LEE HORTON’S OUTDOORS COLUMN: Trail runner’s paradise

By Lee Horton

Peninsula Daily News

Port Angeles is on the national map for trail runners.

The town was featured in the October 2012 issue of Trail Runner magazine as one of the “8 Best Trail Towns.”

Though Port Angeles receives all the credit, the honor really goes to just about every town surrounding Olympic National Park.

Trail running is essentially what its name indicates: running on trails.

But not entirely.

“At least one-third of trail running is actually walking,” Greg McCormack, a trail runner who lives in Sequim and was quoted in the Trail Runner article, told me.

“There are some sections that no one on planet earth could run. You can’t get a good foothold without walking.”

So, trail running isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds.

Unless you do it the way McCormack does.

He ran all 600 miles of trails in Olympic National Park, a feat that took him five summers and 1,100 miles to complete.

He had a running partner for a few years, but most of the time he was running solo.

Which created what most of us would consider a logistical nightmare.

But the planning was one of McCormack’s favorite parts.

He studied topographical maps of a specific trail a few weeks in advance of running it.

Then, he would plan a place to park his car or plant a bike, or arrange with a friend to pick him up so he would have a way to get back home when he finished his run.

Sometimes he planted a bike, rode it to his parked car and then drove home.

Other times he peddled his bike and caught a bus home.

“You can see how complicated it can get,” McCormack said.

All this planning was necessary because one thing lacking in the 600 miles of trails in the national park are loop trails.

Most trails don’t end at the same place they begin.

McCormack’s preparation also had to include what to bring with him on his runs that typically lasted 10 to 15 hours.

The key ingredients to his runs were warmth, water and calories.

He would pack a basic first aid kit, a whistle, a fold-out shelter and a flashlight with batteries.

He didn’t bring a backpack, but did have a Camelbak with a bladder full of water.

The food he brought was important.

McCormack usually packed things like a “monster” burrito with potatoes, eggs, salsa and cheese; a high-calorie fruit smoothie; Power Bars and trail mix.

“Food is energy,” he said. “You have to know exactly how your body metabolizes [certain] foods.”

McCormack said the trick is maintaining enough energy so you don’t “bonk,” which he compares to a whimpering dog walking with its tail between its legs.

That energy is needed to calculate each of the tens of thousands of steps you will take. A fatigued brain can lead to a missed step.

“I’m not allowed to trip,” McCormack said.

“That’s my motto: no tripping.”

McCormack also plans for disaster, though he goes out of his way to avoid it.

He’ll even give up and turn around if necessary.

“I always err on the side of safety,” he said.

McCormack said he tells two people his route, and gives them a specific time to call for a search party if he hasn’t returned.

Usually that rescue time is the afternoon following his start because he estimates he can hobble out with walking sticks at a 1-mile-per-hour pace.

Don’t let all this tough-talk discourage you from giving trail running a try.

It doesn’t have to be this intense; you don’t have to be Greg McCormack to be a trail runner.

“For getting into it, just go for a walk [on a trail] and see which stretches you could run,” McCormack said.

The peak time for trail running in the national park is short, lasting from June or July to September or October, due to snow.

Throughout the rest of the year, though, you can run in the lowland areas on the North Olympic Peninsula, such as the Miller Peninsula, Olympic Discovery Trail and around Lake Crescent.

This is also a good way to prepare for running the mountains in the summer.

McCormack calls this, “Training for the Olympics.”

The only drawbacks to running in the spring and winter are mud and cold temperatures.

“I don’t mind mud,” McCormack said.

“You just need to have a pair of shoes you don’t mind getting muddy.”

As for the cold, “all you need is a hot shower to come home to,” he said.

McCormack said trail running is more than good exercise.

It is also a way to get to know the national park because it allows you to see more than just the easy-to-get-to areas of the park.

“Trail running [is] an activity that allows [area] residents to take in more of their amazing backyard while experiencing the feel-good endorphins in the process of getting on trails they normally wouldn’t get on,” McCormack said in an email.

“[And] all without a huge backpack.”

The Trail Runner article recommends three trails to run: Barnes Creek, Grand Ridge and High Divide Loop.

It also serves as a tourist’s guide for trail runners, recommending Sol Duc Hot Springs, sunrise drives on Ediz Hook, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge and Rialto Beach.

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Outdoors columnist Lee Horton appears here Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5152 or at lhorton@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 28. 2012 5:58PM
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