Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Run Less Taken (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

My favorite quote in this story is "it's like discovering running all over again".

- SD

The run less taken

Uncrowded trails through woods are a natural for a relaxing jaunt

Posted: Oct. 16, 2005

La Grange - Jenny Bichler had a skeptical look on her face, and for good reason.

The wind made her shiver, the smell from the pit toilets made her cringe and the plan to run 13 miles through the woods made her nervous. Plus, having all this fun required her to get out of bed on a gray Saturday morning, earlier than she would for work.

At that moment, Bichler was starting to think her friends had been right about the craziness of this experiment with a new physical pursuit: trail running.

But her anxiety couldn't keep pace with Ray Scolavino's enthusiasm.

"You're going to be feeling great, and at the end, you're going to want to do it again," Scolavino assured Bichler, his classmate in a Badgerland Striders program for beginner trail runners.

Scolavino has the evangelical devotion of the newly converted.

(Badgerland Striders Jenny Bichler (left), Ray Scolavino and Jeff Weiss share the Nordic Trails outside of La Grange - Photo by Tom Lynn)

Trail running has been a revelation for the 40-year-old college teacher, who competed in short road races for 20 years.

"Trail running is a whole different style of running that I didn't even know how to do," he said. "It's like discovering running all over again."

A torn Achilles tendon pushed Scolavino off the roads and onto the trails about four years ago. He quickly embraced the new path for his old sport for the same reasons that others prefer the dirt over the pavement.

It's easier on his body and better for his mind.

"You really just get lost out there," Scolavino said. "I could think about things, as opposed to being distracted by cars and noise. I could relax."

It's that same sort of immersion therapy that draws Kathy Ableidinger onto the trails.

"It takes you 100 percent away from your reality in life," said the 31-year-old from Greenfield. "It takes you away from all your stresses. Living in a big city, we tend not to do that as much as we could or we should."

Ableidinger is an ultra-marathoner who often runs the hills at Lapham Peak near Delafield.

She calls the Nordic Trails near La Grange her favorite among the trail-running options in this part of the state.

That's where Scolavino and Bichler had gathered on a recent Saturday morning for their run as part of the Badgerland Striders program.

Veteran runner Marty Malin leads the seven-week session, guiding new runners and those looking to improve with tips on technique, equipment and nutrition.

Malin coaches the runners to slow down and encourages most to walk, rather than run, up steep hills.

Even while walking, trail runners build leg strength and maintain elevated heart rates.

On the downhills, Malin reminds his pupils to take small steps and sometimes follow a serpentine path to reduce their forward momentum. He cautions them not to dig in their heels on the slopes, unless they prefer to skid downward on their backsides.

Standard running shoes are sufficient on most of the trails in the nearby state forests and county parks, but trail shoes provide more protection from rocks and roots and a bit more stability.

Ableidinger straps a type of cleat onto her shoes for running in winter, while another veteran trail runner, Tim Zens, puts screws into the soles of his shoes to improve traction.

Zens, 49, is a former bicycle racer who completed his first running marathon, the Lakefront Marathon, on Oct. 2 in Milwaukee.

He logged most of his long training miles on the Ice Age Trail in Waukesha County and on the trails in the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

The Scuppernong Trails, near Eagle, and the loops outside of Greenbush in the Northern Kettle are among his favorites.

The various hiking and cross-country skiing trails throughout the state forest have loops ranging from roughly two miles to nine, with the option of mixing and matching hills and flats for long and short runs.

The Ice Age Trail, which winds through both areas of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, draws groups of trail runners.

They are a mix of hard-core endurance athletes, like Ableidinger; those just trying to stay in shape, like Zens; and cross-country skiers training for the coming season, like Greg Wyder.

"It combines two passions," said Wyder, a 56-year-old Shorewood resident. "I love to run and I love to spend time out in the woods.

"You always come away from it feeling refreshed and relaxed."

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