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Return to Trail Running

Brian Kondas return to trail running

I take a day of rest on Saturday, and at 2 PM on Sunday, December 18, 2022, I feel good. So, I decide to return to Starkey Wilderness Park trails for a long run. My 80/20 marathon training plan is two hours and twenty minutes as follows:

  • 5 minutes in Zone 1 (110 bpm – 124 bpm)
  • 2 hours 15 minutes in Zone 2 (124 bpm – 138 bpm)

Trail Run Prep

It’s essential to stay hydrated and fueled during long runs. So I fill my Nathan hydration vest with 2 liters of Gatorade Endurance. Then pack four Spring Energy hill aid gels.

I wear gaiters on my New Balance shoes to prevent debris from entering my running shoes. In addition, I wear my Garmin Forerunner 55 watch to record my heart rate, pace, and time.

Entering Starkey Park

Several minutes past 3 PM, I drive through the entrance of Starkey Wilderness Park. The weather is clear, and the sun is somewhere behind me as I drive through the park. I turn around to find the sun and orient it with the entrance. 

The first time I ran at Starkey, I got lost. Now, I see the sun will set in the direction of the park entrance.

Trail Running Plan

My long run will start and finish at the Corral parking lot. I plan to turn left at the “Day Use” sign instead of turning right to the “Primitive 2” camp. Then find a route back to the Corral parking lot. After returning to the Corral, I would go back out for a final loop.

My First Loop

The temperature is a cool 66 degrees as I start my long trail run. I follow the guided training plan on my Garmin watch. In the first five minutes, I slow down to keep my heart rate below 124 bpm. After that, I keep a slow pace with my heart rate below 130 bpm for the first 23 minutes.

At 2.8 miles, I encounter flooded trails. Hugging the side of the path, I can keep my shoes dry as I skirt the edge of the water. Sometimes I have to enter the forest to find dry land and walk around the flooded trail.

At 3.3 miles, I reach the crossroads. As planned, I turn left to “Day Use.” Soon after, I confront a series of flooded trails. Searching for a path to cross and keep my shoes dry, I walk through burnt palms. The sharp edge of one plant cuts my right leg above the knee. “Ouch!” I say.

Spartan Up!

A mile later, I stop at a water crossing. The trail is completely flooded on all sides. Then I tell myself, “Spartan up!” and walk into the ankle-deep waters. On the other side, I run in cold-soaked shoes.

Next, I approach a water hole with a flock of blackbirds encircling it. Bravely, I step into the flood, and it’s much deeper. The water is two feet deep, and my shoes sink into the mud. I slip and momentarily lose my balance. 

Regaining my footing, I pull my shoes out of the mud and across the wet trail. It feels like running through Florida swamps at the Spartan Beast.

Finding My Way Back

After a few more water crossings, I finally see a “Return” sign and recognize I’ve been here before! Feeling confident that I found the return hiking trail, my heart rate stays below 130 bpm.

At 6.2 miles (10 kilometers), I take a different route back to the Corral parking lot. Turning right at the 3-mile loop, I enter new territory. Ahead of me, I see a young man and woman walking. Excited about the new route, I pick up my pace and elevate my heart rate slightly.

Finally, I see a familiar path and run towards the Corral parking lot. I made it back!

The Second Loop

Looking at my Garmin watch, I have run 7.67 miles in 1:22:00. Having just under an hour left, I plan to run 30 minutes out and turn around. I rest for about a minute, then head out.

Three minutes before I turn around, I need to defecate. Along the side of the tail, I find a log. Stepping over it, I squat down and expel a small turd. At 1:53:00, I turn around.

Wrong Turn

At about 2:14:00 (12.4 miles), I pass the “TH-8” sign on my right and continue straight. Six minutes later, I come to a crossroads, and a “Return” sign points right. I keep going straight.

Two minutes later, I approach a road. Cars speed past. “That’s not right,” I say and turn around. Concerned I’m lost, I accelerate and run faster.

Back at the “Return” sign, go in that direction. I see yellow-orange trailblazes on tree trunks. That color looks different from the orange hiking trailblazes. Then I discover I’m on the horse trail.

Seven minutes later, I’m at another crossroads. Looking around, I see multiple paths. Which way do I go? Then, I decide to backtrack and return to the way I came.

The Final Return

Running back to the “Return” sign for the third time, I turn left and head back the way I came. Glancing down at my watch, I only have ten minutes until the gates close at 6 PM. I need to run my fastest!

Having run 14 miles, I must summon all my speed for one final push. At 14.3 miles, I sprint with a fast cadence of 170 and a heart rate of 150. Anxiously, I run, scanning the left side of the trail for the “TH-8” sign.

Finally, I see it and turn left – excited to find the “TH-8” sign, my heart races to 164 bpm. I step through the deep sandy trail, running as fast as possible.

At mile 15, the trail is dark. Then I run past an opening in the tree line. I see a spectacular orange sunset reflecting off a lake. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. I remember seeing this lake before, so I’m on the right path!

My Trail Run Ends

I follow the trail into pitch darkness. The trees form a canopy blocking out the light. I boldly run into this dark tunnel.

Looking down where I step, I can see nothing. So, I slightly reduce my speed, and my cadence drops to 150 spm (the average for this run). Stepping through the darkness, I can not see the ground.

Finally, I see the wooden fence of the horse corral. At the end of the path, lights shine on cars in a parking lot. As I reach the Corral Parking lot, I stop my Garmin watch and check the time. It’s exactly 6 PM.

Starkey Park Gate

I completed 15.6 miles in 2:41:17 with an average pace of 10:19 min/mile. This result is very similar to my first trail run at Starkey Wilderness Park.

Quickly, I get in my car and start driving out of the park. When I reach the main road, I stop at crossroads and select GPS directions to my home. Then I follow the GPS down the dark street.

The car in front of me drives very slowly and almost comes to a stop at the speed bumps. It’s past 6 PM, and the gate might be closed.

Finally, I see the headlights of a parked truck ahead. As we approach, I see the park ranger standing by the gate, ready to close it. I drive through, exiting Starkey Wilderness Park.

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