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Dave LeGarde: Chester Bowl experiment brings new adventure

When it comes to running, I've always preferred the road to any other surface. Perhaps the simplicity makes it attractive. It's not hard to find a good route, though the condition of our city's streets has raised my level of caution.

When it comes to running, I've always preferred the road to any other surface. Perhaps the simplicity makes it attractive. It's not hard to find a good route, though the condition of our city's streets has raised my level of caution.

A recent injury got me thinking about the routine I've been following for so long. The effects of pounding the pavement have begun to take their toll. It's been long overdue to give something different a try.

Biking has been a reasonable alternative, but the monotonous pedaling makes time pass slowly as the mind drifts. It's still enjoyable, but not something I want to use as a primary tool for getting daily exercise.

I play golf as often as possible, but, though walking hills can be taxing, it doesn't provide the results of a cardio workout. (Not that it doesn't take an effort, especially when one is prone to scattering tee shots all over the course.)

For the past few years, I've hiked around Chester Bowl while runners traversing its paths would maneuver around me in a steady stream. I never paid much attention to them, other than to return a brief wave or step out of the way.

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Friends had often prodded me to give trail running a try. I've heard many positive explanations of the benefits. A great workout, not as hard on the body, a nice change of pace and beautiful scenery were among the attractions.

Other tales, unfortunately, served as deterrents. Stories of sprained ankles, nasty falls, mud bogs and ticks made me apprehensive about getting started. While the encouragement was appreciated, I planned to stick with the comfort of the road.

Injuries, however, can change one's thinking in a hurry. While training for this year's Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, a lower back problem put me on the shelf. With just one short run to my credit in the three weeks leading up to the race, I managed to shuffle my way to the finish.

In retrospect, I realized that back ailment was the crowning jewel of several maladies that had plagued my training. A sore knee, a tight quad and a throbbing Achilles tendon had hobbled me throughout the spring. It was time for a change.

A short time later, after watching an inspiring story about trail running on one of the outdoor-adventure channels, I decided to give it a chance.

The initial foray was, to say the least, a disaster. I was ill-prepared, both mentally and physically, and felt completely out of my element for the entire 30 minutes. I ended up walking the final quarter mile, sure it was my last run through Chester Bowl.

My first problem was footwear. Being a novice, I mistakenly thought my spongy road shoes would be sufficient. Big mistake. Right from the start, my feet turned awkwardly with every step not landing on level ground. It was uncomfortable, painful and dangerous.

I also had no traction. Uphill and downhill slopes had me sliding out of control, and it was all I could do to keep from tumbling sideways. Eventually, I became completely exhausted just trying to move forward. Muscles ached from head to toe.

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After taking a few days off to think, I decided to make another attempt after doing some research. I must have been missing something, as too many people had given the sport such rave reviews.

A trip to a local running store helped considerably, as an expert salesperson found me proper trail shoes. I could feel the difference immediately, and I was excited to get back to the woods.

I also received sensible advice from a friend, who told me to slow down and enjoy the adventure. Ignorance had made me think I should be running at the same speed as on the road.

The next journey was much easier. I took the four miles at a methodical, yet vigorous, pace. The new shoes provided much more support, giving me confidence while making contact with tree roots and crooked rocks.

I've since grown to love running trails, and now I wish I'd started years before. While it took some time to get accustomed to using new muscles, my stamina has increased each time.

Next Saturday, the Minnesota Voyageur Trail Ultra takes place. This 50-mile race follows trails and dirt roads from Carlton to Lake Superior Zoo and back.

After struggling through runs just a fraction of that distance, I can't imagine what a challenging task it must be. Good luck to those participating.

Budgeteer sports columnist Dave LeGarde is the Duluth Central basketball coach and a sports aficionado.

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