On the trail of fitness
Runners trade roadside noise and fumes for 'magnificent paths, sublime vistas'
Drive down most local roadways on the Peninsula and you can't help but notice the fitness buffs in their running shoes pounding the asphalt or sidewalks, eyes straight ahead, breathing hard as fumes from passing cars and trucks linger in the air around them.
Woodside resident Robert Rhodes is also a committed runner, but one who some years ago turned onto a path less traveled in pursuit of fitness and the beauty of the local landscape.
The 42-year-old certified personal trainer became a regular presence on trails that overlook some of the most breathtaking scenery on the Peninsula, and six years ago, he founded Baytrailrunners to connect with others interested in the sport of trail running.
Now, through his Web site baytrailrunners.com, he organizes and leads trail runs in areas including Windy Hill, Purisima Creek, Huddart and Wunderlich parks, and El Corte del Madera Creek.
The trail runners set out three or four times a week, and more on weekends. Participants must register online.
The Web site has a calendar and description of circuits for upcoming runs, daily weather reports, message boards, links to articles about trail running, and a unique "five paw" rating system that cautions, "One paw is an easy run. Five could hurt!"
Although the fees for Mr. Rhodes' personal-trainer services are competitive, the fee to participate in Baytrailrunners is only $30 a year.
Although he refers to himself as "just a runner," Mr. Rhodes placed sixth in the first race he ever ran — the Big Sur Trail Marathon of 2004. He says he was content to be sixth because the winner had to accept a rubber chicken. (Western marathon running is far less respected than its eastern counterparts, he explains. Boston and New York reward their winners with cash.)
But money isn't the motivator for him, he says. It was the "magnificent paths and sublime vistas" of Windy Hill in Portola Valley that first inspired him.
"I started running these trails for my own pleasure, and in the process, learned that the trails were little-known to other runners in the San Francisco Bay Area. So I took it as my mission to introduce these lands to a wider audience," he says.
Before the dot-com bust, Mr. Rhodes worked for a San Francisco-based Web site content provider. When the company folded in 2001, he took a temporary job as a bartender at the Village Pub in Woodside.
On his time off, he began to do some historical research and discovered that the lumber trade had stripped the surrounding hills to build San Francisco and other Bay Area towns.
He explored the local open space preserves — Windy Hill, Huddart Park, Wunderlich, and La Honda — and found some old-growth redwoods on the trails, as well as abandoned lumber roads and deserted mills.
His hikes turned into runs so he could cover more distance. He had no idea where he was going or how far, so he took along some standard topographical maps with local hiking trails highlighted in red, a little black and white notebook, and a Garmin E-trex Vista global positioning system; with them, he tracked the routes he was taking.
The GPS would sometimes lose reception under the thickness of the forest or behind the steepness of a hill. But over time, he recorded about 15 circuits with their time, distance and elevation profiles.
He named the trails to match their history: The "Panic of '73" (from the Long Depression), "Littlejohn Ways" (water channels used to transport logs to Redwood City for sawing), "Purdy Pharis" (a shingle mill owner who died under mysterious circumstances).
On the run
For Baytrailrunners outings, Mr. Rhodes keeps groups small, he says, because he has to obtain a permit from the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District for big groups. And, he adds, the personality of a trail runner is generally different from that of their track and field cousins. They tend to be introverts. There is not the chatter and socializing on these treks that you find in larger groups that run on asphalt, he notes.
They move at a slower pace, up hills, around turns, over roots, through dirt, snow and mud. They share the road with hikers and have access to trails that horses and bikes do not.
Mr. Rhodes takes experienced runners on trails that range from 8 to 26 miles in length and cover all kinds of terrain. Beginners are introduced to shorter, slower runs; before setting out, he gives novices "lots of recommendations" on footwear, attire, nutrition, hydration, and warm-up and cool-down techniques.
After a maiden run, he may provide complimentary water and apple slices, he says.
As for the health benefits of running, Mr. Rhodes quotes Lifetime Fitness magazine: "Running develops muscular and cardiovascular endurance," and "is also one of the best ways to alleviate stress since it releases alpha waves in your brain, leaving you relaxed and invigorated."
Robert Rhodes conducts trail runs every week. For $30, adult participants receive a one-year membership and a T-shirt. For more information, call 701-1877, or log on at baytrailrunners.com.