The 4 best trail running spots in Dallas

Oak Cliff Nature Preserve in Dallas

Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

I’ve been to Central Texas. North Texas, you are no Central Texas. But there are, in fact, a few trails (all in southwest Dallas County) where if you squint your eyes just enough, you’ll mistake yourself for being in one of the most beautiful places in Texas — Hill Country.

Here are your best bets for hiking or running on dirt trails in the Dallas area.

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge is my favorite. It’s is proof that southwest Dallas County is the loveliest part of North Texas.

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge Preserve, ladies and gentlemen.

There are various trails out there for various levels of proficiency. There’s even a pretty, flat, wheelchair-friendly trail near the entrance. It’s so pretty that Brian and I had a few of our engagement photos taken on it back in ’08.

Back when we were kids.


But for hiking or trail running, you’ll want Cedar Brake Trail. If you want more than the couple of miles that offers, loop in Fossil Valley Trail while you’re at it. You’ll get plenty of roots, rocks, elevation, and near-vertical climbs. At the top, there are a couple of benches, a view of nearby Joe Pool Lake in the distance, and treetops for days. If you want a less challenging experience that’s still enjoyable and scenic, go for Cattail Pond.

Notes: Good for hiking and running. Great views and well-marked trails. It’s free (donations are accepted in the box up front). NO mountain or any other kind of biking is allowed.

Cedar Hill State Park

The Dallas area’s one state park is really close to Cedar Ridge Preserve. But at more than 1,800 acres, it’s more expansive; Cedar Ridge is 600 acres. Of the four hiking trails, the DORBA trail is shared hike/run/bike. At between 10 to 12 miles, it’s also the longest. The shortest option is the .5 mile Duck Pond Trail. This park is gorgeous, and it’s where the mileage is on this list.

Trail still a wee bit muddy in places

A photo posted by Rich (@r_frohlich) on

Notes: Day use entry fee is $7. On the DORBA trail, bikers travel clockwise and hikers travel counter-clockwise. Be sure to listen for approaching bikers.

Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

As you drive toward the entrance, you’ll wonder how there could be a “nature” anything in the area. If you’re not keeping your eyes peeled, you’ll miss the entrance altogether. So, this one gets a special map screenshot:

Where to turn and where to park at Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

Where to turn and where to park at Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

Once you find it, you’ll see an apartment complex, then the trailhead. Park there and head out. This preserve, maintained by DORBA, is primarily used by bikers, but it’s friendly to hikers and runners. It’s so beautifully wild that it’s sometimes hard to believe you’re smack in the middle of Oak Cliff.

Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

Ramps at Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

The preserve horseshoes around an apartment complex. When you’re on a perimeter trail and see residential units or hear someone on their second-story patio talking loudly on their cellphone, you’re reminded of the preserve’s urban situation. For being the closest of these four trails to downtown Dallas, this spot is still a good bet. traillllOC Notes: Listen for bikers. There are plenty of hikers and runners, but bikers dominate the trails. Please know that the series of trails are badly marked, but those of us who like getting lost don’t mind. The White trail is the longest and leads you into some beautiful, wild forest. There are NO water fountains or restrooms. Keep your eyes out for the delightful found-object artwork dotting the preserve. The maps you see out there aren’t oriented like up = north, like you’d think; they’re oriented in the direction you’re facing. Free.

Big Cedar Wilderness

Oh — you want almost-ungroomed wilderness, you say? Little to no signage? Some of the best views around? You want Big Cedar Wilderness Trail. Worth all the catchy-grass in the world. Full disclosure: I’ve only been to Big Cedar once, spring 2016. I’m putting it on this list for its quirk and for the lovely adventure I had making my way through. To get to Big Cedar, you turn into a forest and up what almost seems like a proper lil’ mountain. The road leads you up to Prayer Mountain/Mountain Creek Community Church (check out pictures in their gallery here). It’s like something out of a fairy tale, for these parts. Especially the playground, which overlooks some amazing scenery.

Follow the signs that tell you where you can park for the trail. There are several entry points, but first I walked past the transformer station in the white graveled area. I entered through a gate into another sylvan setting and was greeted by neat public art, like this:

Big Cedar Wilderness

A bigger-than-it-looks example of the public art forest at Big Cedar

For the most challenging Big Cedar trail, look around this area for the Texas Sunset trailhead: Texas Sunset trail at Big Cedar Now, here’s what I learned from my Big Cedar experience: It could have been that this trail hadn’t been groomed in a while, on purpose, to retain its glorious wildness. But be prepared to literally fight through gauntlet after gauntlet of this beautiful but grabby, catchy mess:

Does anyone know what this stuff is?

Does anyone know what this stuff is?

That stuff is still woven into my tights and top, sitting on my hearth, waiting for me to determine if I’m going to spend hours picking those burrs out or just cut my losses and trash the whole outfit.

Even still, I’d go back (wearing cheaper attire). It could be that the trail has been groomed by now. But even if not, Big Cedar gives you this glory:

Notes: Try not to park in church parking areas. Note that this is primarily a biking trail and a lot of trail stretches are narrow and deeply grooved with tire tracks. Free. And beautiful.

What caused my post-marathon knee injury

Dallas Marathon 2014 finisher's medal

It was all for this.

I’m an amateur runner who’s been at it for about a decade now. I’ve always tried to absorb as many do’s and dont’s as I can from fellow runners and industry publications, to keep myself as injury-free as possible. I try to be smart, so I can run as much and as long as life lets me. But sometimes that diligence just isn’t enough. Sometimes, you get injured and not even your doctors really know why.

The Dallas Marathon in December 2014 was my first full marathon. That was 17 months ago. After, my knees totally crapped out on me. In fact, I could feel it beginning to happen around mile 20 of the race itself.

I still don’t exactly know what happened except that it completely sidelined me. Until now. Besides an eventually-abandoned attempt at 5K training a few months after the marathon, I’m only beginning to re-emerge and, so far, only on dirt trails. My ultimate goal is to get back to running wherever I want, whenever I want.

While I work on that, maybe my peek into the possible culprits will give you, fellow enthusiastic amateur, perspective and warning.

My training

I ran my first marathon in December 2014. The training for that took up the majority of that year leading up to the event. I enjoyed every last minute, even the ones when I wanted to die. I followed a training plan, but I fully admit that I played fast and loose with it some weeks. Cross training — what’s that?

I love strength training, but each week’s miles already overtook so much of my waking hours that I decided I didn’t have time for much else on the training plan. I told myself that wearing out my legs with squats and lunges while also racking up high mileage might cause injury. I decided that achieving the plan’s miles was the only thing that mattered.

Toward the end of training, I was struggling to just meet the miles. The last two weeks of the plan, I didn’t.

My shoes

Thing is, not only was I not building a solid infrastructure to support the crazy distance to which I was subjecting my body, I chose to do something else even cuter. I decided I wanted to run my first marathon in lightweight shoes. First, Brooks PureFlow. Then Brooks PureConnect. I don’t know why. I could have been subconsciously influenced by an old 2009 story I wrote about barefoot running. It seemed to make sense at the time. I had no business being in anything but a structured shoe, though: I’m the world’s worst over-pronator. I didn’t put that together until later, that over-pronation required a structured shoe, especially for a first foray into marathon training.

2014 Dallas Marathon

All of us awesome amateurs in the 12-minute corral freaking out before the 2014 Dallas Marathon gunshot.

My pride

When friends, family and colleagues saw that I was for real-deal training for a for real-full marathon, most everyone gave me smiles, encouragement and back slaps. It was humbling and inspiring. One loved one, however, gave me a well-intentioned but uninformed word of caution: You’re 38. You’ll be 39 when the race takes place. You’d better be careful, because you’re getting a little too old for this sort of thing.

Never in my entire life had I ever thought that 39 would be too old to do anything, as long as that 39-year-old body was properly trained and ready for it. I had had the privilege of interviewing so many amateur athletes for stories who were well older than I was, and many of them hadn’t even become active until later in life. And now, they’re beasts at their chosen focus: running, cycling, bodybuilding. I at least had a foundation from high school sports, and I’d kept my body generally familiar with movement into my 30s. I’d at least somewhat strengthened along the way. Then, newspaper colleagues introduced my sitting-at-a-desk-all-day body to the joys of actually, really challenging myself physically through running. Many of them were older. I’ll always be indebted to to those interview subjects and those co-workers for inspiring me.

Dallas Marathon 2014

Before the gunshot.

Normally I’d brush off such an uninformed idea as “you’re too old to jostle yourself at your age,” but this person meant a lot to me. I politely countered her advice, but still: It stuck with me.

It stuck with me, meaning: I’ll show her.

I was blind with defiance. Whereas before I hadn’t even considered that I wouldn’t get a finisher’s medal, now it was imperative that I finish. Having to skip the race, quitting in the middle of it, or, worse, having race organizers pick up orange cones all around me as I crawl like a sloth to a finish line that isn’t there any longer weren’t options.

My name would be Google-able for “Dallas Marathon 2014 finishers,” even if it took hell, high water, and the full six hours to get there.

At mile 20 of the marathon, my knees began sending me signals that I knew were red flags. I had been running at a pace that I hadn’t trained for, because I was completely paranoid about not making the time cutoff. By the time I hit the finish line, I had barely skated in under six hours. I got the medal, but I wondered if my knees would pay the price.

A couple of months later, I headed out the door for my first post-race run. No dice. They ached. I went to a nearby sports medicine place, where the doctor said my menisci were torn. Surgery in September 2015 revealed that they actually weren’t; my cartilage simply looked like crabmeat and needed shaving down. Was it the marathon that did it? He said no, absolutely not. It’s genetics — you just have crappy knees. 

Ok. Well, I want to come back strong so I can start running again. What should I do during recovery?

Eh, do some squats.

“Some” squats. Ok. How many? How often?

Just as many as you can do. Whatever.

Injury No. 2 … or was it?

I was just about all the way recovered from surgery in December 2015. On Christmas day I played with my toddler niece, getting more physical than I had in a long time. It was great. That evening, sharp pains shot through the underside of one kneecap and through the back of my other knee.

I went back to my doctor, and he confirmed my Google searches: loose bodies. He said that it wasn’t related to my previous injury, just more of my knees being crappy. We’ll need to do surgery — let me know when you’re ready for another.

My husband, Brian, suggested that be our last visit. Besides this tale, there were other red flags that raised our eyebrows with this guy, including a nasty post-op infection and literal 30-second follow-up visits.

I ruminated a few months over having another surgery. I decided to make an appointment with the orthopedic practice at Baylor Hospital here in Dallas.

Before my first visit, just a couple of weeks ago, the weather was getting nice. That and the fact I’d gotten properly fat in the past year and a half prompted me to take a walk at a nearby nature preserve, to begin moving in some small way again. I ended up jogging a bit — and being totally delighted at the near-absence of pain. It had never dawned on me that running on dirt might have been an option this whole time. I went to my appointment and told my new doctor the whole story.

I don’t think this is loose bodies, he said. You should have gone to rehab after your surgery, or you should have been outfitted with a thorough at-home exercise program post-op. Your quads and hips are totally weakened from surgery and were never built back up. That will cause all sorts of pain. Let’s get you into rehab first, get you strong, and see if that helps.

I haven’t had my first rehab appointment yet, but I’ve been trail running and squatting like mad ever since. I was so excited at the prospect that this could be the answer.

So, my advice for avoiding 17 months of dormancy due to injury:

  • Let your training talk to you. If you’re not on track and are starting to skip or badly struggle toward the end, that’s a sign. Either you or your body isn’t ready. Maybe you’re caught up with other, more pressing things in life right now. It just might not be the right race at the right time. Wait for the next one. Seriously.  You’ll be that much more beast at the next race.
  • Properly outfit yourself with the shoes and other gear your body requires. If you’re beginning something much more strenuous than your body is accustomed to, then awesome. Do it. But balance it out with conservative, wise measures. You can get weird, funky, or experimental later, when you and your body aren’t so new to that beastly level of activity.
  • Don’t listen to other people. Just don’t. Unless what they’re saying supports your goals, and if you know that what they’re saying is coming from a place of jealousy, ignorance or naïveté, just keep doing what you’re doing. That includes listening to your body when it’s trying to clearly tell you to slow down or to stop. Don’t let that other person’s bad juju influence your choices — whether it’s to keep going or to quit.
  • Strength-train. Just do it. Do it when you’re training for a race. Do it post-op. If your doctor won’t help you figure it out, find someone who will, or figure it out yourself. It’s so important, especially for us women. You have to have strong, solid scaffolding upon which to build your body’s Beast Empire. Make time. Don’t skip this step.

Lily Trotters compression socks review: great performance (and cute)

Lily Trotter

I rarely wear socks when I run, but I love socks. For years I’ve bought a new pair of great ankle socks before every 5K, just because. A couple of years ago I asked my family to give me nothing but fun, zany knee-highs.

So when I got an email from Lily Trotters offering to send me a pair of their proprietary 100% micro nylon weave compression socks to try, I thought, Sure, that’d be great. Then I saw that they were zany compression socks. Yes please!

I understand three things about compression socks:
• Traditionally, they are boring to look at.
• Some people, including long-distance runners, really rely on compression socks.
• At races, the compression socks I see tend to be really race-y looking: neon solids or black, and all business. Great for races, but maybe not so great in a non-running context.

So basically, everything I knew was from an indirect, observational point of view. Then I put on my polka dot knee-high Lily Trotters.

Lily Trotters compression socks

A little cray for my typical running look, but not bad.

First I wore them around the house for a few hours. They went on easy enough, then, girl — they held me tight, but comfortably so. I have to say, the material felt especially quality.

Remember when I said I asked my family to gift me with weird socks? That made me sound more personally interesting than I actually am. Normally I only wear knee-high socks in fall and winter, underneath pants and boots. Sometimes part of a colorful little stripe will peek out beneath a trouser hem if I happen to be wearing them with a low-top shoe. So crazy!

So, wearing hot pink and neon-green polka dot compression knee-highs, with the tiniest pink ruffle at the top, while wearing running shorts, was quite a first for me.

Know what? They functioned really well. I typically don’t need to wear compression socks while running, but they felt really good, as good as any high-performance sock I’ve bought for running.

Also, something I didn’t expect: My feet were just about daisy fresh after wearing them all day. I took a look at the materials, and it ends up that the socks are not just moisture-wicking, but they’re also antimicrobial.

There are women who deal with deep vein thrombosis, who sit at a desk all day, who chase kids, who travel a lot, or who just like a good pair of supportive socks. I can imagine those women would be tired of the same clinical-looking, medically-necessary aesthetic when going for a purchase.

Well, my pair is darn cute — and I’ve seen enough running skirts at races to know that cute is a big factor for some of you beastly lady runners when deciding what to buy. The creators say these socks are built strong enough for ultras, but they’re thin and cute enough to wear in a non-athletic context, too.

Lily Trotters launched a Kickstarter this morning (Tuesday 7/14). If you’re into compression socks and are tired of the same predictable colors and lack of patterns, keep up over at The plan is for them to come in five designs with various color options. They’re also sourced and made right here in the U.S. of A.

Lily Trotters compression socks

Le sock options.

Food for thought on compression socks

Do Compression Socks Really Work?
Study: Wearing Compression Socks Post-Marathon Improves Recovery
Sports Science Update: Did Meb’s Socks Help Him PR?

The only thing not wet in Dallas is … just kidding. Everything’s wet.

Wet in DallasYou might have heard about the freak amount of rain we’re getting in Dallas, along with the rest of Texas and Oklahoma. Lives have been lost, roads flooded. So I feel a little guilty for being concerned with how wet the air is, now that I’m running regularly again and trying to re-acclimatize.

I ran my first marathon in December. Had knee issues afterward. Took some time off. I’ve just now taken up an intermediate 5K plan. And all I can focus on is, wow, it’s really, really hard to breathe in this soup.

Average humidity in Dallas is over 70-ish%. I’m pretty sure it was more than that yesterday evening. While running at Lake Cliff Park, I was so thrilled to spot a disgusting water fountain with a mysterious scent.  I didn’t care. If the little bowl part had been big enough, I would have crawled right up in it and bathed.

I walked, then tried to run again. I bargained with myself. Just run from here to that street sign, then you can walk again. I flummoxed over to another sketchy fountain and rubbed palmfuls of water over my already-wet ears, face and neck.

The air was so heavy. My breathing was so heavy. It felt like I’d never done this before. The word “waterboarding” came to my mind … then I felt guilty, again (I know I know — as I should have).

Hyperbolic whining was setting in. I was losing perspective. It was beginning to feel like my body felt like overpacked luggage I was having to haul from one end of the airport to the other.

The softball field was flooded. Kids were kicking up wet, red dirt-water and having the time of their lives.

The wet air — and wet everything else — in Dallas is real.

Taste test: Protein bars and snacks for runners

Epic Beef Habanero Cherry Protein Bar
Protein bars and snacks

Sweetwood Cattle Co.’s Fatty meat stick, two Bonk Breakers, an Epic beef bar and a Thunderbird energy bar. Burp.

Protein can be the step-child in discussions about what runners should eat while training. It’s there, but no one’s that focused on it (until someone says “chocolate milk”).

Protein’s best function is after a long run, for recovery. But I have to say: These new 14, 15, 18 mile runs lately have me positively craving protein about three-quarters of the way in, something fierce. When I satisfy the craving, my body responds with such gratitude, I can almost feel it crying. The Luke’s Locker ladies at the register say I must be craving salt and fat.

I picked up a selection of protein snacks and bars to try out. I haven’t tested them on the road yet — and you might want to keep protein as a post-run thing — but this is how they taste and feel.

Epic Bar

Beef Habanero + Cherry

Epic Beef Habanero Cherry Protein Bar

↓ Thumbs down

Taste: Like salted flesh
Texture: Like shredded, salted flesh, compacted back together into a mini-loaf shape of smashed flesh.
Notes: The texture was soft and almost powdery in my mouth.  That probably makes it more digestible on the go, but I expected more of a traditional beef jerky feel. I wanted to like this because Epic seems like such an environmentally conscious and animal-friendly company (as animal-friendly as you can be while still planning to kill and eat them). I could only get through two bites, so I never encountered a habanero or cherry taste. Just pulverized beef flesh.

Serving size: 1 bar
Calories: 190
Fat: 11 g (2 g saturated)
Protein: 13 g
Carbs: 10 g
Sugars: 9 g
Fiber: 2 g
Sodium: 240 mgs
Ingredients: Organic beef, walnuts, dried cherries, lactic acid (not from dairy), salt, celery powder, fine black pepper, crushed habanero

Sweetwood Cattle Co. Fatty

stick1Original Flavored Hickory Smoked Meat Stick

↑ Thumbs up

Taste: Like smoked sausage
Texture: Juicy and even. Still kind of a sausage feel, but it’s more even than the mystery ratatouille of meats you detect on that first snappy bite of most sausage or meat sticks.
Notes: Oh my gosh, I could eat this just for no reason at all. This is quality stuff, as far as meat sticks go, and it’s super tasty and juicy. It’s kind of long, so I’m not sure how I would stash-and-carry on a run. I would probably stash it in my FlipBelt, and just let it conform to she shape of my body. It’s bendy.

Serving size: 2
Calories: 140
Fat: 11 g (4 g saturated)
Protein: 9 g
Carbs: 1 g
Sugars: 1 g
Fiber: –
Sodium: 700 g
Ingredients: Really want to know? Actually it’s not that bad: Pork, beef, water, sea salt, dextrose, sugar, pepper, celery juice powder, garlic powder, encapsulated citric acid, in collagen casing.

Bonk Breaker Energy Bar

Peanut Butter & Jelly

Bonk Breaker Energy Bar for protein

↑  Thumbs up 

Taste: Like some serious PB&J action
Texture: Somewhere between a muffin and a soft cookie
Notes: This is crazy-tasty. I really felt like I was eating a square baked good instead of an energy bar. These Bonk Breakers are kind of big, though. I’d like to try it on a run, but it’s definitely not going to fit in my current carrying situation.

Serving size: 1 bar
Calories: 260
Fat: 10 g (saturated 1.5 g)
Protein: 8 g
Carbs: 36 g
Sugars: 17 g
Fiber: 3 g
Sodium: 130 g
Ingredients: Brown rice syrup, peanuts, gluten-free oats, honey, strawberry jam [sugar, water, strawberry puree, glucose syrup, citric acid, pectin, natural flavor, natural red radish pigment (for color)], rice flour, rice protein, rice crisps (rice flour, sugar, salt, calcium carbonate), flaxseed meal, sea salt.

Bonk Breaker Protein Bar

Peanut Butter & Jelly

Bonk Breaker Protein Bar

↑  Thumbs up 

Taste: Again — It didn’t disappoint on the PB&J front
Texture: Surprisingly, not much different from its Energy cousin
Notes: When a bar touts “protein” on the front, I immediately lower my expectations on taste. I tell myself, “It’s got a job to do. Just let it do its job.” While there was a slight texture difference, only a tad. It tasted and felt really good.

Serving size: 1 bar
Calories: 245
Fat: 9 g (saturated 1 g)
Carbs: 25 g
Sugars: 16 g
Fiber: 3 g
Protein: 15 g
Sodium: 170 g
Ingredients: B-Breaker TM (rice nectar, natural crunchy peanut butter [peanuts, salt], honey), gluten free organic oats, non-gmo brown rice protein isolate, strawberry jam (strawberries, fruit pectin, cane sugar), flaxseed meal, rice crisps (rice flour, rice nectar, salt), sea salt

Thunderbird Energetica

Hyper Hawaiian Crunch

Thunderbird Energetica for protein

Inside Thunderbird Energetica for protein

Fruity-tart goodness

↑  Thumbs up

Taste: I could shove the whole thing into my mouth in one bite.
Texture: Chewy and a little sticky
Notes: I know, I know. What is this doing in a roundup of protein solutions? I wanted a wide variety of protein levels, so this one has the lowest amount. It’s probably the most balanced bar on this list: plenty of carbs/sugar and some salt, with a touch of protein. And MAN is it tasty! Tart and sweet.

Serving size: 1 bar
Calories: 145
Fat: 0 g
Protein: 2.5 g
Carbs: 30 g
Sugars: 22 g
Fiber: 3 g
Sodium: 125 g
Ingredients: Organic prunes, organic buckwheat groats, papaya, organic raisins, organic mango, pineapple, Hawaiian black lava salt

Accel Gel
Accel gel with protein

Citrus Orange

↑  Thumbs up

Taste: I’d prefer if it was a little more mild. Very orangey.
Texture: It’s a gel, with about the same thickness of other, mainstream gels.
Notes: Bingo! This is not an protein bar! You guessed it. But it’s my first energy gel with protein, and I’ve been very pleased with it. I can feel the protein hitting me mere minutes after taking it. It’s not going to solve my monster protein/fat/salt craving, but it’s been a great late-run addition for me.

Serving size: 1 packet
Calories: 100
Fat: 0 g
Protein: 5 g
Carbs: 20 g
Sugars: 13 g
Fiber: –
Sodium: 110 g
Ingredients: Water, fructose, sucrose, whey protein isolate and hydrolysate, maltodextrin, glycerin, natural flavors, citric acid, malic acid, salt, ascorbic acid, vitamin E acetate, vegetable color, soy lecithin

5 first-time marathoner problems

Brooks PureConnect running shoes for the marathon first-timer: me

Five weeks out isn’t too close to the race for new shoes … right?

I’m training for the MetroPCS Dallas Marathon, my first-time full. I’ve run three half marathons, but can I say something? I’m starting to freak out about this full-business.

The race is Dec. 14, which means five weeks to go. Am I ready? Will I have enough phone battery? Am I going to be able to complete it without blowing a ligament? Why does my training plan only go to 20 miles before tapering?

Maybe you’re training for your first, too, or you remember these concerns way back when you were a noob wannabe like me.

5. Is my phone battery going to last for 26.2 miles?

During the race, I won’t be using Google Maps to check where I am like I do on many of my runs. That’s my fault, because I usually insist on running willy-nilly style — taking off into streets and neighborhoods where I have no clue where I am. Mapping my location sucks up the most battery of anything else I do with my phone, including streaming music.

I’ve done 18 miles while listening to music, running the Nike Run app but not checking Google Maps, and I’ve ended with a good 20 percent battery left. But I have yet to know what 26.2 miles will leave me with. I’ll likely leave the earbuds at home because I love experiencing the sights, sounds and energy of the day. So, not listening to NPR or music will help save battery. But I’ll be using my phone to locate friends before the race, and I’ll want to locate my husband easily among the throngs afterward.

I can only guess what my battery situation will be, so I’ll just have to see.

But hey. What did runners before smartphones do? They planned meeting spots and guessed as best they could at a meeting time.

4. What all am I going to carry on race day? How am I going to carry it?

I can’t believe I’m still futzing around with this juggling act.

This entire time, since April, I’ve had the carry thing down so pat that I can mindlessly “pack” in 30 seconds flat: Put ice in hand-held Nathan water bottle, then add water. Pop a gel or two in the pocket, along with a credit card. Dig my earphones out of my bag and grab my phone. Done.

But now that I’m reaching higher mileage, what I’ve been carrying this whole time isn’t quite adequate.

The amount of water is fine; cooler temperatures have me drinking a little less. But I not only need to consume more gels now, my body is dying for protein about halfway through, too. A few times lately, I’ve stopped at gas stations to grab beef jerky and Snickers or Butterfinger Bites to shove in my mouth. It’s a disgusting combo that I would normally never put together (or eat at all, at least not on a regular basis). But my body needs it. I can feel all sorts of magic happening on my insides when I eat it.

Does that mean I’m not intaking enough gels up to that point, causing my body to need it so badly at mile 14? That’s another first-timer mystery I have to work out.

Thing is, Dallas Marathon isn’t going to have beef jerky stations. They’ll have Clif Shot stations, but I have my own gels I want to bring. I’m new at this, I’m fussy with my gels, so I’ll have to tote my own. I won’t bring my water bottle on race day, so there goes the little zippered pocket I typically use. I’ve seen runners clip gels to their clothes with those office wing-clip things; I might do that. I’ll have to tote some protein with me as well. I guess I could have a beef stick flopping around, clipped to my waistband.

I bought a FlipBelt recently, and it holds a lot. But when I’m wearing shorts with slick fabric, the belt slips up toward my waist, which is no good. That’s another thing I have to get figured out before race day: make sure the tights I want to wear jibe with this new FlipBelt of mine, so I can carry all my Stuff.

Yes, I’m a needy newbie who needs her Stuff.

3. How close to race day can I buy that new pair of shoes/tights/bra?

I just bought a new pair of Brooks PureConnects, and I’m pretty certain that five weeks out is enough time to break them in. But I need a new pair of long tights, and I probably won’t get a chance to shop for any until a couple of weeks from now. If I get a good couple of runs in them, it will probably be fine. … Or will it? Do I need several long runs in a key article of clothing to know for sure that I’m not going to quit in agony because of Bloody Blister or Fire Crotch? That might be a little dramatic.

Speaking of buying new things close to race day, I also bought a slew of new protein energy goodies from Luke’s Locker to try — more than I have long runs left, actually. But they looked so tasty. I need to decide if one of these is my protein solution, but again — we’re getting close to race day. Bah.

The new shoes were something I needed. But honestly, everything else I’m tempted to buy this late in the game is really just a big spaz-out attempt at feeling like I have a little extra edge.

2. What is that pain about?

We runners know a thing or four about aches and pains. I wrote about my current ankle pain recently here. Unless pains are obviously serious, they’re usually no big deal. We’ve learned our bodies well enough to know when a body part is just protesting a bit and when it’s sending a warning signal. But new pain anywhere close to race date is scary. We don’t know if it’s just a protest pain or if it’s the beginning of an actual issue that could sabotage all our hard work.

1. Is my name going to end up at the bottom of my age group results?

Am I going to bonk? Blow? Embarrass myself? My training plan only goes to 20 miles, so I’ll be going into the race totally untested at 26.2.

Logic says that if I’ve put in the work, and no unlikely funky factors come into play, I’ll be fine and complete the marathon. But my nervousness about this is more fundamental than, how badly am I going to suck?

Like many first-timers, I know it’s smart to simply focus on completing the race and not on pushing through it like it’s my 400th and I’m getting paid. But still, deep down, I’m attached to this thing. I’ve put in so much time (so much time). I’ve pushed my body’s previously-known boundaries. That pushed the limits of my mind. Which shifted my self-perception.

We new marathoners have hated our training, uttered “I’m SO over this” countless times during long runs. We might have cried (no, not me — I’m just asking for a friend). Then we’ve loved it again, uttering thanks to God for the ability to move and breathe and feel.

For some of us, this hard physical work has beat demons, given us answers, made us new.

We’re emotionally attached to the process that’s brought us to this point. If that process culminates in defeat, failure or disappointment, it will feel like my body has betrayed me. Like I’ve betrayed myself.

The stakes feel so high. Not because anyone is betting on us, but because we’ve put in some really hard work.

So let’s do this: Remember when we got one season of half marathon training under our belt, then one race? After that, we totally knew what to expect and could relax for subsequent halves.

We just have to do the same with our first full. We’ll make mistakes, but we’ll learn.

Injury or just training pain? My least-favorite running mystery

A new pair of Brooks PureConnect: Hopefully, the fix to my pain

New Brooks PureConnect on top, old on bottom.

Back in the summer, the inside of my right knee got an attitude with me. I babied it with some ice. I stopped tucking it under me and sitting on it funky in my cubicle. I got better about warming up. I chest-bumped it, all “Get with the program, knee! This marathon is happening, like it or not!” It eventually stopped hurting, and I kept on a’runnin’.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. An old sesamoid injury in my left foot began flaring up. By flaring, I mean the bottom of my foot underneath my big toe felt shattered every time I took a step. But that injury is an old friend; familiar.

Then came inside ankle pain right above it. Not familiar.

Was I running in the wrong kind of shoes (the lightweight Brooks PureConnect)? Was this just part of getting my body ready to do something it’s never done before?

I didn’t care about my knee injury as badly because I had time. But when I had to take I-don’t-know-how-many ibuprofen during my 19-mile run that turned into an 18-mile run this past weekend because my foot was shot, with just five weeks to go, I knew I had to figure something out. This was an unknown that could flush all my training for the Dallas Marathon — my first full — down the crapper.

I researched shoes and paid Luke’s Locker in Dallas a visit with the intent to buy a more cushioned shoe. A helpful guy there straightened me out. He said that if I liked running in a light shoe and that it’s only been recently that the pain had begun, it wasn’t the lightness of the shoe. People run marathons and ultras barefoot, after all. And if I gave my body a heavier shoe now, it might be mad at me in a different way.

When I told him I’d been running in my Brooks PureConnects since April, that was it — the foam sole was packed down from use, and that pair was simply done. I walked around in the store in a new pair, and hello, huge difference.

I bought them. Hopefully, that will do the trick. My biggest concern is that I won’t be able run the race because of injury, or that I’ll injure myself on the day-of trying.

I’d gotten really familiar with what I need to run a good half: what clothes to wear in what temperature, what aches I know will go away and what should be minded, how much hydration to carry for what distance.

But, marathon training is a new frontier. That comes with working through a whole new set of unknowns.

How I learned to hydrate every day

Drinking fluids adequately and consistently has been a running game-changer

Not experience. Not a new running bra. Not meth. The reason I’m running better now than I ever have is because I’ve finally learned to hydrate — and like it.

I’ve changed my water-drinking ways, and I’m certain that is what’s fueling my newfound energy during runs. I don’t have numbers or intake formulas (or a clinical certification, FYI), but here’s my water story.

Tasty waters taught me to hydrate

Meet my new best friends.

Hydration hang-up

I have always haaaaaated drinking water. Hate it-hate it. Only when I was well over the line of thirst would I ever actually welcome any water into my mouth. Not just water; drinking anything has always been secondary for me. I could go an entire meal and not sip one drink of anything. If I ever needed to fall asleep, I would simply imagine a glass of water from the faucet. Instant zzz’s.

When training for races, or just willy-nilly running in the Dallas heat, you kind of have to drink water. For past training runs, I’d bring a hand-held bottle or Camelbak of iced tap water, sometimes with a Nuun tablet. I’d drink — during my runs. I passively declared hydrating during a run, and whatever incidental water from fruit, my morning coffee, etc., to be enough. I never gave a second thought to hydration IRL.

Fast forward to this bout of training, for my first marathon. When I started on April 8, I was starting back up after the longest break  that I’d taken in a long time (besides one-off quick runs here and there). More than a year. I really feeling like I was at a deficit, and hot weather was already rearing its head. I felt behind, like a newbie. Maybe it was desperation, but I was ready to reassess my approach and find any sort of edge to help me feel in control of my performance. I didn’t know what that edge was yet, but I was open.

My husband is working on his kinesiology degree, and one day he mentioned a class discussion that I had never thought much about: Hydration around the clock, especially in the preceding days, is one of the most important aspects to a successful run. It just clicked.

Figuring out a solution

I had finally ID’d a big, missing component in my running. But the solution couldn’t be simply “drink more water.” Knowing that I needed to hydrate all day didn’t mean I’d magically like it. But I had to find a way to give this new discipline a chance to take root. To succeed, I was going to have to find a way to like the thing I hated.

You gotta hydrate

This used to be my insides.

I started with asking myself why I disliked water so badly in the first place. It ended up that it was really the taste and feel of tap water that I hated. I like bottled water just fine. Why? The water inside is purified and distilled. It’s got nice mouthfeel. But I’m too cheap to spring for a big dispenser/cooler, and I’m not going to continuously buy a gob of, like, 16 ounce bottles every time I go to the store. I wanted the nice-mouthfeel water, but I didn’t want to pay for it.

It dawned on me that if I boiled a bunch of water on the stove in a pot or tea kettle and let it cool, that might be the same thing. Right? Wouldn’t you know it — it sure was. That basically gave me actual, you know, water. Regular old God-made water. No metal or chemical taste. It felt soft in my mouth, not “rough.” I felt kind of stupid for just then realizing that that’s what boiling water does, but it was a significant revelation for me.

I also have a weird thing about putting hot water (especially just-boiled) into plastic. It just makes me feel like ingesting hot liquid steeped in plastic might make me wake up with three arms one day. But I needed receptacles to hold all this boiled H2O. I went to Home Goods and bought two medium-sized glass pitcher-bottle hybrids. After the water cooled, I poured it into one one of the pitchers. That’s the sealed pitcher I keep on the counter; I don’t like cold water unless I’m hot. This gives me a pitcher of fresh, easily-visible and accessible, room-temperature water.

In the past I had seen on recipes on Pinterest for, say, sticking sprigs of mint in your water, or star anise, or every imaginable combination of fruit, herb and even vegetables. Surely there’s a parody account somewhere that shows how to jazz up your water with twigs, leaves, an entire ham, cocaine. Anyway, the pictures of infused and detox waters were intriguing enough to file away in my brain’s “good to know” section, and now I was in need of that inspiration. I normally dislike lemon in my water — sour water, how delicious — but the pins that suggested pairing lemon and cucumber together always seemed right on. I sliced up a handful of both, put them into the other glass pitcher, and filled it up with the rest of the cooled, boiled water over it.

I had found my personal formula. I actually wanted these waters. The pure, fresh, no-fuss water on the counter and the bottle of chilled, lightly-infused water were the solutions to my hydration problem.

Hydration reformation

I can’t get enough of these waters. Now I just grab a glass of whichever one I’m in the mood for every time I wander into the kitchen. It took finding a way to actually like hydrating well every day to actually do it.

  • Now I like starting my day with a glass of water. In the past, drinking a glass of water in the morning would have been nauseating.
  • I sometimes take a lidded mason jar full of infused water to work. I keep it in the breakroom fridge until I’m ready to drink it.
  • I drink a full glass when I get home from work, then again with dinner, then later before bed.
  • I also splurge on bottles of Vitamin Water Zero (orange and lemonade are my favorite) at the store, especially when they’re 10 for $10. I take one to work almost every day, too.
  • At work, I now fill up my glass two-thirds of the way with cold water cooler water, then add a dash of hot dispenser water to bring it up to room temp.
  • With the infused water: No squeezing of the lemon; just gentle placing. Unless you like sour water; I do not. Sometimes, I’ll just do cucumber. Since that pitcher contains produce, it goes in the fridge. Even though I don’t care for chilled water, normally, my brain makes an exception since there’s actual food sitting in it.
  • I don’t count the number of ounces I intake. I’m tracking calorie intake, mileage — I have enough things to track right now. I just know that I’m drinking way more water during my non-running hours than I used to, especially the day before a run. I don’t worry about drinking too much because I’m confident my fluid intake hasn’t increased that much.
  • I’m a late bloomer. I realized the connection between pre-hydration and performance way back in 2010 — remember when you could write two sentences and call it a blog post? — but it’s just now hooking me.


I only have my anecdotal experience to report. But I can guarantee you, now I only long-run bonk when I’ve hydrated poorly in the previous 24 to 48 hours. I’ve gotten lazy a few days here and there, and I can definitely tell a difference during runs that followed. I’ve gotten to where I can feel it deep in my skin and my muscles that my body isn’t hydrated. I never had anything to compare that feeling with before because I used to always live life in a constant state of lack. Parched was my body’s normal.

Nothing I discovered was earth-shattering. Drinking pure water, room temperature water, drinking infused water — the solutions were simple. But to arrive there, I first had to analyze why I hated doing this one thing that all runners really need to do. Finally beating my hate of water, even with just homemade workarounds, has felt like a minor breakthrough.

The mistakes of a failed North Dallas run

Last Thursday evening’s 12-mile run turned into a 10.73-mile bonk-fest, with my husband picking me up early in the Chip’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers parking lot on Lovers. I partly blame the city of Dallas, but I mostly blame my own amateur-hour mistakes.

I’d love for you to learn from my lack of planning that led up to last week’s super-bad marathon training long run. But first I’m going to rag on North Dallas urban planning first.

Thanks a lot, nice Dallas neighborhood with no sidewalks

Devonshire neighborhood in Dallas

The neighborhood in question.

I previously wrote about how evening runners like myself run into darkness issues as summer gets closer to fall. That happened last Thursday. As I ran through the Devonshire neighborhood off Inwood, I marveled at the beautiful homes and the generally rich milieu. I hadn’t encountered that particular ‘hood before, and I loved it. There was something different about it. I checked my Redfin app to get a gauge on home prices in the area (breaking: they’re slightly out of my price range).

I was enjoying myself. As it grew dark, I was even charmed by how dark as ink everything got. These people don’t believe in street lights. Then, like black magic, sidewalks began to disappear. No light, no sidewalk. Sometimes when it gets dark, I’ll turn my iPhone’s flashlight on to light my way, but I was almost out of battery (I started out with 100%, so battery life is something I need to figure out for the rest of my training).

At least the street was in great condition: level and smooth as butter. I can do this OH MY GOSH WAS THAT A POTHOLE THAT ALMOST SWALLOWED MY ANKLE? 

I approached Northwest Highway and turned east. It was going to be my last stretch. Northwest Highway is a major thoroughfare; since when does Northwest Highway not have sidewalks? If I turned around, I’d have to repeat at least 2 miles, and I was seriously almost out of battery. I had already texted Brian to meet me at a certain spot.

Doctor Who stumbling while running


While in the dark, jiggity-jogging and high-stepping on the grass and along guardrails, trying not to turn a foot or tear an ACL, that was it: I rammed my foot on a jacked-up bit of concrete sticking out of the ground, and I almost lost my life to eastbound Northwest Highway traffic. I walked until I reached a residential street with a sidewalk, and carefully at that.

Why are there major areas of a large “world class” city that simply don’t accommodate pedestrians? In 2014?

I wasn’t going to make the original destination point at the time I told Brian to pick me up. With the last phone juice I had, I texted him to meet me at Chip’s in 15 minutes. Not only was I in the dark and trying to Lewis-and-Clark my way alongside nighttime traffic, I was seriously, seriously drained.

So besides parts of North Dallas just being a sucky place to run …

My mistakes


  • I had spent the night with my parents a couple of days prior. When I get around family, no matter the occasion, I treat it like it’s the holidays and eat like crap. We’re talking Wingstop and ice cream. Bad stuff.
  • I had been good about hydration, which I would name as the No. 1 factor in increased energy for my runs during this bout of training. I have a water “routine” (blog post on that later) that I put on pause last week. I simply didn’t hydrate very well at all. Even though on the run-proper I chugged water, then orange juice, and even though I consumed an adequate amount of energy gel, I could still feel my body not having the deep-down reserve that it needed. Seriously, the closest to hydration I got last week was the water inside the milk inside the ice cream I ate.
  • My husband always reminds me that it’s getting darker sooner. I always say “I know.” But I still started a 12-mile run at 6 p.m., which, for my pace, just isn’t enough time to finish before I’m literally running in pitch.Running adventure
  • I love to run in unfamiliar territory. But that need for adventure during a run can lead to serious inconvenience and, when it’s dark, safety issues. I have to plan the location of my runs better, where I know there will be adequate sidewalks. Soon I’ll have to save the long runs for weekend days, anyway, so that will help.

Keeping yourself safe from both injury and night-cloaked crime is no joke when running the streets as summer gives way to shorter days. Take care out there, and plan well.

Dallas bodies have to re-learn how to run in the heat

Dallas temperature

Dallas’ temperature right now …

I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, except for a four-year span in the Philippines as a small child. So I haven’t run in many other places except Texas. When traveling, I do so much walking and hiking that I always feel fine taking a break from whatever running routine I’m on.

That means I really only know what it’s like to take a summer run while having to take purposeful precautions and dialing down performance expectations. That’s just the way it is here.

But Dallas isn’t hot year-round, so our bodies have to reacclimatize each summer. After so many years of having to do so, we Dallas runners know what we have to do, even if our bodies have forgotten and need time to catch up.

The accessories of a summer run

San Francisco temperature

… compared with San Fransisco’s temperature …

Unless you’re running where you know there will be water fountains and, if you’re lucky, water misters, you have to carry hydration. Maybe not for a run of, say, 2 miles or less. But even if you run in the early morning or late-at-night hours, and especially if you run in the middle of the day, you’re suicidal if you don’t haul water.

My current water bottle is the Nathan QuickDraw Plus Insulated hydrator. It keeps fluid colder longer, and it’s the best handheld I’ve ever had. The attached zippered pocket is roomy, too; enough room for a house key, credit card, energy gel and, if you don’t like carrying your phone, an iPhone (take off the bulky OtterBox, though). I fill up that bad boy with ice and water for sipping and — this is important — drizzling over my head and face along the way.

If I’m doing a longer run in the heat — for me, “longer” means anything over 5ish miles — my hydration plan needs either a Plan B or Part B, because I’m going to run out of water before the run is done.

New York City temperature

… compared with New York City’s …

Part B is:
• pausing my RunKeeper
• popping into a gas station
• filling up my handheld with ice at the fountain drink station
• stinking up the place as I wait in line to pay for a Gatorade G2, Vitaminwater Zero or a plain bottle of water
• standing outside next to the trashcan as I pour what will fit into my handheld and quickly drink the rest
• endure stares from gas-pumpers who apparently have never seen a sweaty runner at a gas station before
• restart my RunKeeper and start back out on my run.

It’s a huge break from running that my body isn’t supposed to get, but what do you do.

Plan B is to strap on my Camelbak instead of taking my handheld. It’s the same Camelbak I’ve had for years and works great. It holds lots and lots of fluid. But hauling that much weight is a commitment and a total bog-down. And if the run is going to be especially long and it’s going to be especially hot out, I’ll want the ability to drizzle water over my head. Can’t do that with the Camelback. So I end up taking the Camelbak and the handheld. Plan B is cumbersome, but it’s the best option if I think my route won’t produce a gas station at a point when I’d need it.

The “when” dilemma

Salt Lake City, Utah temperature

… compared with Salt Lake City’s …

Most Dallas runners I know do their summer runs (most of their runs, actually) in the early morning, before work and sometimes even before that mean ol’ sun comes up. So for perky, motivated types, “when” isn’t a dilemma.

I’m not one of those types, and from the number of runners I see out in the evenings, maybe plenty of other Dallasites aren’t, either. We would rather endure a day that’s been baking for six hours and catch the sun as it’s going down. But on long-run days that collide with busy work days, this can pose a problem.

I’ll tell myself, Hey Christy; you have an 8-miler this evening. Make sure you get off of work in time so you’re not running in the dark. But then my workday LOLs at me and I get off at 7, still need to drive back home to change, then try to outrun the sun.

If it’s on an evening when my husband is at work, I’ll run to his workplace (6.5 miles away, but I can stretch out the mileage by curving my route outward however far I need) and catch a ride back.

The other evening when I ran to Brian’s work, I was hit with all the factors of my typical summer-running “when” dilemma. I got such a late start on my 8-mile run, and I knew he got off work at 9:15 p.m. So not only was I trying not to run in sketchy areas at pitch-night, I was trying to make sure he didn’t have to wait on me in his workplace parking lot any later than he had to.

Birmingham, Alabama temperature

… compared with Birmingham, Alabama’s …

I was feeling guilty (even though my husband always really supportive), so I ran way faster than I normally would for that distance and it was hotter and more humid than a son of a gun and I was hyper-focusing on what streets I was turning on after the sun went down.

I committed the act of texting-while-running to let him know I’d be a bit late. I gunned it. Experience had taught me better than hauling rear in the heat, but I told myself that approaching darkness is always good on a run. Running faster is good, right? Plus, I had cut short other longish runs in the past few weeks because of one excuse or another, and I wasn’t going to do that this time.

I made it in decent time, Brian drove me home, I showered, and we cooked spelt spaghetti.

While we finished cooking, a wave of weakness and sickness struck me in the kitchen. I felt nauseated. A little confused.

Carson City, Nevada, temperature

… even compared with Carson City, Nevada’s. See? It’s hot here.

I shoved some spelt pretzels in my mouth (it was a spelt kind of night), thinking that my body just needed something now. It helped, but the weakness and wooziness didn’t subside for hours.

I knew I had done my day all wrong: a) long run b) on a hot night c) while trying to gun it faster than was smart d) after a day of not eating very smartly. For the rest of the evening I dealt with what I’m pretty sure was some sort of delayed onset heat exhaustion.

The morning hours are more forgiving. But I hate mornings. So I run in the hotter evenings. But that leaves me with smaller margins of error on safety and health.

These summer-in-Dallas curveballs are not a surprise every year. But Dallas is where I live, so I just try to catch those hot pitches the best I can.