These ‘Happy Trails’ ultrarunners part of growing movement

Mike Acer trains for upcoming races such as the upcoming Western States 100. (Trailjunkiesphoto.com)

Nature hikes on trails have been around about as long as, well, nature itself.

There’s nothing like taking in the sights and sounds of a wooded mountainside.

Unless you’re a trail runner.

While the beauty of the landscape can still be appreciated, there isn’t really much time or space to take in one’s surroundings.

That’s because there could be a fallen tree or an embedded rock just waiting around the next curve in the path.

Some might consider that a drawback, but not Mike Acer and the hearty crew of trail traversers from the Bucks County Roadrunners Club.

This group of elevation enthusiasts think nothing of doing repeats on the challenging trails of Baldpate Mountain in nearby Titusville, N.J. or Washington Crossing State Park on the Jersey side.

Both provide some of the steepest inclines in the area.

Acer, a Yardley resident, gets together with the trail gang just about every weekend to get their fill of lung-blasting exercise.

It’s all part of a growing movement which is not necessarily for the faint of heart.

Unless you’re willing to bounce over roots, ruts and rocks for 50K, 50 miles, 100K or 100 miles, this sport is probably not for you.

“The popularity (of trail running) is growing tremendously,’’ said Acer, a Yardley resident. “With the BCRR group, we get from 10 to 30 people show up on a regular basis. There are probably 40 or 50 runners all together.’’

Basically, this type of racing is a hybrid of trail and ultramarathon running.

The distances might seem daunting, but running on dirt, packed leaves, clay, whatever is considered much healthier on one’s body than running a 26.2-mile marathon on pavement.

There’s less stress on the knees, back and feet.

“For me, I had done a decade’s worth of marathons and everything,’’ said Acer, a Brooklyn, N.Y. native who grew up on Staten Island, lived in New Jersey for 25 years and wound up in Bucks about seven years ago. “I have found that comparatively, if I do a 50K on trails vs. a road marathon, I’m less beat up from the trails.

“With that said, we’re running on roots and rocks all the time so every so often you’re catching a toe and going down where you don’t necessarily do that on the road. But overall, I believe it’s easier on your body. The enjoyment part to me, I’ve done a large amount of marathons in my previous life and I just love being on trails now.’’

In the long run, there’s less wear and tear on the joints and so forth.

“Give me trails, give me single track trails, mountains and I’m happy,’’ Acer said. “I could be there all day.’’

The thing about trail running is it can get quite technical. One can’t be studying butterflies and flowers when a dangerous dip in the trail could lie just ahead.

“It’s quite mentally challenging because when we’re running on Baldpate it’s very, very rocky,’’ Acer said. “Some of the descents I really enjoy because every step you’re recalculating your next two or three steps based on where you’re putting your foot now.

“And it’s a lot of fun once you get to the point where you can handle that. It’s total focus, you’re looking down or a few yards ahead trying to figure out what your next steps are going to be. To me, I love that. the challenge of the technical downhill.’’

You know that old line about all you need for running is a pair of shorts and a pair of shoes.

Trail running requires a little more than that. You need sturdily built shoes to handle rough terrain.

“Shoes are a religion and everyone has their own religion,’’ said Acer, who’s done a 100-mile race around Lake Tahoe and is now training for the prestigious Western States 100 in Colorado. “Most of us will run in trail- focus shoes. They tend to have an aggressive sole or lugs on the bottom. There’s a bit more protection on toe and side of foot because you’re kicking rocks and roots.’’

Acer, a digital video specialist who’s likely designed the system which carries the movie you’re watching on your iPad, said he wants to keep doing trails until it’s time to sing “Happy Trails’’ and rides off into the sunset.

In the meantime, he’s enthusiastic about this latest running boom.

“It’s always exciting to get new people,’’ he said. “I believe the popularity is increasing. I think a lot of people are finding that running in the trails is so much more enjoyable. You can’t worry about pace, but staying upright, running through mud, snow.’’

The global health crisis may have played into this trend.

“The popularity of ultrarunning has been growing,’’ Acer said. “During this pandemic, there’s such a demand for races – it was tough enough to get into as an example, the Western States lottery, 6,700 people for 275 spots. A lot more people have gotten into trail running.

“As these races open up, a lot of them sell out almost immediately. It’s a good and bad thing. You see people on trails but then you get sold out of every race. It gets to be challenging.’’

At 59, the only concession Acer makes is that it takes more time to recover.

“I like to not think about it,’’ he said with a chuckle. “Some of the younger folks come in and I like to be an example of what’s possible. I fall a lot, cut my knees a lot, but I want to keep doing it. There will come a day when I won’t be able to. Hopefully that day is not near.’’

It sounds like he’s still having fun while he can go up the mountain. And everyone knows the run downhill can be even more enjoyable.

To get more information on the BCRR outings, check the club’s Facebook page.

 

Race calendar

 

Saturday, April 24

Bookin’ for Lookin’ 5K, Bucks 5K Series, 9 a.m., Newtown. Contact www.bookinforlookin.com

 

 

 

About Wayne Fish 1376 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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