Trail running is poetry in Lawrence

Members of the Lawrence Trailhawks run along the North River Trail in May 2012. The trail is literally in Lawrence's backyard and provides a variety of terrain for all levels of runner.

Members of the Lawrence Trailhawks run along the North River Trail in May 2012. The trail is literally in Lawrence's backyard and provides a variety of terrain for all levels of runner. by Nick Krug

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” — Robert Frost

If Robert Frost had been a runner, he’d have been a trail runner. The “woods” and “miles to go” says it all about one of the most accessible ways to get into nature, stay fit, and have ample opportunities to run on your own or with groups.

Trail running has been called three-dimensional running. The forward component is obvious — yet trails can work you through series of ups and downs and laterally, forcing you to use more stabilizing and core muscles due to the variety of terrain. You have to stay alert and be aware of your surroundings and the footing, which can be tricky depending on the trail. Rocks, roots, stream crossings, dips, hills, limbs and other obstacles all come into play on the trails. There is something exhilarating about running them, as Bernd Heinrich in his book “Why We Run” states: “There is nothing quite so gentle, deep and irrational as running — and nothing quite so savage, so wild.”

This “wildness” comes out on the trails, and the Lawrence area has plenty to offer. Two of the best local options, featured in a recent Trail Runner magazine article, are the North Lawrence River Trails and the Clinton Lake North Shore Trails. Both of these are literally in our backyard and provide a variety of terrain for all levels of runner.

The River Trails consist of a 9-mile loop with gentler, smoother footing and less aggressive trails, highlighting the softer surface, which is easier on feet and legs. The Clinton Lake North Shore Trails have two different main ones (marked blue and white) that connect into a 20-plus-mile loop of more "varied" terrain with elevation changes, rocks, roots, twists and turns. About 3 miles out from the trailhead, there is also a newer trail (marked red) that runs closer to and along the shoreline for a more "rocky" adventure. There are posted maps at the trailhead for each of these trails. and information can also be found online with a simple Google search.

In getting started, there are a few things to keep in mind. While the sport itself is relatively minimalist, a good pair of running/trail shoes is a must. On a gentler trail, such as the River Trails, a regular pair of running shoes would do fine. But on more aggressive trails, such as the Clinton Lake or Perry Lake Trails, a lugged sole with some cushioning/protection from rocks is a good idea. Dress in layers, depending on the weather, and be sure to account for hydration/nutrition depending on the distance — there are lots of good options, from handheld water bottles to hydration packs.

In running, take it easy until you get adjusted to the trails. Shorter strides, staying under control, looking about 10 feet ahead on the trail to see what’s coming but at the same time, be aware where you are! Pick a positive line, focusing on where you want your feet to land, not on what you’re trying to avoid. Pick your feet up, keeping your arms wide for balance on difficult stretches.

Trails are a great place to go solo and get away from it all, but they're also a great place for group/social runs. There are several groups in the area (Lawrence Trail Hawks, KC Trail Nerds) that have weekly group runs for many ability levels.

Racing is also a great place to meet other runners, along with challenging yourself! There is something for everybody, from 5K to 100K, and all if them are user friendly. The Trail Hawks and the Trail Nerds sponsor many area races. Check out their websites or the runLawrence website to access these race schedules. The key is to take that first step out the door and find yourself on the trails.

When I was coaching high school cross country, we would take our athletes out to the trails near the end of the first week of practice. We would talk about how running cross country takes heart and soul. The heart, I would explain, comes from the hard effort, repeats, intervals and miles put in on the roads and at the track.

Then, after a short pause, I would nod at the trails and say, “the soul is in there.” And we would enter.

  • Dan Kuhlman is an employee at Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, 804 Massachusetts St., and an avid trail runner and racer. For more info, visit

Tagged: outdoor adventure, races, 5K, trail running, form, shoes


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