Eight Mile Training Run at Sweetwater Creek State Park

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Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, was a girl named Morgan, who did a very silly thing. She signed up for a half marathon. Why would she do that? No body knows. Perhaps the wonderful ladies of the Tough Girl Tribe might have an idea, as they are awfully inspiring. In any case, Morgan needed to train. Recently, she’s spent all her time exercising her brain.

Morgan started her morning by lazing in bed. Her stomach was having none of it and demanded to be fed. She reluctantly crawled out of her covers. She made herself an apple and almond butter tortilla wrap, a tasty pre-run breakfast. Morgan pulled on some shorts, thankful that it was not nearly as cold as when she ran the Hot Chocolate 5k, the first chapter of this saga. But it was not time for Morgan to run, no not yet. For today, she was going to run on a trail, even if her pace matched that of a snail!

Morgan pulled into Sweetwater Creek State Park and was startled to see a state park employee directing traffic. There were so many cars everywhere! Parked in parking spaces, parked on the side of the road, slowly crawling down the lane, squeezed in between trees. Everywhere! Morgan was patient and drove to the back, where she found a parking spot before the cul-de-sac.

She took off running down the white trail. Crunch crunch crunch. Morgan’s feet pattered on the gravel road. A lone runner waved to Morgan going the other direction. Then, another. Then a couple of runners. It was only then that Morgan noticed the runners were all wearing numbers. “Aha!” thought Morgan, “There must be a race.” Running the other direction, Morgan felt a bit out of place.

Many runners smiled and nodded at Morgan as they ran by. She returned the favor in kind. Morgan felt a familiar camaraderie with those who greeted her and were at home in the woods. They seemed to say “I am an outdoorsy person. I run in the woods. I recognize that you too are an outdoorsy person. You are running in the woods. Salutations member of my tribe.” It is a code that most outdoor adventurers seem to abide.

Morgan ran on, breathing in the fresh air and soaking up the calm of the forest. It felt good to get outside, away from the city. The stresses of grad school melted away with every breath Morgan took. She flitted through the woods. She enjoyed the ease of running down hills, and she marveled at patches of blooming daffodils.

At the bottom of the hill, Morgan crossed a small creek. She passed by an aid station. Indeed there was a race that day. The trail Morgan followed continued to the edge of the park’s boundaries. It was a little odd because it appeared as though there was once a system of mountain biking trails beyond the park. There were some broken posts declaring the walking vs biking trail. However, many downed trees blocked the paths. At the park’s boundary sign, Morgan turned around. Back to the aid station, she was bound.

The aid station volunteers were kind enough to share their water and snacks with Morgan. All the race runners had already passed that section. Morgan chatted amicably for a few minutes before moving on. Soon she came to an intersection of the white and red trail. Morgan decided to follow the red trail down along the creek. Her pace slowed to a walk. This section was crowded and rocky. Morgan welcomed the break. Her feet were starting to ache.

Near the mill ruins, the trail evened out. There were still many families hiking with children and dogs, but the path was wide enough that Morgan could jog by them. Morgan followed the red trail up to the visitor center. She took a long drink from the water fountain before rallying for the next stretch. Morgan encouraged herself, “Over half way there,” as she trotted on the thoroughfare.

Morgan jogged, back on the white trail. Over a tiny bridge, past a small group of teenagers, up a hill. Up another hill. Up even more hill. Until yes, she turned onto the green trail, which bisects the white. Bother! More hills. Morgan was paying for all that downhill she ran in the beginning. What goes down must come up, or so Morgan’s been told since she was only a few years old.

The green trail deposited Morgan back on the white trail, just shy of where she began. Morgan looked at her phone. According to Strava, she had a mile left to run. Crunch, crunch, crunch went the gravel under Morgan’s feet. She rounded a corner to see her car, but lo! She had a little farther left to go.

Morgan faithfully followed the white trail for that last half mile. She was thankful for the slight downward slope, but mindful of the fact she would have to walk back up it in a few minutes. Morgan checked her phone. A third of a mile left. Then a fourth. A tenth. Finally! Morgan hit eight miles. She slowed and turned back the way she came. As she walked she began to take stock.

Her legs were tired and shaking, her feet were somewhat aching. Her hair was a mess and her body was covered in sweat, yet on her face was a great big smile. She had just run the farthest she had ever run before! Morgan felt good. The exercise made her feel better, just like she knew it would.

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