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By jstookey - Posted on 04 June 2017

It's midday Sunday after an exhausting weekend. I'm at my house on the verge of passing out on the couch. I can either sleep the rest of the day away or... Get in the car, drive to Grafton Lakes State Park, and for the first time this year run one of my favorite local trails.

The trails here are elusive. When I first started exploring Grafton, I visited several times, starting at the main parking area at the beach, sometimes finding a trail or two, but quickly reaching dead ends or looping back to where I started, never really finding any trails. Only after repeated attempts after seeing another runner find their way did I begin to really discover and appreciate the trail system here. Now it is my go-to training run when I need really technical but not-too-hilly terrain. Wakely-esque if you will. My preferred 'Super Loop' starts at the free parking area west of Shaver Pond, and works it's way around the lake and around Long Pond and Second Pond, eventually touching on Mill Pond before reaching the park center. There is one add-on trail followed by a bit of road, and after crossing Route 2, a second adventure loop around Dunham Reservoir. Over the last few years I have enjoyed as many misadventures as adventures themselves on this route, including:

- Discovering an amazing football-sized field of the most amazing big blueberry bushes

- 1.5 miles into the run thinking I broke (or sprained) my ankle, wondering how I would get out of the woods. After continuing to run it miraculously recovered

- Survival runs, fueled only by berries and apples found along the route

- Swimathlons combining running with swimming in the lakes

- Running the first half of the course, falling apart, and giving up. Just to return the next day for redemption.

Not expecting much out of today, I start jogging the first section of trail. I hold a decent pace and keep the pace under 8 minute miles. An 8 minute pace feels really solid so I commit to trying to keep that pace for the second mile, and manage to hold it together. And the 3rd mile. I start thinking about trying to keep the pace as long as possible. Today is one of those incredibly rare days when as I push the pace, instead of getting winded, my body responds with wanting to push the pace even more. I keep thinking of the tougher and slower sections of the trail ahead, and trying to run a little faster now to make up for those sections. There are lots of muddy parts. There is the poorly maintained, difficult-to-navigate section of trail along the park entrance road. Then the steep section on the first half of the Dunham Pond loop. And the winding, jagged path on the second half, where I distinctly remember my knee giving out on me on a past run.

After a few miles I take a wrong turn. But don't sweat it, I quickly turn around and get back on track. I stop to talk to a family who seem a bit lost. I try to help them, hopefully I didn't get them more lost. I reach Mill Pond which means a little bit of dirt-road running, followed by the ugliest section of trail. The ugly section is optional. I have to admit there is some temptation to take the pavement instead, but a committing sharp left gets me running over soft, mossy terrain covered in sticks and downed trees.

For today's run I have decided to try to keep a steady pace when the trail is reasonably easy, but when the trail is technical, steep, or otherwise slow-going, I will work extra hard to try to put the tough section behind me as quickly as possible and not let it drag the run down. I often find that if you can keep your momentum through the tough times, you can make the difficult situations disappear. It just means putting in a little stronger effort and then making sure you recover during the easier sections so that you've got the energy to quickly crush the next one when it comes up.

As I put miles behind me at a steady pace, the end draws nearer and the motivation to hold that pace continues to grow, overriding any tiredness I might otherwise be feeling. My main mental focus is my brain telling my legs to take it easy, it's ok, slow it down a bit. But my legs won't listen. I'm wondering who let the beast out of it's cage? Some days are just like that. Not many of them, but it's great to have front row seats as the only spectator watching as it unfolds. By the last mile I know I just need to keep it up a little bit longer and make the push up the final hill to the car. I couldn't stop if I wanted to.

As soon as I'm back at the car I get a drink of water and do a short cooldown run. I try to trot but am not feeling it. I mostly walk with a small big of jogging. I can tell at this point that I gave the run pretty much everything I had in me. Amazing how effortless it felt on tough terrain just a few minutes ago, and now, how difficult.