Saturday’s Sycamore Trail Quiz

NOTE: These are now called “story problems.” I write these to procrastinate and amuse/annoy my friends.

At 6:30 a.m., geeky Professor Sprout starts running from the top of Graylin Drive, turns left on Sycamore Trail, and runs the loop clockwise, clearing spiderwebs for lazy latecomers who sleep in (ahem!).

At 7:15, one curmudgeonly English dude parks at the Top Car Park and starts running the stick part of the lollipop, hitting the Sycamore loop to run counterclockwise.

The plant geek is distracted by beautiful Atamasco lily (above), deadly poisonous mountain laurel, and other plant delights, and must stop to collect leaves for coaching Science Olympiad along the way.

At what point do these two Peeps intersect?

A) Bottom of Graylin Drive.

B) Professor Sprout gets distracted by plants, trips over roots, and busts butt. English dude finds her lying on ground with sprained ankle along Sycamore Creek, happily photographing some lovely bluets on the ground.

C) Sprout and English dude never intersect, because Sprout runs so doggone fast on trails and is long gone before he starts. [hint: no part of this answer is correct]

D) Sprout and English dude never intersect, because Sprout gets lost.

E) Sprout and English dude crash on the steep, switch-backed hill going up toward the Bridle Trail. English dude rolls down the hill into Sycamore Creek. Sprout shouts at him not to damage any plants on his way down.

F) On the flat-ish stretch next to the Horse and Bridle Trail new parking lot.

G) On the road coming in from the Visitor’s Center that splits Sycamore Trail.

H) Sprout is waiting for English dude when he starts his run from the Top Car Park. Slowpoke.

Hint: Sprout ends up finishing her run with a tempo/sprint up the Graylin Drive hill to make it to Science Olympiad in time. Reaches broomstick at 8:00 am sharp.

Need a map of Umstead Park to figure it out?

Traversing the Landscape

When our family moved to Phoenix in 2005, I decided to become a trail runner. I executed on my new hobby with my usual “go big” approach, running straight up South Mountain from Ahwatukee for 3 miles, then back down, as hard as I could, several times a week. Did I also mention that at the time I was a stay-at-home parent with 2 kids in diapers, and we didn’t know a soul within 1000 miles?

Sometimes it’s not really about the running. I did really like the trails, though.

Three weeks later I was a newly-hatched trail runner suffering from acute plantar fasciitis. I had to re-think my approach, but I was in love. Fortunately my PF disappeared without lingering issues.

I loved the concentration that went into each step. I loved pausing to catch my breath and looking down on the clay-colored Phoenix ‘burbs from on high.  And, perhaps most of all, I loved traversing the landscape. When you run trails, especially out there where you can see the horizon, you feel as though you are really going somewhere. Covering ground. Making tracks. And if you can run one way, or point-to-point, so much the better. Pick a spot on the map and go.

Many of my running friends don’t enjoy the constant focus and attention that trail running demands. And yet, my mind wanders most freely when I’m out running trails by myself. It’s like one part of my brain (probably the constantly distracted part) focuses intently on every step while the other part gallops, unfettered, ahead, often with no destination in mind. Maybe it’s the lack of space for the usual clutter that allows me to do my best thinking when I’m out running trails.

I didn’t run my first trail race until 2008, but the balance of trail:road races has increasingly tipped toward trails ever since.