Don't care much for snowmobiling, but the trails are pretty awesome for running.

When Lisa mentioned running sometime together on the snowmobile trails near her home, I couldn’t help be a bit skeptical. She talked about how the hard-packed snow path could actually feel similar to running on pavement if the conditions were just right. Also, going early morning would mean you needn’t worry about meeting up with any snowmobiles. That part definitely sounded right to me.

Seeing as how Lisa takes to these trails daily with her two golden retrievers, I figured she knew what she was talking about. Plus, she’s my coach. She’s helping me become a better runner. (I’m getting there, Lisa, right? :) )

So this morning we met up at her house and headed out to the trail – without YakTrax. Lisa prefers to go without these anyway, but she suggested I take them off for this 4-miler. I’ll admit I worried a bit about this, as I’m pretty religious about wearing these when running on any kind of snow or ice, but I again trusted her judgment.

The trail, which runs beneath the power lines in an open swath of land surrounded by state land and private property (and goes on and on all the way to the city of Kalkaska) is wider than I’d imagined and surprisingly spring-y and firm thanks to the packed-down snow. Lisa tells me it’s softer than usual today, but it still feels pretty good beneath our feet. Sticking to the edge in particular gives the feeling you’re on a harder surface. One thing that caught my attention right away was the slight buzzing all around, which I quickly realized came from the nearby power towers.

About a mile and a half in, I’m feeling great, talking away with Lisa and enjoying watching her dogs run through the powder snow just off the trail. Then came the hills  – a quick succession of them. Alright, so I wasn’t exactly thinking the snowmobile trail would be quite that sloping, and my pace definitely slows as I strive to maintain my footing on this new-to-me trail and rolling terrain.

The out-and-back route felt good, challenging as it was, and Lisa treated me to a blueberry bagel with cream cheese and hot coffee afterward. Reason #47 I’m happy Lisa is my coach: she poured my coffee in this mug, a helpful reminder of my goal (there, I said it officially here: I want to qualify for Boston at the Bayshore).

Sipping from this mug is good luck. I'm hoping.

I’m in the midst of week 5 of my marathon training – there’s 22 weeks total – and I’ve been focused on understanding injury prevention. All injuries heal, Lisa tells me, as we talk about the importance of being flexible and strong. I credit the past year of doing pilates 2x/week with feeling stronger and leaner – it’s been a great complement to my running, and I agree when Lisa says this form of cross-training – I take the pilates reformer classes at Pure Pilates here in Traverse City – “will probably be a key component in your injury prevention.”

Thankfully, no injuries so far. I’ve felt sore, a few body parts have acted out now and again in minor ways, but no discomfort has lasted and some of it I attribute to activities like helping my 5-year-old up the rope-tow at our neighborhood ski hill. My left Achilles, which gave out on me a couple of years ago as I increased my mileage too fast, is something I’m always worried about. But as I take it slow and steady, as I listen to my body and focus on building my base as part of this training, I’m gaining confidence that this old injury just may not cause me any problems in the coming months.

I learned more about the kinds of injuries and how best to deal with them:

Category #1: Muscle soreness. This sets in about 8 hours after a hard workout and generally isn’t anything to worry about.

Category #2: Stage 1 injury. You feel this ache at the beginning of your workout, though as you run, it goes away. You can train through it.

Category #3: Stage 2 injury: Muscle soreness starts at the beginning of your run, stays and is still felt afterward. You can feel it even when not running. Lisa suggests taking 1-4 days of rest should this happen. Don’t worry about stretching, especially if the injury is in your ligaments or tendons (not a muscle) because this could only make it worse. Icing for 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off could help, too.

Category #4: Stage 3 injury. Hurts while running and when you’re not moving. Taking time off, seeing your doctor (preferably someone who “gets” runners) and seeking alternative activities are smart moves. If your injury keeps you up at night – this would be stage 4 – definitely see your doctor.

While no runner wants to ever experience injury, it’s nearly inevitable as we log more miles. I find it reassuring and refreshing to hear Lisa say this: “Injury is going to happen, but it’s normal. You’re stressing your body. It’s what you do to increase your ability to go farther, to be more efficient and to go faster.”

Goal for this week: Establish a 5 minute post-run stretching routine. I’ve gotten better about this – even in freezing temps when all I want to do is get into my warm car. I try to take a few minutes and stretch.

How’s your running going? Anyone struggling with an injury? What do you do to prevent injury?

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