Trail runners in McHenry County should be forgiven if occasionally they seem just a bit spoiled.
There are so many choices for trail runners to pick from that interested runners can customize a route for just about any combination of distance and weather conditions.
For a hot, sunny July afternoon, there are shaded routes over grassy paths. On the other hand, after a downpour, conditions might be too wet on a grass surface — but a paved trail will be completely drained.
Nearby natural areas abound with ponds, woods and hills, and the hills are available in several contours and lengths.
And for someone getting acquainted with running trails for the first time, several well-known, popular trails are friendly to the novice.
Pam Anderson of The Running Depot in Crystal Lake notes some of those trails available to newer trail runners.
“A lot of people run the trails at Veteran Acres in Crystal Lake,” she says. “There is a main trail that is three miles in length, plus [a] single track that connects to that. The main trail is wider and composed of a soft dirt surface with some rocks, while the single track is narrower and considerably rougher in surface, including more rocks and some slippery places. Veteran Acres is moderately hilly, including one main hill on the main trail.”
Anderson reminds beginning trail runners to take it easy when they first start out.
“First, run with a buddy for safety,” she says. “Start out slowly; maybe make one of your weekly runs a trail run at first so you can build up your feet and ankle strength gradually to avoid injury. As far as shoes, regular running shoes will work just fine on the main path at Veteran Acres. If you get off onto the single track, then you might consider more of a trail-running shoe.”
Veteran Acres Park is located at 432 N. Walkup Road in Crystal Lake and is managed by the Crystal Lake Park District.
Here are other McHenry County trails to consider:
(For more information, visit the McHenry County Conservation District website at www.mccdistrict.com.)
Coral Woods Conservation Area
7400 Somerset Road, in Marengo
This conservation area features century-old groves of red oak and white oak trees. Trails total 2.5 miles in two loops, both with relatively flat, grassy surfaces. The parking area features toilets, drinking water and a picnic shelter.
6316 Harts Road, in Ringwood
Glacial Park is very scenic with many hills. The trails are heavily-used — beneficial for anyone with security concerns. There are approximately 5 total miles of different kinds of trails, mostly shaded. Six parking lots all have toilets and drinking water. The Marsh Loop Trail is 1.1 miles long; Deerpath Trail, 2.1 miles; Bridge-to-Prairie Trail, 1.7 miles; Coyote Loop Trail, 1.2 miles; Snowmobile Trail, 3.1 miles. Surfaces vary; some are grassy.
Pleasant Valley Conservation Area
13315 Pleasant Valley Road, in Woodstock
Pleasant Valley is more than 1,700 acres. Mowed grass trail surfaces are very soft and low-impact, but may stay wet and slick after rain. Five miles of hiking and nature trails are available for runners; some are hilly, but are labeled for winter cross-country skiers, so trail runners can use these ratings to determine difficulty. The main parking lot, approximately 1 mile from the entrance, features toilets, drinking water and picnic shelters, and it is centrally located to all trail choices.
Parking at McHenry County college, on Rt. 14, in Woodstock
This trail recently was extended to 4 miles. It features a paved surface that starts at McHenry County College and now connects to Veteran Acres Park trails. There are no facilities except at Veteran Acres.
Church Street, in Hebron
The Hebron Trail features 7 miles of trails on a gravel surface constructed on a former rail bed. It runs from Church Street in Hebron (just north of Route 173) to the North Branch Conservation Area; it intersects the Prairie Trail near Richmond just south of the Wisconsin state line. There are no parking or facilities except in Hebron or Richmond.
Various access points; see Glacial Park (above) for parking
The Prairie Trail consists of 26 miles total; 8 miles are a gravel surface from Ringwood north to Genoa City, Wis., and a paved 18-mile portion runs south from Ringwood to Algonquin. The trail is popular with cyclists, especially on weekends. South of Algonquin, the Prairie Trail connects directly to the Fox River Trail in Kane County.
Huntley-Union-Marengo Trail (HUM Trail)
The trail head is located one block northeast of Route 20 on Prospect Street behind Marengo Middle School
This paved trail runs 3.5 miles from Vine Street in Union to East Street in Marengo, allowing downtown-to-downtown use. The parking area on Prospect Street in Marengo features a toilet.
Stickney Run Conservation Area
3216 W, State Park Road, McHenry
This mowed grass surface features two short, scenic trail loops of 0.5 miles each that patrons can run out and back to create a run of 1 or 2 miles. It also features a 3-acre pond. The parking area includes a toilet, drinking water and a picnic shelter.
Wendy Kummerer, communications manager of the McHenry County Conservation District, says that although the district’s website does not specifically mention trail running, all of the information mentioned for hiking is appropriate to trail runners.
Bob Walsh of the local running club Health Bridge Roadrunners suggests that trail runners who are ready to compete visit www.healthbridgefitness.com to register for the Northwest Trail Run, which will take place Nov. 11. Races of 5-mile and 10-mile distances are planned, as well as a 5-mile fitness walk. The route includes Veteran Acres and Sterne’s Woods trails. mc
Footwear For Trail Running
The Running Depot in Crystal Lake offers the following suggestions when looking for proper trail-running footwear:
• A trail running shoe features a sole with harder carbon rubber for traction and protection from rock and rough surfaces, along with a more rugged upper for durability.
• Trail runners should wear non-cotton moisture-wicking socks to prevent chafing. Merino wool is a good choice.
• Gaiters are available to keep rocks, dirt and water off of shoe tops. They are especially used in distance events.