A year ago I took a couple of cross-country ski lessons. It had been over twenty years since I skied in high school, and I was never really good at it. Nevertheless, I figured that I could just jump back in and signed up for the “intermediate skate” class. The first lesson was a bit icy, and I fell a lot. The next week it was unbelievably cold and windy, and—despite falling less—I cut my part of the group lesson short because I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore. I was disappointed with how the experience turned out, and I was determined to try again this year (but without the almost separated shoulder).
Over the last few months, I’ve been accumulating the stuff to ski again, mostly at good sale prices. By Friday I had everything I needed, and Saturday evening I put on my new boots for the first time and clipped into my skis . . . in my living room. The day’s 60°F (15°C) warmth had melted almost all of the snow, but I figured that every bit of work I could do on my balance before getting on the snow would only help me when I get there. So I spent about fifteen minutes moving from one foot to another, picking up one (still unwaxed) ski and balancing, and shifting my weight from ski to ski as I might while doing V1. Balance, I hope is a trainable skill. It was tiring, and I realized that a lot of my difficulties might be coming from weak stabilizing muscles in my hips, which are also important for triathlon. We triathletes spend so much time moving only in a forward direction, that we need to work moving side-to-side. Yay cross-training!
Sunday morning I finished up the first full week of Ironman training with a long run; 1.5-2 hours, according to the plan. Since distance wasn’t a concern, I figured I would hit the trails. Last month I realized I could run from Upton State Forest to Whitehall State Park completely on trails, so I hatched a goal to do one of my long runs later this year completely on trails: four to six miles within Upton SF and then another seven or eight around the reservoir. This was a first attempt to run part (but not all) of the “Forest to Park” loop. It was perfect running weather—about 40°F (5°C)—and I hoped that the previous day’s unseasonable temperatures had cleared off the trails, which had been too icy for running a week before.
When I arrived at the forest, a couple of guys on mountain bikes warned me about the slick trail conditions. “It’s really slick in some places,” one of the riders said. “Once you get past the trail from the parking lot to the main trail, though, it’s pretty good.” His friend seemed a little dubious of the other’s assessment. “There are actually a lot of dicey places out there.”
I thanked them sincerely and headed to the trail. If two guys on mountain bikes can navigate the trails, I shouldn’t have much problem. And then, just out of their view, I slipped while walking down the trail. The recent warmth was no match for a fortnight of arctic chill, merely smoothing out the accumulated snow that had been soaked by a monsoon overnight and then flash frozen; it was like an ice rink. I’ve never experienced black ice on a trail before. Most of the loop in the state forest was pretty good, but there were places that whenever I saw anything that looked like ice I just started walking, since it was deceptively slick.
I had only fallen once getting to the state park turnoff, and it was (ironically) after descending a very steep, moist trail. You see, I love trail running, especially technical trails where I have to pay attention to footing. Somehow I can just put my feet right where they need to go—between two rocks and then on top of a gnarly root all while hitting the correct part of a banked switchback—to keep a smooth, fast gait going. For someone with limited depth perception and questionable balance, even I’m impressed by this. But evidently once it gets easy again, such as the wide, flat, open area where two trails meet, I lose focus, take a simple icy turn too quickly, and realize that I’m picking myself up off the ground after rolling. Nothing hurt too badly, I thought.
The trail across Tamarack Farm from the state forest to the park was a little icy, but I discovered that if I stuck to the snowy side of the trail, I could actually run it. Of course, it also meant that occasionally I was grabbed by a thorny bush or vine. One run-in snagged the bit of insulin pump tubing that was sticking out of my pocket. My shins and ankles got the worst of it, but it wasn’t that bad, and after all, I was running.
The trails at the state park were almost completely ice free, probably because they’re so steeply up and down that water can’t accumulate anywhere. I was feeling great and ran out about a mile until my watch said it was probably time to head back. Just before leaving the park, I had a lapse of concentration and forgot that the small wooden footbridge over a stream was wet. BOOM! I hit the bridge with my foot and then my chest. All things considered, I knew I was lucky not to have hit the edge of the bridge, but I could tell that I was going to feel it later.
And then a funny thing happened. I got lost. While paying extra attention to the icy trail, I missed the turnoff back to the state forest and looped back to a T-intersection where I turned right and found myself going past a very familiar looking pond with a beaver lodge after going down a very unfamiliar looking trail. Except the beaver dam was on the wrong side for me to be going back to the parking lot. Running back the way I had come, I couldn’t figure out where I had made the wrong turn. After about fifteen extra minutes of running (but not too much freaking out) I got myself back to a place where I had to make a decision, hestitantly made the opposite choice as before, and finished up my run without incident.
Here’s hoping that I’ve gotten all of the falling and getting lost out of my system for the winter. I’m really excited about skiing once we get some more snow. I could just do without any of the other shenanigans.