Trail Running and Winter/Spring Races

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February 16, 2014

My husband and I love trail running. Because it is one of our favorite activities, we are always trying to coax our friends into giving it a try. Here is our rationale/spiel. First of all, running in general is such a great form of cardiovascular exercise. According to the lofty Mayo Clinic, aerobic exercise such as running helps burn away excess pounds, strengthen bones and muscles, increase blood flow, release endorphins, reduce stress, ward off viral illnesses, and strengthen your heart*. Now all of that sounds pretty amazing, right? Who doesn’t want to be healthy and get those endorphins pumping?

But there’s more. Trail running in particular lessens the risk for certain injuries by reducing impact on the body and strengthening lots of supporting muscles that don’t get used on flat, hard surfaces. Sure, you may have to dodge the odd fallen tree or small woodland animal, but it’s part of the experience. Besides, all that dodging and hopping helps work core muscles and decreases the amount of constant pounding that your body takes during a typical pavement or treadmill run.

Another one of the advantages to trail running is that it takes you outside, into the heart of beautiful, interesting, sometimes wild places. Instead of pounding pavement, ingesting car fumes and greasy food odors, and dodging traffic, your steps are softened by fallen leaves, dirt, and sand. Your deep breaths pull in the scents of fresh air, wild flowers, pine, and earth. The perils of two ton vehicles and uneven concrete curbs are exchanged for roots, rocks, and wildlife. If you need a rest break, you can stop and enjoy a view or a babbling stream instead of someone else’s front yard or a fast food restaurant. The whole experience is much more soothing, refreshing, and inspiring.

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Now some people might argue that trail running is intimidating or harder than regular running, but it doesn’t have to be. You can start slow, take breaks, and enjoy all the beauty that surrounds you. Many people also find that the time passes more quickly because their minds are kept active by the changing scenery and more technical footwork.

If you want to find some motivation to hit the trails, I suggest signing up for a trail race. Some of our favorites are put on by Half Moon Outfitters. We just completed three of their races over the last couple of months, the Drifter 6k, the Make My Day 12k, and the Cherokee Rose 5k.

The Drifter 6k took place in Greenville at Conestee Nature Park discussed over here, while the Make My Day 12k was hosted in Columbia, SC at Harbison State Forest. This longer race was intense, especially since the snow from our latest Snowmageddon was still on the ground and a water main had burst leaving lots of deep puddles and stream crossings. It’s a great course though with only a few hills and lots of lovely open trail. You can check out the course here. The Cherokee Rose 5k was in Athens, GA at the Botanical Gardens. Last year, the course was a bit short, but this year it was accurate and included some extra hills.

When you register for any of these races, you get Smartwool socks and a fun tech-tee, usually from the Northface or Patagonia, not to mention a great after party full of raffles and in the case of the Greenville race, Counter Culture coffee from Swamp Rabbit Cafe. The next Half Moon Race isn’t until the Moonshiner 5k in the Fall, so there is plenty of time to get ready! In the meantime, we’re looking for some other great trail races to hit this summer. Do you have a favorite trail race or place to trail run? Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

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*http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/aerobic-exercise/art-20045541

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A Snowy Run at Lake Conestee Nature Park

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February 11, 2014

A snowy run is rare in the South, which definitely makes it feel more magical. Instead of sloshing through gray slush for 2-4 months straight, we get 1-3 short-lived blankets of shimmering whiteness that usually melt into a memory within 24 hours.  We have to seize our winter wonderland moments and enjoy them to the fullest before they disappear. This year we enjoyed several snow runs, which we found very exciting. Our favorite occurred at Lake Conestee Nature Park.

My husband and I were itching to get in a trail run before the the whole city was completely socked in with our four inches of snow. Unfortunately, businesses, schools, and as it turned out, state parks, were all shutting down in rapid succession. Conestee was the only trail area in close proximity that was still open, so we hurried over there to sneak in a run before getting “snowed in”. It was amazing! We didn’t run for long, but every moment was expanded by the novelty of padding through a transformed landscape.

Lake Conestee Nature Park is a 400 acre area with 5 or 6 miles of trails that will one day connect to the longer section of Greenville’s Swamp Rabbit trail. What it lacks in expansiveness, it makes up for in charm and convenience.  It’s a wonderful green space located about 10-15 minutes from downtown. The trails are well kept (and seem to be expanding?), and there is a great playground/picnic area beside a very pleasant restroom facility.  My husband and I have participated in multiple races here including Half Moon Outfitter’s Drifter 6k, an annual favorite. It’s a great venue for races with ample parking and plenty of nice space for post-race refreshments. During this run, we attempted to retrace the race course since some of the markers were still in place from the previous weekend.

Run this Trail: The address for Lake Conestee Nature Park is: 840 Mauldin Road, Greenville, SC 29607

Rather than vaguely describe what we attempted to do without directions in hand, I am posting this link to the Half Moon Outfitter’s 6k race course. If you’re looking for a shorter trail run near Greenville, this is a great option, and you can always double it for a longer workout. Here is a link to Conestee’s website as well.

Recommendations: Trail specific shoes are always nice for trail running, but you could definitely get away with road shoes on this relatively smooth and at times paved trail.  Bring the family and a picnic! This whole area is so nice.

 

 

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Paddle on Lake Oolenoy

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View of Pinnacle Mountain and Bald Rock

We paddled Lake Oolenoy on Christmas Eve. It was a spontaneous plan that unfolded when Lake Robinson, a lovely 800 acre lake near our home, was closed. We had already loaded our boats up and driven 20 whole minutes when we realized this, and it felt too disappointing and lame to just turn back after making such an effort on Christmas Eve. Instead of admitting defeat, we opted to tack on 30 minutes and push our way up to Lake Oolenoy.

I have to admit, I was a little critical of poor Lake Oolenoy before I actually went there. It has the misfortune of being on our route to Lake Joccassee, one of the most gorgeous, epic places in South Carolina. No matter how pleasant Lake Oolenoy might be, I could not imagine it being as grand and stunning as Lake Joccassee.  This means that if we plan out a paddling adventure of any consequence, we are almost always willing to drive the extra 30-45 minutes required to bypass Lake Oolenoy and arrive at our beloved Jocassee. However,  this Christmas Eve our time frame required as little extra driving time as possible and a relatively short paddle when we got to our destination. Lake Oolenoy ended up being a perfect solution. At less than an hour from Greenville, it is easy to get to and with only 67 acres to its name it is perfect for a short exploration. The lake is very pretty, undeveloped, and clean with remarkable views of Table Rock and Pinnacle Mountain.  It’s a great little spot to explore and there are nice picnic areas and bathrooms available by the boat ramp access point. We would definitely come back, and perhaps try taking out a SUP.

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Paddle this Lake: If you’re coming from Greenville, you will pass the main entrance to Table Rock State Park on your right before crossing the bridge over Lake Oolenoy and arriving at the boat ramp on your left.  For more information about seasonal hours and directions see the state park website.

Recommendations: Bring a camera for some great views of Table Rock and Pinnacle Mountain.

Note: There are two lakes in Table Rock State Park. Lake Pinnacle does not allow public boat access; however, they rent kayaks and canoes. Both kayaks and SUPs are permitted on Lake Oolenoy.