(This 1052nd Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on May 22, 2011.)
My jogging career many years ago lasted only about a month. I simply got tired of running on asphalt and over the same route day after day. I felt that I might just as well have run in circles in my own driveway.
That's my excuse for starting my slow spiral down through hiking, then bike riding and finally riding mopeds and a motorscooter.
But today's runners have at least a partial answer to my problem. I first discovered this in 1996 when Rich Shear of Wellsville walked with me over part of the route of their annual October Ridge Walk and Run. This was no urban or suburban excursion. Rich took me through delightful fall scenery with spectacular views. The maples were in full color. We covered only one of the shorter routes; the others he assured me were equally impressive. This was really a cross-country challenge quite unlike my neighborhood jog or those marathons along level city streets. There were in fact steep inclines where I had to pause to get my breath back before continuing. I could not imagine running that same route, but by now thousands have done so over the years.
When Shear and I went on that hike, the Wellsville run was only in its fourth year. This year October 16th will mark its 19th.
Now others offer similar mostly off-road running (or walking) challenges.
This year will mark the 5th Annual Woods Walk and Trail Run sponsored by the Pfeiffer Nature Center. Theirs is a spring outing, this year's to coincide with National Trails Day, Saturday, June 4.
What is great about these events is the range of activities. A confirmed runner looking for a challenge at Pfeiffer can enter what the event sponsors call "the really rugged" 10.3 mile event, but in addition there are a 10K trail that also includes "plenty of challenges" and a more moderate 5K trail. Walkers meanwhile have alternatives that range from a stroll of less than a mile through 5K and 10K walks. Thus various aspects of the program can serve an entire family. And beyond the walks and runs there is a rich program of entertainment and food. And the park itself is always worth a visit with its designated Old Growth trees.
The Pfeiffer Nature Center is located on Yubadam Road in Portville, which is about 20 miles southeast of Olean. You can gain additional information about registration (limited to 300) by calling the Pfeiffer Nature Center at (716) 933-0187, or by logging onto the Woods Walk website at www.woodswalk.net.
I now find (a bit late) that the Pfeiffer Woods Walk and Run is the third of eight runs in this year's Eastern Grip Trail Running Series. The appropriately named Muddy Sneaker run was through the high tor area near Naples on April 16. Some of its ads - "rocks, roots, snow, ice, crawling over and under logs" - suggest that this race fit the self-flaggelating category of those mid-winter swims among ice floes. The Allegany Adventure Run on May 7 took runners through the park back when, you probably recall, it still seemed like winter.
The upcoming races in this series include:
The Ellicottville 4-mile and 12-mile Ultra Trail Runs on August 7, with over 1200 feet of altitude change.
The 14-mile Dam-Good Trail Run through Letchworth Park on August 21 ends up at the dam of the title.
The Eight in the Rough Trail Run follows the trails of Sprague Brook Park in Glenwood for eight miles. It will be held on September 18.
Then on October 3 will be the Out of Bounds Trail Half Marathon and 10K runs through what I always remember as those near vertical Bristol Hills. Anyone interested in participating in this or indeed any of these other races should watch the video of this one at www.roadsarepoison.com/outofbounds.html. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry as I watched runners slipping and sliding across creeks, around rocks and fences, up and down steep hills -- and yet finishing happy.
The final race in the series is the Wellsville Ridgewalk and Trail Run on October 16.