By fragility_v2 via Flickr
Tired of running the same old route in Austin? Find out about different local trails through The Horn's Eddie Laughlin's experiences.
I hated running. Hate might be an unnecessary emotion, considering running is unable to hate me back. It probably isn’t responsible to bypass the entire spectrum of human feeling and settle casually at ‘murderous rage’ over something as agreeable as exercise. I suppose I could work on my anger. I once read a study in Grow Up Magazine that suggested running is ‘good for you’ and helps ‘keeps you alive’, which I considered a flagrant example of misguided journalism for which someone should be fired and maybe even shot.
Maybe the word I’m looking for is ‘silly.’ I always considered the act of recreational running to be very silly and entirely dumb and an equally terrible and awful thing. And then one day, seemingly out of no where, I was driving my ’97 Ford Expedition, and I looked down and could not locate my seatbelt strap, and after a few confusing seconds, I noticed, with a healthy level of horror, that my stomach fat had successfully swallowed it.
And then running became my new best friend.
It was slow going at first, literally, because I was a disgusting human, but also because I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t buy any of the necessary equipment, like running shoes and athletic shorts, nor did I bother to map out a proper route. I just sort of staggered out of the house one day and began jogging aimlessly down the street, wearing some seriously tattered Reeboks and carrying - I’m not kidding - a portable cd player, while holding my left arm as still as possible to mitigate the skipping.
That was seven years ago. I’ve figured out a few things since then. For one, I bought an Ipod, because Jesus Christ, Eddie. I also started purchasing running shoes from the Running section, utilizing their squishiness for 4-6 months before exchanging them for a fresh pair. These things are important. And when I’m not at the gym using the torture pad they call a treadmill, I take advantage of Austin’s local trails and parks.
When I first moved to West Campus, I made the dubious decision of running through the neighborhood. It wasn’t long before I noticed that most of the cars were actively trying to murder my body. I Yelped the nearest trail and found the Shoal Creek Hike and Bike Trail located off North Lamar, putting the entrance a paltry mile from my apartment. I like Shoal Creek. It’s no Town Lake, but for what it is – a trail running parallel with West Campus – it serves a much-needed purpose. I always enter at Lamar and 30th, veering left to begin what I imagine to be a three-mile loop. The terrain changes often, alternating from cement, to dirt, to rock, and finally gravel before hitting a small loop around a playground and repeating the whole thing over.
The rock section can be dangerous, most notably the part where you’re running on rocks, but it forces you to alter your style of running as you leap to patches of forgiving dirt, which, I suppose, is interesting. The trail also has a few moderate hills for the more experienced runner. The interior is the most scenic stretch, boasting thick, sprawling trees that create a mile long canopy of much appreciated shade. All in all, Shoal Creek is pleasant and convenient, perfect for any student.
On days when I want to get out and enjoy a long run, I head to Gus Fruh Trail, which drops you right smack in the middle of the Greenbelt. The entrance point is nestled in a quiet neighborhood just off South Lamar. The trail is relatively narrow, and the terrain changes constantly, making it a challenge for even the more experienced runner. There are far less people crowding the path than in the busier parks, and the entire trail runs parallel with a creek, allowing several spots to convince yourself that swimming burns just as many calories as running even though your idea of swimming is sitting with your legs crossed and Instagraming.
The nice thing about this trail is that you can choose the route. The entire length of the Greenbelt is fourteen miles, so you can take in the scenery with a light two-miler, or train for your next marathon by completing the loop. A lot of people I know like to enter at the Loop 360 entrance, which, fine, this is America and people can enter the Greenbelt anyway they like, but Gus Fruh has a more private feel to it, so you can avoid all of the people that you hate- which is everyone. Plus it drops you off closer to the water. Also, every time I’m here, I come dangerously close to colliding with a mountain biker, the result of which would be certain death. So keep your eyes open.
It has been over a year since I lived in West Campus, and I don’t always have time to get to the Greenbelt (not entirely accurate), so like most Austin runners, Town Lake trail has kind of become my home base. The way to approach Town Lake is based entirely on personal preference. There are a ton of parking spots and entrance points and loops that range from “This is nice!” to “Just kill me now this was a mistake and where’s the water when I need it RunTex? I see you put it at the beginning and the end but where is it when I’m really thirsty, RunTex???” That’s you. Here’s a rundown of my typical Town Lake experience, and you can decide for yourself whether or not it sounds fun.
I always park at Auditorium Shores on South 1st, across the street from your favorite place, RunTex. I try to arrive before 4:30pm on weekdays to avoid the post-work runners. Parking can be an issue if you go at the wrong time, a problem I have encountered on more than one occasion.
I usually eat a light meal and drink a cup or two of water about an hour before the run. I had never followed the general rules for fueling and hydration. For reasons unexplainable to anyone, I thought my body didn’t require the basic tools for survival. Like I was better without water? I’m not sure. Anyway, hydrate yourself and feed yourself. You’ll be able to sustain a steady pace for much longer. Plus sweating out freshly consumed water is a great way to rid your body of its Saturday night toxins.
I’ve heard differing opinions on the subject of stretching. Some say the act of running naturally stretches your legs and core and no preliminary stretching is needed. In my opinion, this only applies to long distance runners (6+ miles) who stay at an even pace for most of the run, increasing speed gradually as they see fit. For most people, a quick two to five minute stretch is usually a good idea. No one wants to pull something while jogging. That’s embarrassing. Although, I use to have this fantasy where I saw an injured girl on the trail and after I scolded her for not properly stretching I took off my shirt and carried her to the emergency room and she was like ‘I just cramped up a little why are we even here?’ and I’m like ‘Shhh…I saved you.’
After a short stretch by the rusty pull up bars straight out of HBO’s “Oz” I start my run, winding westward along the gravel path and passing the spot where the dogs congregate before picking up my pace and maxing out my music, mentally preparing myself for the assault the sun is about to unleash on my body. I make my way through the foliage-covered path. Even on densely populated days the wide trail is easy to navigate, and I weave effortlessly through the mountain bikers and the walkers, taking particular care to avoid children and pets. The last thing I need in my life is to punt someone’s kid off a cliff. I typically cross at the small pedestrian bridge that leads into Zilker Park, or, if I’m feeling a little crazy, I’ll jog the extra quarter-mile past the bridge and down to Barton Springs’ free area and watch people do illegal things. I cross the pedestrian bridge and take a right, passing the duck/geese beach and an inevitable aroma of skunk before starting up the winding cement hill. A couple looks out from underneath the Lou Neff Point Gazebo. One mile gone.
After the brunt of the hill is over, the rest of mile two consists of a gradual upward climb. There’s a small spike where I cross the mini train tracks, and mile two ends at the Mopac pedestrian bridge. There is a pit stop for water, courtesy of RunTex, and the views of the Colorado River – especially to the west - are worth your attention. Half way done. The last two miles are relatively tame, hill-wise. After a short stretch along Cesar Chavez the path takes a tree-lined detour back to the river, where the Texas Rowing Center is never without clients. The trail eventually leads back to the road and past an abandoned building where there’s a final abbreviated pedestrian bridge. After this you have the option of either continuing underneath the South First bridge or crossing back over to Auditorium Shores which, if you decide to take this route, which I almost always do, this will be your last grueling hill.
Two minutes later I’m back where I started, pouring water into my face and contemplating how critical my sunburn is going to be, except I’m actually in an ambulance and George Clooney is needling me with an IV and the hospital machine is going beeeeeep and George O’Malley says “Clear!” because I’m dead.
Enjoy your run!