In spite of a week of the county government claiming parks were closed, for the first time they had made the effort to block them off. No big surprise, given the amount of maintenance the county does, but this still caused a small amount of annoyance as I pulled up to my usual parking lot and found a chain dangling across its entrance. I parked in the "secret" spots - a little pulloff at the end of the road - and watched the rain intensify while I prepped for the run.
Now ready to go, I stepped into a pretty typical rain - maybe a 3/2* - and started off. The train was muddy from the overnight off-and-on waterings, but it wasn't unrunnably bad, and I didn't feel abusive going over it. It was still easy to stay on-trail and step straight in the puddles without wondering just how deep my ankles would sink.
I headed up onto the trail and took a right to do the large loop out first. This was pretty easy, though I was definitely wet by the time I'd hooked back to the powerline section. I climbed the hill and at the top heard a rumble.
This rain had just turned to a thunderstorm. I dropped down the hill and back into the woods, figuring it was safer to be in the middle of a forest than on the flats of the powerline stretch. A few rumbles later and the rain really started, coming now in heavy droplets at moderate volume. This has escalated to a 4/3 or even 4/4. I certainly wasn't drowning in it, but there was quite a bit of water falling.
And now came the second time across the creek. Except it wasn't possible, as the creek level was so high that leaping across looked precarious and fording the rapid waters sounded a little silly. I made my way to the bridge and up the river, the rain coming down hard the whole time. This stretch felt muddy, brutal, difficult. A creek crossing arrived that fortunately hadn't been flooded, and I hopped across gamely. As I neared the forest exit, the rain let up, and by the time I was in the open again, my rain gear was burning me up.
The next half went easily, with just a couple little detours to dodge blown-up streams. A couple loops through the south section, then back up to the powerline (again: no creek crossing; bridge it is!), closing out the run with a set of up-tempo segments.
It's definitely colder than I expect this time of year in Virginia. We're far enough south that it feels like spring should be in full bloom by the second week in April, but we've had a frost blow in on a 15 mph wind and now I'm fully bundled.
That's not necessarily bad. We're all out in masks now, and my running buff works serviceably for the purpose on the trails. Plus, of course, there won't be the clusters of walkers and cyclists on the unavoidable paved stretches of the path.
I roll out the long way, even though this is the end of my running week. Down the trail, shoes sticking in mud everywhere the drainage is inadequate, I'm now looking for the longest single-loop run I can manage at Wakefield. Out along the river, back on the double track, left onto the access trail, then a hard left to loop around.
Here's the muddy stretch that bikes have torn up. I try to run through it, but in some sections the mud is so thick it threatens to eat my shoes. I tiptoe around as little as possible, ride the boards where they've been dropped in, and get through in way better time than expected. Now come the curves and the big loop back up, then across before ejecting onto the powerlines.
The wind is bitter out here, and I'm hoping the sun cuts through it before the end. Everything's dry, and I'm feeling great. Around the end, then winging back along the interstate wall: normally traffic noise is a continuous stream here, but today you can hear each engine as it passes on the other side. The trail is firmed up here, the going easier, and now I'm warming up.
Descend? No! Back around to the forest path again, this time the other way - no repeats, no hesitation. Around the trail, across the wooden bridges, slicing back to the powerlines again and slowly looping down the hill. At the bottom it hooks back up, and I take the hill at pace.
Now back to the top and the winding drop to the creek. Interstate path straight across, into the power station segment, then back to the curving forest stretch. Definitely too warm for the kit, I start to unzip: jacket off, sleeves rolled down, ready to blow through the rest of this.
I cross the parking lot lawn, head over the road, pound the wooden slats on the bridge and do the triangle extension, then dip through the tunnel. This is the back side of the course, the section that's hardest to loop because the paths seem to all come together in random ways. But I'll do my best.
I start out right and make the big loop to the end, then turn hard right and come back to the entrance. Make the next right, lean left to stay on the unused path, then stick right to get down to the main path after a cutback or two. There's a little strip on that path that I don't think I can get out of repeating, but there's the last path pair that gives me a nearly-complete looped course.
On the other side of the creek, the logs keep things interesting, and I take the widest course. There's an inner path, but there's no loop possibility out here: not enough paths to do entrance and exit without repeating a decent segment. So I re-cross the creek and head for the exits, 9km into this run.
I don't need to look both ways anymore, crossing to the dirt path, then rejoin the paved trail at the end. Right turn, back toward the car, a couple people are now out - it's pushing 8 and definitely in the 40s. I leap the creek through the dirt and find another mud-filled pile of a path. It's all about dodging over here, because the puddles and mud pits are everywhere.
It's forest time again. Head down, rapid-fire, pulsing across the trail. A couple cyclists roll by, and I cut through the brush to avoid contact. The Mud Pit of Doom - my last trail work effort - has a puddle on each end but a long, dry stretch through the middle. I hope it holds.
Along the river here, the sounds are everywhere: falling water, of course, but also squirrels scurrying around the trees, birds out in force, the winds flowing through long grasses at the forest edge. I'm happy here.
There it is, though: the last creek crossing on this strip, and I know the end is coming. Up past 10k now - not super long, but long enough to feel good - and I've almost single-looped it. I lean right to take the last "bonus" stretch, then cross the creek where I've crossed before. Staying to the left - does that count as a loop? For our purposes, sure.
I'm going left now, then back into the woods, and now past the main exit to the first dive back to the double track. I don't think there's anything longer here, but the return on that double track is rock-strewn and ankle-threatening. But here I go!
The actual loop is about 10.5km, with just under a kilometer each way car-to-path. I'll be back again. And again. And again and again and again. Though there are plenty of options around, it's hard to imagine finding another place where there's even a place to park.
Looping it again, this time on pace. I've found my 12km loop, now it's all about rhythm. There are people today: it's warmer, drier, all-around better. Every high-pace strip feels brilliant, like I'm running downhill even when it's a steep climb. My legs are more than happy, they're thrilled.
Nights now I go to bed with legs tingling from effort. It's a delightful tingle, like they want to quit but just know there's more tomorrow. I can feel the build here.
Am I getting faster? Probably not particularly. But I'm getting more comfortable and more confident. After four months off I needed to make a good return, and this truly feels like it.
Masks on, even when it's 50F. The tour today is simple: warmup lap, nothing too long. The first half disappears under my feet before I even know, but the last third feels infinite, like I've been out here at Wakefield forever.
Back in high school and college I ran the same course every day. The repetition was good for mentally checking out and just getting the miles done. But with the taste of variety that trails bring, I generally don't like to repeat anymore.
It's hard, though. I need a trail to limit strain on the Achilles, but I can't roll the dice on other familiar trails. In fact, I know that most of them are closed off: they're national parks or state parks off major roads, with no parking alternatives.
Wakefield or bust!
Mash out. Spin on.
Some runner person. Also perhaps a cyclist & brewing type. But for your purposes, a runner person.