The Joy of Winter."
Any of us who run regularly have favorite paths and routes.
It could be as simple as a course following neighborhood roads, with a long stretch leading back home passing an audience of porch sitters.
Do they cheer you on? Or, is it just a certain sense of accomplishment, knowing you delayed dinner an hour to log a few miles in?
Maybe your favorite finishes up a big hill, providing a kind of "man versus nature" battle as you surge to the apex.
One of my favorites is a five mile loop around Bullfrog Lake, in the Cook County Forest Preserve District, near Willow Springs, IL.
I start at the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center (9800 Willow Springs Road, Willow Springs, IL 60480). The Little Red Schoolhouse used to be exactly as described, but presently is a nature center. The building itself houses an array of area animals - small birds, amphibians and reptiles, as well as a sharp staff keen on educating all who stop by. Adjacent is a pond surrounded by pear, apple and plum blossoms every spring, and filled with birds all year long.
The run begins with a well-maintained dirt path. Flat and solid, you will feel sure-footed and fast. In the first couple of miles, you will see families touring the area. Signs label key areas explaining whatever flora or fauna is nearby. A waist-high wooden fence separates runners from the small ponds.
By the time you are warmed up, you will be in the thick of the woods. Large, old trees, and hidden prairies show themselves to be the home of white-tailed deer and red fox, and the occasional coyote peeking out to say hello.
Two miles later, you will pop out into an open picnic area at Bullfrog Lake. Stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill and crappie, its most famous residents, the frogs, can be heard splashing as you close in on the pond.
A quick left, and 100 meters later, your trip takes you back into the forest. Essentially, the path winds the perimeter of the pond. Slowly, the trail becomes more and more rustic as it climbs, and, as you have run around three miles by this point, you are tired. Suddenly, the shadows of the woods give way to sunlight.
Overlooking eastward toward the lake, you see parents and children playing. The pleasant scent of chicken and burgers grilling has somehow found its way across the lake. Weekend fishermen try their luck at bringing home some dinner. But you are there to run, and welcome the long downhill.
Watch your step. Water has rushed down and eroded the land, creating rumpled, hard earth, more suitable now for mountain goats than 40-something guys and gals trying to lose a few pounds. Still, your inner Olympian finds his way out, and you dash down the hill and work your way around the lake. Give a nod to the fishermen, and toss the wayward Frisbee or 16-inch softball back to their owner.
Up another hill, and you are where you entered this area. Just two miles will return you to your car at the Little Red Schoolhouse. With around a mile to go, you will see again the waist-high wooden fences, and this is your cue to muster up some speed. Somehow, with the fence, the families walking, and a sense of completion looming, every step will feel faster.
Grab a towel and a bottle of water, and take a walk around to the slough behind the buildings, and sit on a bench. Watch the birds fly in and out, look for a deer stopping by for a quick drink, and know that for an hour or so, you were part of this beautiful nature.
Running Playlist Song of the Week
Peanuts Theme ("Linus And Lucy") by Vince Guaraldi
Christmas is coming, and so will "A Charlie Brown Christmas". Snoopy will dance with the rest of the gang as we are reminded that the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ.
Peppy, with a 1960s funky jazz piano and snare drum, this works well as a mid-run song.
For more about nature centers in The Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Writer Anthony Trendl loves BBQs, folk music and porches. He looks to running as he battles midlife and his mid-section. Find out more: http://anthonytrendl.com
For more about my running adventures, see A Runner’s Dilemma (workout details, videos and more): http://runnersdilemma.blogspot.com
The Red Bandana: Finding Fitness Through the Joy of Running