I posted this weekend of St. Eds – don’t all cities have parks and trails? And my answer is perhaps but such a rich and large greenbelt with a thriving ecosystem right in the heart of the city is an absolute treasure and gift. It worries me to see the developments around here – Austin is growing as a city and who knows when there will be houses where we’ve been so lucky to get away from the noise, into the woods just minutes from home.

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