by Arianne Hemlein
“I don't know how to describe it...it's just pure fun running through huge puddles and crossing swollen creeks.” – Stéphane Daniel, Organizer for the Raleigh Trail Runners
“Umstead provides a variety of possibilities including hiking, running, and biking in a natural setting that is conveniently located right in town. All of these things can be enjoyed without the worries of traffic, noise, or pollution; or being stuck in a gym.” – John Berar, outdoor exercise enthusiastic and frequent visitor to Umstead
Committed to improving your fitness this year? Lucky for you, you can meet your green exercise goals in the free outdoor gym sitting in your backyard – William B. Umstead State Park. Green exercise refers to combining fitness with a love and appreciation for natural outdoor spaces. It’s not surprising that recent studies indicate a clear link between improved mental and physical well-being and outdoor activities.
These benefits include convenience, a connection with mother nature, reduced depression and anxiety from the release of beneficial “mood elevating hormones,” a vitamin D boost, and a lack of membership or entrance fees. Click here for the science. Simply put, being out of doors is good for body and soul.
Whether you are just starting a fitness routine, looking for a quick bike, run or hike, or training for an endurance event, Umstead State Park boasts miles of groomed multi-use and single-track trails convenient to metropolitan areas as well as a variety of outdoor-oriented social fitness groups. These exercise support groups provide camaraderie, accountability, increased motivation, and encouragement. You can find Umstead based activities listed on the Meetup app (see links below).
Explore the beautiful wooded trails with one of several active hiking groups including Triangle Hiking and Outdoors Group, Life is a Hike, and Umstead State Park Support, among others. The recommended pace and fitness level are usually listed in the event posting. Umstead State Park Support also occasionally offers senior hikes, history walks, and newborn-stroller hikes. If the popularity of these events is any indication, these outings must be enjoyable.
If you’re looking for even more of a challenge, and are interested in running on the single track trails, check out Raleigh Trail Runners. This group is devoted to running “off the beaten path” on rugged trails like Sycamore, Company Mill and Loblolly, so be prepared for the challenge of roots, rocks, and elevation changes. RTR organizer, Stéphane Daniel, says new members should be able to run four trail miles prior to joining an event. Organizers will encourage newcomers and do their best to accommodate a variety of paces.
Asked what he enjoys about running in the park, Stéphane says, “trail running is much easier on the legs and feet than running on pavement, and you'll very likely avoid all those road running repetitive injuries. But the biggest draw is running in the forests and being one with nature. You never know what surprise you might come upon in a trail run like the very common sightings of creatures.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The multi-use trails are also perfect for bike rides. The elevation changes, particularly on Turkey Creek trail are sure to give you a cardio work out.
If you are goal oriented when it comes to exercise, consider training for one of the annual fitness events held in Umstead: The Umstead Marathon on March 2; Walk, Run Bike for Umstead on April 13; or the Gravel Grinder 50/100 mile bike race Maybe you’ll even find yourself so enthusiastic about green exercise, that you’ll sign up for the Umstead 100 mile race. Don’t get any crazy ideas just yet. Registration for the 100 is closed this year, but plenty of volunteer opportunities remain for you to dip in and test the waters. The race director, Rhonda Hampton, says volunteers who pace other runners often end up as future participants. I’ll tell you a lot more about this race in my March post.
Want to check off two of your new year’s resolutions at once? Combine fitness with volunteer work with the park staff and Umstead Coalition events, also listed on Meetup.
With these groups you can find social connection, support for your goals, accountability, camaraderie, and safety. Shared fitness goals are successful fitness goals. Ultra runner, Rhonda Hampton, says she receives at least one “biological gift” on each visit to the park whether it’s running across an old friend on the trail, sighting wildlife, or a beautiful wildflower. So head, out to your backyard park to make friends, stay sane, shed pounds cheaply, and smile more all while staying fit.
Note: The multi-use trailhead access from the North Harrison Avenue (Cary) entrance is now open.
Raleigh Trail Runners
7miles by 7am on Thursdays and Fridays
9am Saturday Trail runs with varying mileage
Umstead State Park Support
Feb 14, 20 10am Senior Hike
Feb 25 3pm Newborn Stroller hike
Life Is a Hike
Check the schedule for upcoming events
Raleigh recreational hikers
Sun Feb. 10 8:30am Old Reedy Creek Trailhead
Triangle Hiking and Outdoors Group
Check the schedule for upcoming events