"There comes a pause, for human strength will not endure to dance without cessation; and everyone must reach the point at length of absolute prostration." **Lewis Carroll**
Saturday morning was gray, dripping, and a steamy 80 degrees. I needed to get in a long run, but the thought of 10 miles on wet pavement with bare feet or in soggy VFFs was not inspiring. Running in mud, however sounded like a great idea so I headed out to my favorite trail. If you ever find yourself in Newport News, VA and want to see a little nature, this is the place for it.
I arrived at the trail around 7:30 am, thinking it would be deserted compliments of the rain, but everyone had the same idea. The parking lot was a beehive of activity, people were stretching, organizing their dogs, and topping off water bottles at the fountain. Unfortunately, it hadn’t rained as hard on the trail as it had at my house so the ground was fairly dry, not the playful mud I had hoped for, but still good for running.
The Noland Trail winds around an inlet off the James River with 14 wood bridges crossing the water at various places and giving spectacular views.
Of course, this means hils. Steep grades down to, and back up from, the bridges or galloping up and down from the water’s edge to the next wooded crest. No picture ever really captures the intensity of an incline so nothing here does the difficulty of this trail justice, but I think it is the best hill training on the peninsula! Which isn’t actually saying much, but it is still a great place to run.
About 5 minutes into my first lap I realized I was over dressed. Thank goodness for running bras that are designed to be worn alone. I stripped off my tech shirt and instantly felt better. Of course, my paste white tummy exposed meant I would run into large numbers of people I knew.
I knew this was my last run on The Noland Trail and that I would miss my time here greatly. The trail is a touch over a 5 mile loop and running it has been a great indicator of my progress. The first time I ran it non stop in under an hour I was elated! Anyone that has run it can tell you that you plan to add a good 1.5 to 2 minutes per mile to your pace compared to running on a flat street. On this day, I was taking it slow. I stopped to take pictures, chatted with friends, and really took the time to just enjoy my run without watching my Garmin for pace, time, or heart rate. I just ran.
This is such a tranquil place, there are always birds chirping, squirrels playing chase, and the occasional lazy snake crossing the path. I thoroughly enjoyed the rain pattered through the trees, chasing each other down the leaves to drop with a splash on the trail ahead of me. The air almost immediately absorbed it, turning the whole place into a steaming forest that felt primeval. You can’t let your mind wander too far though because the twists, turns, hills and chunks of wood to protect the trail from erosion makes for some tricky footing. Thankfully, small tree stumps and roots are painted orange so they are hard to miss, but it is easy to get caught up in the wildlife and forget to look down. I’ve never taken a bad spill here, but I’ve stumbled more than once and seen people with bloody knees and elbows emerge from the trail, muttering choice words under their breath.
The majority of the trail is packed dirt, but the steeper sections have fin gravel that can be a bit abrasive on the feet, especially if you aren’t careful and scuff or slide going up or down the hills. The first time I ran this trail barefoot, I made it 4 miles before I stopped to put on shoes. I was too late though, my feet already had several blisters each. Now I can run it more than once the same day without pain or blisters.
On part of the trail, there is an area where the path is covered in broken oyster shells. It is very pretty, but also VERY challenging for a barefoot runner. The first time I came through this area I had to run on the grass at the side of the path or walk carefully over the unavoidable sections (which are short).
I can now run this part with relative ease. I do have to keep a sharp eye out and maintain my focus, but it only slows me down a little and adds an interesting element to the run.
At the end of my planned 2 laps I was feeling great. Every mile had been a blast so I wasn’t mentally worn out either. As I stood talking to a friend, it started raining again, a good gully washer this time. I decided not to miss the fun! Quickly, I refilled my depleted water bottles and head out for one more lap. The rain didn’t last long, but I found a few muddy spots and savored the cooler air.
It was a fantastic 15 miles that left me utterly spent, a wonderful way to say good-bye to my favorite running haunt. I hope I am able to come back someday and enjoy it again, until then it is time to rest and move on to new adventures.