Trail Running - experience in making and running on my own trail

I took two weeks off of work in July and spent it at our family house in Westfield, NY.

The property is ~140 acres, most of it different types of woods, although it does include 2 ponds (one a beaver pond), a large bog, and a few creeks. It was my goal to create a looped trail through the woods for running -- my very own private paradise.

This path would be great for running, and it would open up the land for easier access on foot for everyone else in the family.

In the end I needed to create the loop slightly shorter than anticipated (planned 1.8 miles) due to the length of the bog, and the sheer size of the undertaking. My wife, kids, and Dad helped out significantly.

If you're interested in seeing how it looks, the photo album is here.

What we used:

  1. Stihl Brushwacker with metal blade
  2. Craftsman 18" Chainsaw
  3. Bolt Cutters
  4. Rake
  5. Push Lawn Mower (high horse power)
  6. Glove, hear protection, eye protection.
  7. Polymer fluorescent tape (for marking the trail, and moving the desired paths before completed).
  8. Our hands (to move branches, logs, boulders, etc.)

What we created:

  1. One 10 foot bridge over a larger creek.
  2. 1.3 mile trail looping through grassland/shrubbery (skirting the beaver pond), through a straight line of pines planted many years ago by my grandfather. It continues to skirt right next to the bog (giving a view to a different type of flora and fauna than you'd normally see), progresses into a beech and cherry tree laden forest, changing quickly into a densely populated Maple tree area, finishing with a run through shrubbery, ending back at the creek.

Lessons Learned while building it:

  1. Planning is the difficult mental step. I can't count the number of times we walked between our destination and origin points trying to map out the best possible path. It also pays off being confident that the path you're clearing will be the one you want to keep. You don't want to redo any section if you can help it.
  2. Clearing the trail is tedious manual labor but incredibly rewarding. You're creating order out of chaos.
  3. Poison Ivy sucks. Ask my son about his finger blisters.
  4. A camelback full of water will keep your going for a few hours more than you would have otherwise and mitigates many of the back and forth trips to the house (which was at minimum .2 miles away).
  5. Bolt cutters are essential. If you're going to want to run on the path, things need to be as flat to the ground as possible. It's hard to do, especially in areas with many small saplings, roots, or the best combination, saplings growing from roots!
  6. Prepare to fall a few times, and bruise those arches.  The new trail you build won't be as smooth as those established in parks.
  7. Being in the woods for hours at a time is fun for the whole family. The kids helped out, built forts, became little explorers, for stretches of as long as 5 hours. It was fantastic to see and hear the things they'd done while they weren't contributing (except for finding green seas of poison ivy).
  8. Building the trail is exhausting and time consuming, making it difficult to get the energy up to run. It is great cross training though.

It's hard to say exactly how long the process took (planning, plotting, walking, cutting, clearing, etc.), but I think between the three adults (not counting my day dreaming of the route), it was about 60 man hours.

Lessons Learned while running on it:

  1. Smallish sapling stumps will bruise the hell out of your arch.
  2. Stumps, no matter how low you cut them, can still find a way to trip you. Especially covered in leaves.
  3. Falling on the trail doesn't hurt as much as you'd think (so far!)
  4. There is serenity in knowing the only thing you're going to cross on your expedition are animals. No bikers, no runners, no walkers, no cars. It's just you and your thoughts (and sometimes the stumps).
  5. For very rough trails, you need protection. If I had run on the trail barefoot I would be in the hospital two or three times over. The small saplings about an inch off the ground would puncture the sole of the my feet. The few stumbles I've taken would have resulted in serious lacerations. All of this happened while I was paying as much attention as I possibly could to the trail. I wasn't day dreaming, I was focusing on running light, picking up my feet, and avoiding any problem areas. It's made me realize that there are just some things which heavier minimalist shoes, with their increased sole, are intended for -- technical trail running.

In the week after trail was finished, I managed to run about 30 loops (~40 miles on it), falling twice, and bruising my arch twice. Not awful all things considered. The next week I ran 50 miles on it and had no more incidents.

Have you ever built a trail, or ran on a trail a friend has built? How have you handled the difficulties?