TITLE: Running on the Road: The Oxford, Ohio, Area AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 20, 2010 6:59 PM DESC: ----- BODY: (The seventh stop in the Running on the Road series. The first six were Allerton Park, Illinois, Muncie, Indiana, Vancouver, British Columbia, St. Louis, Missouri, Houston, Texas, Carefree, Arizona, and Greenfield, Indiana.) water at Hueston Woods State Park Much time has passed since my last Running on the Road report, written three years ago after a high school reunion. My conference travel schedule has not been as extensive in the interim, but I have been to SIGCSE in places such as Milwaukee and Portland, a couple of SECANT workshops at Purdue, and a few other meetings. I've also vacationed in places such as San Diego and St. Louis. I've run at least a little bit all these places, though persistent illness often had me running far fewer miles and so not seeking out routes more adventurous than shorts loops near my hotels. Still, Portland, Milwaukee, San Diego, and even West Lafayette deserve reports of their own. Time and inclination to write them have been scarce at the times they needed to be written. Here in the dog days of summer, I find a few moments where writing about running on the road seems the right thing to do, even though the location isn't a big city or common conference or vacation destination. Over the weekend, I intended an informal reunion of college friends, which we held at Hueston Woods State Park, not too far from the college town of Oxford, Ohio. This park has, in addition to all the features one expects from a nature refuge, a first-rate lodge that lives more like a resort center or a vacation hotel. From that base, I had a chance to run two different routes that I will want to remember and which other runners might enjoy. I have just begun training for a fall marathon, about which I will surely have something to say in the coming months. For this trip, though, it meant that I had a 7-mile run planned for Friday morning and a 14-mile long run planned for Sunday. Between the kind of resort we had planned for the reunion and the eight-hour drive to it from my home, I decided to save my Friday AM run for the evening and the park and to hit the road sooner. Why run the same old 7-mile loops at home when the prospect of beautiful new scenery called from Ohio? the lodge at Hueston Woods State Park Like many parks of this kind, Hueston Woods offers quite a selection of off-road trails for walkers, hikers, and mountain bikers. At the right time of day and under the right conditions, these trails might be perfect for a runner, too. I decided to play it conservatively and stick to the roads in and around the park, which themselves offered relaxing views without the risks of trails: bad footing, slopes that are occasionally too steep for running, and the potential of running into people who are taking a more leisurely trek through the wilderness. So I used the lodge itself as the starting point for both of my runs. Main Loop Road After a long and tiring day driving, I decided not to venture too far from the known for my evening run. I picked up a map of the park, saw that there is a nice loop that circles Acton Lake, and asked the staff at the front desk about its length. They gave me an idea of driving distances to various attractions around the lake, and from those numbers I extrapolated that the main Loop Road must be in the 6-7 mile range. Perfect. So off I headed. Perhaps I should have played it safer by driving the loop myself or at least trying to use the scale marker on the map to estimate the road's length more accurately. First, the road from the lodge to the loop was longer than I anticipated, about 1/2 mile. Once on the loop, I found myself running, and running, and still running. After 50 minutes, I started to worry that I had not seen the last landmark along the way. After 60 minutes, I knew that my estimate was way too low -- but by how much? After 70 minutes, I decided that I should limit my losses and stop soon. At the 78:00 mark, I stopped running and began walking. I was not too far from home... I walked about seven minutes before finishing the loop. When I got back to the lodge, I asked a different staff person, who told me the loop is 11 miles long. Given my times (73 minutes running and 7 minutes walking), the conditions (lots of hills to slow me down and a day having sat stiffly in a car), and my fitness level, I doubt strongly that I ran seven-minute miles. So I estimate that that loop is nine miles, certainly no more than 9.5 miles. Were I better reporter, I would have driven the loop myself before coming home Sunday to confirm my estimate. But in the end I enjoyed the route enough to recommend it for future runs. The scenery is simple but pleasant. As the park's main road, it offers many options for side trips to extend or replace part of the loop, including access to the park's dozen or so trails at several points along the way. There are several hills of varying length and grade, which added a bit of spice to the run. This road makes for a solid basic component on which to build runs at Hueston Woods. Welcome to Oxford seen entering town The Road to Oxford Once I saw the kind of roads that lead to the state park, I quickly decided to do my long run by running from the park to Oxford and back. Oxford is home to Miami University, an athletic rival of my alma mater and an strong academic school. I'd never spent much time in Oxford, and that was over twenty years ago. My group dined in town Saturday night and found a surprising variety of cuisine, including an Indian restaurant, a couple of sushi places, and several small bistros with the sort of trendy food one finds in college towns for students and faculty desiring worldliness. Hueston Woods State Park is 5 miles up the road from Oxford on State Road 732. The jog from the front door of the lodge to the main Loop Road is 0.5 miles, and the road from there to the park entrance is 1.7 miles. I confirmed all of these numbers with the help of one of my buddies on the drive back from the restaurant Saturday night. Thus I was able to go out with confidence early Sunday morning and run an out-and-back route totaling 14.3 miles. This route offers a rural vista common to Ohio, my home state of Indiana, and the rest of the Midwest. Being in southern Ohio, it also presents many curves, few straightaways of any note, and half dozen or so hills of varying length and grade that challenge any runner accustomed to training and racing on flat land. There are stands of trees, farms with corn and cows, and even a covered bridge that merits a paragraph in Wikipedia. One warning for my friends from other parts of the country: Do not expect shoulders alongside the road. Rarely on SR 732 is there room on the pavement for cars in both directions and a runner on one side. When my future wife first visited my family in Indiana, one of the first things she noticed was that there were no shoulders on the country roads leading to our house, or anywhere in our county. Ohio seems to have the same feature. The roads in the park were somewhat better, but only because they tended to be wider. I did not have any trouble on the state road leading into and out of Oxford early on a Sunday morning, but I remained alert throughout. Even with the hills and the curves, I surprised myself with a brisk two-hour, three-minute long run. I enjoyed each minute along the way and will happily run this route again when I next visit Butler County. Next time, I wouldn't mind adding some mileage to explore the Miami U. campus or to press on south of Oxford back into the country. I'm back home now, my usual routes. Hueston Woods gave me a welcome break and a boost of energy as I press on with beginning of marathon training. -----