This past Saturday, my wife Monika and I headed south of Minneapolis to meet up with a few fellow trail runners at Lebanon Hills Regional Park. Since our arrival in the great north-upper-midwest (or whatever you want to call this location), I've been digging around the internet looking for a group or team or some folks who we might connect with around off-road running. Finally, on meetup.com, I found a local group who might fit the bill. Organized by John, they were offering an introductory run at this park of about 7 miles, staying off of the ski trails.
After working out some babysitting details so that we could both join in the fun, Monika and I found our way to the parking lot and met John, Joe, and John. Yes, it was a little confusing, but probably only to us. Nice guys, and primed to show off a park they loved to run. Admittedly, the unusually mild winter this year made this possible, as John #1 admitted that he'd much rather be on XC skis this time of year. Ah, well, to our advantage I guess.
After quick introductions and a bit of shivering in the brisk air, we headed downhill to the trails and immediately faced our first section of sheer ice. The light snow cover has been melting and re-freezing night after night for the past week or so, and back in the woods this made for some slippery going. It would be a theme all day, and we often ran along the very edges of the paths, seeking just a little traction in the remaining snow or even tip-toeing through the brambly underbrush on either side of the trail. I realize those who love to run on roads will never quite understand this, but there is a kind of primal joy in picking your way along a trail in this way. It's a combination of testing your agility, practicing careful balance, focusing your concentration, and just plain proving you are tough enough to do this that make the action more rewarding than yet another plodding slog around on cold asphalt. At least in my opinion. And well worth the little scratches on your ankles and the effort to pick the burrs off of your socks.
We must have hit just about every possible hiking-only trail in that park. Along the way, we heard about the Upper Midwest Trail Runners, enough to convince us to join soon. That group organizes three different Grand-Prix-style racing series, using area trail races. That's exactly the kind of connection we are looking for, and we hope to join them for as many races as we can over the coming months.
The run, despite the slipping and sliding and waiting for each other, seemed to go by very quickly. Before we knew it, we were back in the parking lot, being handed chocolate chip cookies and basking in the after-glow of running in the woods. To my knowledge, no one fell down, although I think we all came close repeatedly.
Unfortunately we had to bolt out of there to get back to our son and the babysitter, because it would have been fun to stay and chat. Maybe next time. I'll say this: nice guys, clearly loved the park we ran, full of facts and opinions about the place and area races, and obviously eager to have more of these kind of casual, let's-go-run-a-trail kind of mini-events. Count us in!