I was exceedingly anxious about my LSR today in Westchester as I was heading into the unknown and running the trails at the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. I shouldn’t have been so nervous, because the thing that ultimately ended my run prematurely (only managed 6.5 miles instead of 15) was not the lack of facilities or even the incredibly rocky path but rather the mosquitos and biting flies.
The run started on a sour note because I had forgotten my Camelbak at home, so I had to carry a water bottle by hand. I hate hand-carrying water, but I barely noticed the bottle during the run because there were about 5,000 other more annoying things occupying my attention. The first, most obvious difference on this run compared to my cradle that is Central Park were the rocky trails. They were rockier than I expected and I was unprepared both physically (as a road runner) and equipment-wise (my soft road shoes were equally not up for the challenge). The rocks varied from large, softball sized rocks to smaller slippery, shale pebbles to giant, half-submerged boulders. Oftentimes the trail was partially washed away, creating gullies and exposing yet more rocks. Rocks are not kind on the knees. Neither is having to dodge them and change direction, making sure not to roll an ankle or trip and fall. After about 2 miles, I thought about turning around and calling it a day, but I pushed down my discomfort because today was my LSR, danggit, and I wanted to cover at least one 5.7 mile red-blazed loop. When the bugs started fiercely attacking at mile 3, I realized I had made a huge mistake.
My knee started complaining more vociferously after mile 3 but every time I stopped to take a walk break the bugs would be whining right by my ears, sometimes actually landing inside my ears, and I’d flap my arms and swat at my head like a crazy person. The rocks were relentless, the bugs equally so, and I still had 3 more miles (at about an 18:00 min/mile pace at this point) to go. I tried to tell myself the experience would make me a better runner, but really it just made me re-think my romantic plans to hike the Appalachian Trail or even attempt any sort of trail race anytime soon.
The “Pound” in Ward Pound Ridge Reservation is derived from the animal pounds the Indians kept in the area – keeping deer “on the hoof” until they needed them for food. I felt like a trapped deer myself, swatting at the ceaseless onslaught of insects. The bug spray I applied before the run did nothing to keep them away, although it might have helped against the highly probable ticks in the area.
I stopped to take a few photos here and there, so you could see all the rocks and the non-beauty that I enjoyed. There was one semi-scenic area along the red trail loop, and I made sure to get a photo of it to save you the bother of ever trying to see it yourself. At some point the red/green trail I started on turned into red/yellow, and eventually I came upon a major fork in the road that clearly indicated red was to the left. I double-checked the map I was carrying and headed to the left, thinking I was less than half a mile from the parking lot.
After heading along the yellow trail for a while I came across a group of hikers and asked them if the parking lot was just ahead. The leader in the group told me that the parking lot was in the opposite direction! He showed me where I was on my map, and the group agreed the navigation in the park “wasn’t intuitive.” I thanked him and told him my run had been pretty miserable because of all of the biting flies. He said, “Yeah, that’s funny because they all died off a couple of weeks ago, but they’re back now.” I wanted to say, “you knew about the biting flies and yet you hike here anyway?!” but since he had just saved me from another fruitless three mile loop in the wrong direction, I just thanked him and trotted off.
When I reached the signpost again I took a picture to document the red-trail left turn it indicated, then went the opposite direction and found the parking lot not more than 50 yards down the path. I had never been so happy to hit a parking lot and felt like I had just survived a Bear Grylls challenge.
There’s no simple “equivalence” formula of a mile on a trail to a mile on the road, but it definitely felt like more than 6.5 miles on my legs. I’m still disappointed I didn’t get in a solid 15 today, but at least this LSR wasn’t critical to my marathon training (versus, say, my 18-miler would be), so I’m trying not to sweat it. Needless to say, I would not recommend WPRR as a running destination, although I did encounter about 5 other runners during my almost 2 hour slog through the woods, and none of them seemed as miserable as I was. It was “interesting” to try the WPRR trails for the first time, but I’m going to give an extra big kiss and hug to Central Park when I return.
Do you run on trails? Do you have problems with bugs? Share in the comments!