Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I am a __________ runner.

Since beginning this blog to which I've lazily attended, I've found myself reading more about running, which seems like an odd thing to do. But on occasion I find myself in a position where running is not an immediately available option, and reading about running through woods seems the next best option when struck by a desire to run through woods. Depending upon my mood and the article's precise subject, the reading may either quench or fuel the urge to be running.

In any event, as I've been reading more about running, I find myself thinking more about running and, in particular, about runners. Either they or the people marketing to them seem to enjoy categorizing the factions. Most runners stick to the pavement, I would venture; they are obviously the roadrunners. But of those, like myself, who prefer soil and stone under foot, the level of categorization is puzzling.

As the title of this blog suggests, I assume I am what I've heard dubbed a "trail runner." I assume this because I very much like running on trails. But even that fails to pin me down the way some might like to.

I gather that if you run extremely far, you are an "ultra runner." This makes some sense, and there is a magazine out there just for you. I also gather that you ultra runners enjoy competition, as you seem to have a lot of ultramarathons (or just "ultras" if you're cooler than me). I guess you guys can go on or off road.

I think that if you like to camp and climb and such along the way, you might be what's deemed an "adventure runner." You avoid the roads, and there are companies out there who will carry your crap for you. There is also a blog about your passion that may or may not have corporate sponsorship. You are not so much into the whole competition thing, although there are "adventure races" which can either incorporate or consist entirely of adventure running. I'm not sure if you run farther than ultra runners. It might vary.

Some of you are "mountain runners." I think you might be mostly into hills. It's possible you are also an attractive Kiwi who promotes potatoes. Alternatively, if you hail from the U.S. of A., there is actually a team for you. I used to think you didn't run as far as the ultra and adventure runners, but now I think I may have been mistaken about that. Your blog is definitely underwritten by corporate dough.

If you are a mountain runner who is also British, Scottish and/or totally pretentious, you are a "fell runner." You might not run as far as the others, but I think you like to use a compass. You probably are also really into shoes (aka "trainers"). You are even worse than me at blogging.

If you are running on odd natural surfaces in very specific places simply for the sake of having an obscure hobby, you are probably a "talus runner" and I have no interest in getting to know you.

What differentiates cross-country running from trail running? Is it the mere presence of a defined pathway? Surely there must be more to it than that. Perhaps it is team spirit and competitive sport vs. personal solace and spiritual pursuit.

I know this much: I get bored on roads and I've never run a marathon, let alone one of the ultra variety.

Perhaps that does very little to aid in labeling me. Perhaps the fact that I prefer pathways adjacent to waterways means nothing with respect to the kind of runner I am. Perhaps in the end I am a simple trail runner, nothing more.

And yet, there is still a periodical out there for advertisers to reach me. Which is good, because I like gear.

Friday, September 25, 2009

McConnell's Mill: Slippery Rock Gorge Trail

This blog has fallen by the wayside as I've been doing a bit of traveling. Along the way I've had some nice runs on the coast of Maine and in the mountains of Maryland, and when I've been home I've stuck mostly to Schenley and Frick, and so haven't had much to report. But enough excuses.

McConnell's Mill State Park is about 40 minutes north of town and it's a pretty sweet place. Here's your map.

I ran the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail this afternoon, connecting to the main parking lot via the Kildoo and Alpha Pass Trails. That gives you about 1.5 miles before you get to the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail, and that then goes on for a little over 6 miles. It is not a loop.

The terrain is rugged for sure. Though not terribly steep at any point, the trail is often narrow and very uneven thanks to many rocks and exposed roots. The trail follows Slippery Rock Creek pretty closely, except for one section where (although not apparent on the map) a couple of switchbacks take you to higher ground, offering an occasional view through the trees of the glacial valley below. The trail then finds its way back to the creek and stays there. Which is nice, because I was really heating up, and a quick head-dunk in a small rapid was just what I needed to keep going.

If you take it all the way, you'll find yourself at another parking area and able to access the Hell's Hollow Trail, which leads to a nice little waterfall.

Bottom line, this is my favorite run yet in the Pittsburgh area. You might avoid it if the weather's wet, as the rocks can indeed be quite slippery, but the colors are just starting to change, and I can't imagine a better time of year to look down on the gorge.

One note: If you begin at the main lot, expect to dodge hikers--a lot of them--along the Kildoo and Alpha Pass trails. (But once you cross the Eckert Bridge, you won't see a soul.) In retrospect, the Hell's Run lot would probably make for a nicer starting point, but I saw a sign on the way in warning of recent vehicle break-ins, and I wasn't taking any chances with those miserable thieves after my experience at Frick.

Another note: I wore a pair of these weird Injinji socks for the first time today, and they are totally awesome, even if they're a bit of a pain to pull on.