February is the perfect month to check out local trails. No bugs. No snakes. Not hot. Not muggy. Our area is blessed with an abundance of accessible trails that offer physically demanding and aesthetically pleasing routes for all different levels of runners.
Trail running across the country has boomed in the last few years, and local enthusiasts have enjoyed race options that range from the Pinhoti 100 miler in November to an XTERRA on the new Coldwater Mountain Trails in December (2.4 and 9.6 mile options) to the Mount Cheaha 50K (31 miles) on Feb. 23.
New trail runners can choose to do shorter options on any of the local trails, and some runners and walkers enjoy the ease of the Ladiga Trail, a paved path fashioned from old train track beds that runs from Weaver to the Georgia state line.
Last year after the Mount Cheaha 50K, a friend of mine who had worked one of the aid stations for the race asked what he needed to know to become a trail runner. He was already an accomplished road runner who dominated local races with his speed and determination.
I told him there were three main tenets you need to accept about trail running.
1. You are going to be slow. Accept it. There is just no way you can run as fast on rocks, roots, mud and inclines as you can on a paved road. If you don’t pay attention to the uneven surface while trail running, you are guaranteed to get to experience it up close and personal.
2. You are going to fall down. Accept it. For the same reasons you are going to be slower, you are going to have some falls. After a few runs, you will gain your trail balance, and while you will still catch the occasional rock or root, you will trip and regain balance as opposed to doing a full faceplant.
3. You are going to love it and become addicted.
Brooke Nicholls Nelson is a freelance writer who lives in the Talladega National Forest near Cheaha Mountain. Have a fitness-related idea? Share it with Brooke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ronnie Roberson, 44, Honda Team Coordinator for Paint Line 1
When you think of distance runners, you probably picture Kenyans, their slight, wiry frames floating with ease along marathon courses. Ronnie Roberson is not a Kenyan. A self-described “big guy,” the Heflin resident fell in love with trail running after volunteering at an aid station for the 2009 Mount Cheaha 50K.
He and his wife, Paula, were already participating in local road runs, but it was the combination of his two passions — the outdoors and running — that attracted him to trails.
“I went to Cheaha early one morning and ran the Cheaha 10K (6.2 miles) course,” he said. “It was a cool, foggy morning, and the woods were so quiet. At that point, I was hooked.”
Roberson said he realized he didn’t have to be a “prototypical runner to run or be healthy.” If he could do it, anyone could, and he enjoys inspiring others to try his sport. He took a few minutes out of a busy work week to answer some questions in the hopes others may feel the trail calling their names.
Q: How do you compare trail running to road running?
A: The two are totally different. From a mental aspect, the trail requires a lot more concentration. You have to be aware of your surroundings and foot placement. You use more muscles in trail running due to the terrain, and also, because you are using your core for balance.
Q: What benefits have you noticed from running?
A: Before I started running, I had no energy, usually felt sluggish and my knees hurt. Running strengthened my joints, gave me more energy and keeps my blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels. Mentally, it is a great stress reliever.
Q: What would you tell people to get them interested in trail running?
A: If you like the outdoors and hiking, you will love trail running. Alabama is a beautiful state, and you can see so much more of it if you get off the beaten path. Trail running is good for the soul. I can honestly say running, particularly trail running, changed my life and has made me a better person. I truly believe that the majority of the world’s social problems could be solved by a daylong trail run together.
Fave books about running that will inspire you.
• “Ultramarathon Man” by Dean Karnazes
• “Eat and Run” by Scott Jurek