Saturday, 23 April 2011

Torrekulla trail

On schedule this morning was an 18-km trail run together with the group. I need to get in more trail runs, in order to prepare for this summer's goals. I'm rubbish at trail running. And that was one reason why I changed my mind at the last minute and went for a run by myself instead. The others in the group are more seasoned runners than I am. I am slow and get tired easily - I would only hold them back. So I decided to run Torrekullaleden.

Torrekullaleden is a loop trail that lies within the boundaries of a nature reserve. I've run this trail once before, last summer. It's a technically challenging trail: hilly, uneven, with lots of roots and stones, but also with lush fir woods and beautiful lake vistas. It is popular with all sorts of outdoor enthusiasts; mountain bikers, especially, seem to enjoy the challenges it poses.

I could tell from the start that it was going to be a tough run. It was pretty warm, even at 9.30 in the morning, and despite wearing shorts and a t-shirt, the heat got to me directly. I had chosen to wear my compression socks, partly to protect my calves against stray bush branches and low vegetation, and partly because they did a good job of keeping my legs fresh last time.

To get to the trail, I had to run a couple of kilometres on tarmac. After a few more kilometres, Torrekullaleden leaves the prepared forest path and turns wild. I was immediately greeted by a mud pool that always seems to be there, no matter what the weather has been like. Little did I know then that this mud pool was only a fraction of what was to come later.

Leaves covered the path, concealing the stones that lay below. I jumped enthusiastically, yet carefully between patches of bare ground. More mud pools followed. I avoided them by running around them. I was having a lot of fun, but I was focused on the ground right before me.

I stopped often to take pictures. At one point, a mountain biker went past me and said hello. I crossed a small creek, right before coming to the top of a steep descending part. I walked down it, not willing to risk slipping on the stones that were hidden under the blanket of autumn leaves.

I then came to my favourite part of the route. Thousands of wood anemones covered the ground, making it seem like it had just snowed, if it weren't for the splashes of green in between the flowers. Spring was in full bloom here; flower power indeed.

After taking some pictures, I started running again. I came to a crossroads and turned right. I should have known better; I may only have run this route once before, but I've walked it several times and I should have turned left. I ran a couple of hundred meters in the wrong direction, and if my memory of places hadn't been as good as it is, I would have ended up 20 km south of where I live. I called J to make sure I was running in the wrong direction, because I didn't want to have to run back and realise that it had been the right direction after all. He confirmed what I suspected. That cost me an extra half kilometre. Not that much of a detour, really, but it cost me more psychologically. It turned out that it was all downhill from here (only figuratively speaking, unfortunately).

I met another jogger, who had stopped in order to circumvent a mud pool. I ran past him only to stop a hundred meters further, where yet another mud pool was blocking the way. This was becoming a serious problem for me. Not only did it interrupt my flow, but some water had found its way into my shoes and was happily creating a blister-friendly environment. I wished I was wearing my VFF. Still, nature was embracing me with its warm colours and I was willing to forgive the little detail that THE TRAIL WAS A MUDDY MESS.

A creek was now flowing right between two steep hills, one of which I naturally had to run downwards. I knew from previous experience that it was tough. Last time, thorny bushes covered the trail and clawed at me, making my legs look like I had run through barbed wire. This time, the bushes were tamer, but the trail itself was nothing more than a dried up brook bank. Did I just write ”dried up”? Scratch that. It was wet. And slippery. And walking down it didn't help. I still sank two decimetres into the mud, turning my pristine white Kayanos grey.

What goes down must come up. I ascended up the other side, stumbling on the roots and almost twisting my foot in the process. I had some choice words for this trail, and they weren't kind. A scenario popped in my mind now and then where I twisted my ankle and had to suffer in agony alone until help came, or worse still, knocked my head on a stone. There weren't many people around. Who knows how long it would take until someone found me? Hours. Maybe days. And by then, I would have been eaten by hungry roe deer. Never mind that they're vegetarian. I could see the headlines before me: "Runner on a 16-km trail run gets eaten by deer, a hundred metres from civilisation".

Stopping to rest a couple of thousand times, I somehow made it out of the forest for the short part of Torrekullaleden that runs alongside a golf course. It is pretty there, what with the finely clipped grass and the funny-dressed Republicans, but it's beauty is drastically diminished by the fact that it neighbours a motocross track. These devil's machines roared angrily, the noise echoing in the hills surrounding the golf course. I wondered how they got permission to build the track there, so close to a nature reserve.

I left the golf cart road and turned back into the woods and their silence. I knew that there wasn't much left now. Running downhill strained my knees, running uphill made my thighs burn with lactic acid. And it was either downhill or uphill. There were brief parts where the trail was even, but they were few and in between.

Finally, I was back on familiar ground. The lake where I often go running, the well-trodden path that shines in its lack of tricky stones and slippery roots, the crowds of fair-weather joggers and walkers. I pushed on despite my tiredness, choosing to complete the Torrekullaleden loop instead of turning right and taking a short cut home. I left the woods and the nature reserve. My feet hit tarmac. Suddenly, it was easy again. Suddenly, my technique was better, my thighs felt fresh, my breathing was easier. My tempo increased. I was thirsty. I had drunk the last couple of sips of the water I had taken with me a few kilometres back and, worryingly, even mud pools now looked appetizing. After an even 20 kilometres, I was home, covered in mud and slightly sun kissed. It had been one of the toughest runs of my life.