HONEYMOON ISLAND STATE PARK
Three miles into a 5-mile run, stumbling up a rock-covered beach, straight into a 20-mph headwind, on one of the coldest days of the year, I decided there were easier ways to get an adventure fix. But just as I was about to stop, an 8-year-old who happens to have the same last name ran by chanting: "I think I can. I think I can. I think I can." When he realized that I had not picked up the pace, he coaxed. "Come on, Dad. Like The Little Engine that Could. I think I can. I think I can …" So I kept running, along with about 200 other maniacs, vowing never to do something so crazy again. But a half-hour later, after I had caught my breath, I decided that adventure or trail running was well worth the effort.
Around the bend
I've always been a hiker. There is nothing that I would rather do than take a walk in the woods. I've always been a runner. But there are dozens of things I'd rather do than run 2 or 3 miles along city streets.
The great thing about adventure runs, I discovered, is that they are never boring. The course is always unpredictable, like nature, so you never know what to expect.
For example, during last month's Kiwanis Club of Dunedin Adventure Run, the organizers started us off on a nice, hard-packed trail, then diverted us to soft sand that made my calves burn and my legs turn to jelly.
Hansel and Gretel
Part of the fun of an adventure run is traversing unfamiliar terrain. But if you are running, or in my case jogging slowly, through an area that has a network of trails, make sure you don't get lost.
Pick up a map at the park office. If no map is readily available, look for one the Internet. Try to do a little research before you set off into the woods. You don't have to leave a trail of bread crumbs, but at least be aware of your surroundings so you don't get lost.
Most state park trails are well-marked and ideal for beginners. A short trail, a mile or less in length, is perfect if you are just starting out. Run it once, and if you want more, go for another loop. If you feel particularly adventurous, combine one, two or three loops, to make a longer run. With dozens of trails in the Tampa Bay area, you won't run out of places to run.
Most trails will tear up regular running shoes. Trail running shoes or lightweight hikers are more durable and usually have greater cushioning support and sturdier soles to help protect your feet from rocks and roots.
Carry the same equipment you would on a day hike. If you are planning a long trail run, carry water, energy bars and standard safety equipment such as a signal mirror and/or whistle, as well as basic medical supplies, such as a blister kit. A compass, worn around the neck, is also a good idea.
When running in the woods, it is easy to loose track of time and distance. But keep your eyes open. Slow down. All it takes is one slippery root to send you tumbling down the trail. Every now and then, stop and listen. Most off-road trails are also used by mountain bikers. Don't worry about wildlife, unless you are running through bear country. If that is the case, bring a buddy. You'll never outrun a bear, but hopefully, you'll be faster than your friend.