My friend Trevor Spencer over at Marathon Training Academy turned me on to a really nice set of trails in a state park and conservation area near my home. I had never run the General Watkins trails for several reasons. I don’t run trails very often. I like finishing a run near a shower. The park is about 10 miles from my home and work. They all start sounding like excuses.
Trevor and I had been talking about places to run near me, when he mentioned the trails at General Watkins Conservation Area. It was fall and I knew the area was popular with hunters, so I didn’t check it out immediately. I thought about it, infrequently, for several months before the plan took shape. One Saturday morning I threw my running shoes, cable lock and some snacks into a sling bag and rode my bike to the entrance of the park. I changed shoes, locked up my bike and started exploring.
The first ascent was significantly steep and long for me. As with much of life, the benefit came after the hard work. At the top of that first big climb was an access road that led to a network of roads and trails. I was treated to a variety of surfaces including packed limestone, loose gravel, tire track paths and mowed grass. The terrain was gently rolling with plenty of trees. Approaching the end of one path I came upon several deer and turkeys. They quickly scattered, but it was an exciting few seconds as they chose and executed their escape. I ran a few yards further and I noticed the feed plot that I’m certain was the attraction for the wildlife.
My plan for the day was pretty loose, with the hope of getting in some cycling and at least 3 miles of running. I ended up with a little more than 5 really awesome miles. The pace wasn’t stellar, but the experience was memorable. There were scenic overlooks, ponds, a variety of trees and plants. Nature at its finest, easily accessed and relatively close to home.
Heading back to my bike, I checked my Garmin to see how far I had run. There was one final diversion that should put me at the 5 mile mark. I turned on the gravel path and followed it to a pit that appeared to be a dried pond. Running along a ridge I heard significant rustling in the grown up vegetation. Bear? Wildcat? Oh, the thoughts that go through a startled mind. I decided to turn around, knowing that I needed to watch my footing. Once comfortable, I looked at the source of the rustling and saw the largest deer I have seen in southeast Missouri. A sturdy buck with a wide, thick rack was running up the other side of the dried pond and into the woods.
Descending the hill back to my bike wasn’t easy, but much better than the initial climb. The 11-mile bike ride home was uneventful compared to the run through the conservation area. Thanks to a fellow runner willing to share one of his favorite spots, I found a new place to get a variety of surfaces and terrain in a setting that is refreshing and invigorating. I appreciate the tip, Trevor!