A local running group is inviting athletes to rediscover their roots...
And their rocks, hills, ferns, mud, deer, turtles, roaring creeks, old oaks and tall, majestic pines.
Though the Summer Survivor Trail Running Series offered by local off-road enthusiasts the Trailheads, dozens of runners unfamiliar with running on trails are gaining a newfound respect and love for a running environment that may have once seemed mysterious, uninviting, or even intimidating.
Starting from alternating locations throughout a series that began July 8, runners are gathering on Tuesday evenings through Aug. 19 to descend on guided running tours that traverse through the woodlands of Chapel Hill North Forest and the natural areas flanking Bolin Creek.
Having run through a severe thunderstorm as the first week's run concluded, longtime Trailhead Steve "Squonk" Hoge said he was pleased to see just as many program participants returning for more the second week.
"There are probably as many out today for the second run as there were for the first," he said. "We've got close to 70, people are better prepared, and Brian "Gyro" Beatty of Carrboro's Balanced Physical Therapy came and gave a great talk about balance, strength and stability on the trails. It's just great to see people out having fun and growing -- growing with the trees."
Though the attention to surroundings necessitated by trail-running can be an acquired taste for those more acclimated to road running, many are finding the escape from heat, noise, traffic and repetitive impact-related injuries more to their liking than pounding the pavement.
"It was a little more technical than what I'm used to running out there," Lori Valentine said after her second week on the trails. "But it was a blast. I felt like a kid out playing in the woods."
Having been on several of the trails nearer to Horace Williams Airport, runner Beth Guiles was surprised by the ones closer to Bolin Creek. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I thought I knew the trails.' That was awesome," she said.
Through a common love of trail-running, mountain-biking, ultra-running, triathlons and other adventure sports, the Trailheads celebrate nature, preservation and sensible stewardship.
After hosting the third installment of their successful Little River Trail Run in northern Orange County last Jan., the group turned their attentions on highlighting the resource of Chapel Hill and Carrboro's own local trails through its Philosopher's Way Trail Run later this past spring.
That event promoted awareness of the forest and of UNC's active management program, providing participants a chance to connect with the 750 acres of tranquil natural oasis nestled between Chapel Hill and Carrboro now known as the Carolina North Forest.
The event also reflected a collaborative effort between the Trailheads and UNC Chapel Hill's Carolina North Forest Management -- a group committed to responsibly stewarding the open spaces and natural areas of the University's campus landscape.
"The (Philosopher's Way) is win-win," Carolina North Forest Manager Greg Kopsch said after that race. "It's great for both of our organizations."
On the heels of that race, however, the Trailheads noted an interest by many participants to learn more about the local forests and the running trails that ran through them. The Summer Survivor series emerged as Hoge, race director Joe Lea and other Trailheads conceived of a program through which the single-track runners might simply serve as guides.
"I heard about this (series) from a running friend," participant Emily McGregor said, "but I did run the Philosopher's Way run too.
Without obligation of consistent attendance or cost, the program billed itself in e-mails as a simple opportunity to gather, run in groups sorted by pace and distance and perhaps "talk to a tree," with an emphasis on creative improvisation.
"The key to trail running is to adjust as you go," Hoge said, describing the program's parameters on the Trailheads' Web site. "So too is our approach to this series: We've never tried this."
Adding to the numbers attending is the fact that the Cardinal Track Club has many members showing up for the Summer Survivor Series as one of their own weekly social runs.
"I was in the 'No Boundaries' running program through the Cardinal Track Club," Anna Cooper said. "Plus, I've been coming out some since January, and I'll do one or two trail runs a week. I started out walking, and I'd learn one route, and then I'd add to it each week.
"Now I know all of the trails that lead down toward (Bolin Creek), and I've run on the other side of that river just once, but I didn't like that as much. We did the hill that was in the Philosopher's Run with Cardinal about four weeks ago. I just love it."
"This is my first time out, and I loved it," Amy Farris said. "I run daily, but this was my first time out with a group. I'm from the Northwest, so I run trails all the time. It was watching for other peoples' feet that was hard, but it's so cool how you can look around (the forest) and just see a million people running."
And the opportunity to introduce more people to the local trail system is also scoring points with the Trailheads themselves.
"I got to run with a gentleman, and this was only his second trail run, his first being with the Trailheads last week," said Amy Leigh Brown, a.k.a. "Flame." "He hung in there and came back to run with us again. That was a great feeling."
"We opened up the pace a little in Spyder-Hole Trail. That trail is just so flat and run-able, so we just dropped that last half-mile," said Bob "KernDog" Kern, who led an ambitious five-mile run last week.
"It's neat to help someone accomplish something they never thought they could do and thoroughly enjoy it," said Beatty, last Tuesday's guest speaker.
Hoge said there are still four weeks of running in the series.
"We'll have more speakers lined up, and distances will be increasing, but only slightly," he said. "We'll be moving toward a navigational challenge where people find their way back to their cars.
"At one point tonight out on the trails, I asked people where they thought their cars were, and most pointed due south, while the cars were actually due west. We'll be building some way-finding skills into this."
Kern said familiarity should breed fun for most of the runners participating.
"Everyone seemed to stay as a good group," Kern said, "and we talked about names for the trails so that people can grow more familiarized with the area when they go back out. When you hear the names a couple times, you get a better sense for where you are."
In the meantime, Carolina North Forest Management is also offering programs to better familiarize locals with the trail system on the land flanking Horace Williams Airport. These programs, which will promote way-finding and an understanding of trail names and amenities, will run on Saturday morning each month through the fall.
For most already involved in the series, however, it's quickly becoming evident that a return to your roots need not send you far afield, and it often leads to a better appreciation for the family trees right here in your own backyard.