March 13, 2020
Written by Luke Whitmire
It is incredible to read and listen to the stories of outdoor adventurers that have been pushing the boundaries over the recent years. Names such as Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, and Colin O’Brady have become household names through their daring adventures and accomplishments in the outdoors. Why do their stories matter to us? Many of us will never accomplish what these professionals have, so what can we learn from them besides a cool story?
One of our values here at Outdoor Recreation is adventure. Adventure is a very vague word and can be used to describe everything from a daring new type of activity to a late-night run to Walmart with your friends, so let’s dig deeper into the word. Our department defines our adventure value by striving to use exciting undertakings to intentionally explore the people and places that surround us.
“We strive to use exciting undertakings to intentionally explore the people and places that surround us.”
-Outdoor Recreation Core Values-
It is important to recognize that this means that adventure is subjective to each person and will vary based on a person’s comfort levels. We see this often throughout our daily lives here at Outdoor Recreation. A great example is our zipline and high ropes course. Our zipline here gets many different reactions from many different people. To the experienced zipliner, our setup may not seem the most exciting, adventurous thing out there, and that’s okay. However, to someone who is afraid of heights and is uncomfortable with being suspended in the air, it can be extremely terrifying and adventurous! It is important to recognize that both of these experiences are valid and acceptable. If you are comfortable with it, seek something else out at a higher level that will be challenging for you! However, we must always remember not to look down on others based on what they are comfortable doing. We must always seek to challenge ourselves, whatever level we are at. The important thing is not the level activity you are doing, such as a calm paddle down the James River versus level four rapids, but the fact that you are seeking to challenge yourself and grow through adversity.
Adventure can teach you very important things. In order to challenge yourself and combat your fears, it requires self-discipline, to force yourself to continue through the fear and adversity. It requires the ability to set goals and persevere to follow through on those goals. These lessons can be applied in all areas of our lives. The area you want to challenge yourself in may not even be in the outdoors and it may not even be something you are afraid of! Maybe you want to be more consistent in exercising or maybe you want to read more. Whatever your goals may be, the self-discipline and goal accomplishing mindset that can be learned in the outdoors is applicable to you no matter where you go in life!That’s why we should pay attention to things like Collin O’Brady’s crossing of the Antarctic or Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan.
What’s your El Capitan? What’s something that sounds absolutely crazy, yet is attainable through hard work and a willingness to push yourself? The best way to grow, both in the outdoors and in your everyday life, is to seek out adventure and to be uncomfortable. So, face that fear, go on that new trip, and seek out adventure every chance you get. Get uncomfortable.
February 17, 2020
Written by Katy Ward
Have you ever unexpectedly found a new passion? Something that you had no idea existed but once you discovered it, you fell in love? I have.
In February 2018, Liberty University Outdoor Recreation facilitated its first caving trip. I had the privilege of being one of these initial participants to embark on this new adventure. When I first heard about the trip, it instantly caught my attention. I had been Free Climbing for a couple of years before and the thought of trying a new aspect of climbing (caving), piqued my interest. I was nervous for sure, did not really know what to expect, but was along for the ride nonetheless.
We pulled into this little gravel lot in the middle of nowhere Virginia, an empty field on one side and a small patch of woods on the other. It was here, where we meet our James River Grotto guides. They walk us through the process of getting geared up; helmets, headlamps, knee pads, dry bags, and snacks are necessities for the trip. We then walk down a small winding path to the cave entrance, to a literal hole in the ground. It’s at this point that I think to myself, “What did I get myself into?”
As we shimmy ourselves through this hole, the only light comes down on us from the entrance of the cave. We sit in the darkness for a few minutes to let our eyes and ears fully adjust to our surroundings. There is barely a sound, just the slight pattering from the rain drops outside. Then, we turn our headlamps on and find a massive room full of rock formations, large cracks and crevasses along the walls. As my eyes adjusted, I found it all one color, an earthy brown, but all sorts of shades. I never thought the muddy brown of rock could look so beautiful.
Our guide take us through the cave, knowing the way from past explorations. We crawl and climb carefully through the muddy insides of the cave to a larger bedroom sized space nicknamed, the “Junction Room”. This area offers multiple options of where to go next. One group goes up, spidering their way across two steep rock faces, another climbs down to a river that flows through the cave, and the rest of us stay to explore the “Junction Room” itself.
Off to one side, we found a section called “The Maze”. You have to hoist yourself up 8 feet onto a rock shelf, where you crawl down to find yourself walking through these captivating rock pillars. We do not go too deep into the maze because it would be very easy to get lost without the ability to navigate the passageways.
After all meeting back in the “Junction Room”, our time in the cave is closing in and we are all amazed that four hours have passed. As we exit, crawling through the same hole in the ground, we find snow peacefully falling instead of rain and we all feel a little more at ease. The invigorating attitude of accomplishment from trying something new, beginning to wash over us.
This trip lit a spark in me. I fell in love with every aspect of caving. Each time I enter a cave, even if I have been there before, it looks different. There are new features to take in, sounds to hear, and open opportunities to explore God’s creation on a whole new level.
My first trip caving is a memory that I will always hold close to my heart and I hope that through Outdoor Recreation’s caving trips, others will be able to experience the same feelings.
January 10, 2020
Written by Mike Ellsworth
New Year’s can be a wonderful time full of resolutions and goals. Sadly, most of these attempts for personal betterment go unfulfilled. Why does this so often happen? Well, for me, it is because I am trying to do something in my life that I don’t like to do, to make an aspect of my life more positive. For example, I want to sleep better at night, so I want to enforce a bedtime with no screens after a certain hour. But, what often happens is that I want to stay up late to binge watch Big Bang Theory again… So, I miss out on the opportunity for betterment. I am trying to get positive effects with seemingly negative action. What if you were able to seek positive effects with a positive action?
Well, I’ve got one for you. Set up a New Year’s resolution right now to spend more time outdoors. Being outside is fun, relaxing and great way to create new experiences for yourself. I’ve been doing a lot of research lately and there are several studies out there proving that a simple positive action (15 minute hike through your wooded neighborhood) can create some amazingly positive effects in your life.
For hundreds of years, the outdoor enthusiast has known about these benefits. People often use positive phrases like “it helps me de-stress or feel better”, “it really encourages me”, or “helps me to disconnect and clear my head” to describe their natural experiences. More and more academic research is verifying those statements! There is continual research being done that reinforces the idea that spending time in nature can be helpful in treating symptoms such as anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia and depression.
As little as 20 minutes spent in nature has been shown to help in the following areas:
Anxiety and Stress
The Great Outdoors Lab is a collaborative effort to demonstrate that nature can have clinical uses in the treatment of anxiety and stress disorders. “We hope to make public lands part of a common healthcare prescription,” says Sierra Club Outdoors director Stacy Bare. Stacy is an Iraq War veteran who has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The research alliance has been working with military groups to show how spending extended time in nature can help inspire awe and are trying to increase our understanding of how nature deeply affects our emotional and mental state.
Yuma University research Yoshifumi also is one of the scientists that has been working on studying the effects that nature can have to decrease stress levels. His research has shown that just a 15 minute walk in the woods decreases cortisol (primary stress hormone) 16%, drops blood pressure 2% and lowers your heart rate 4%! I can’t think of any over-the-counter medication with those kind of instant results. It is no wonder that nature therapy is being used more and more as treatment and preventative medicine to help patients to unwind and process stressful experiences.
Insomnia and other Sleep Problems
There are several reasons why we struggle to get enough zzz’s on a nightly basis. Whether your root is too much caffeine, excess amounts of screen time or struggles with anxiety; a simple trip into nature may act as a helpful cure. These triggers all act against our circadian rhythm, or internal clock. This makes it far more difficult for us to fall asleep, so we end up staring at the ceiling while our head sits on the pillow.
I don’t know about you, but when I go camping and we are sitting around the campfire telling stories and making jokes, eventually someone will stand up, rub their eyes and say “well…it’s getting late, I’m gunna head to bed”. Then someone else unexpectedly looks up from their watch and exclaims that it is only 9:30pm! Usually everyone laughs and it leads into another long conversation about the great nights of sleep we get while camping.
The data backs this up. Even just a few nights in the woods, away from unnatural light, can set your internal clock back several hours. Getting you right back into sync with the rising and the setting sun. Your body begins to release melatonin naturally to help you slip into more restful nights.
Provides Opportunity for Positive Encouragement and Self-Reflection
It is no secret that the Japanese culture is into self-reflection and finding methods to seek peace in their lives. We have all heard of Zen gardens, various meditation practices and different martial arts techniques focused on self-awareness and inner peace. But the Japanese government has spent a lot of resources in a new path towards peace. “Forest Bathing” or “shinrin-yoku” has been a regular practice in Japan for years. It is becoming more and more popular. It is said that it “has the power to counter illnesses including cancer, strokes, gastric ulcers, depression, anxiety and stress.” The Japanese government is so fully invested in these studies that they devoted 62 forests across Japan and are maintained and accredited by government entities.
As Christians, we understand that God created the heavens and the earth. When we revel in his creation, we revel in his glory. When we are comforted by nature, we are being comforted by Him. I often think of this while I hike and spend time outdoors. Whether it is the rushing of a West Virginia river, the smell of fresh rain or the pleasing bark from my dog as he rolls in the grass. These are gifts that the Lord provides for me to enjoy, to help me know that I am loved, valued and cared for. I also feel the awe of his might and power as I look up the trunk of an oak tree that has been standing for hundreds of years. I feel that Christ-focused forest meditation points us to God and scripture is full of individuals seeking wilderness for rest and guidance, including Jesus himself.
So, how to do it? That is important. We can’t just expect to grab our keys, wallet and head outdoors. You will get out what you put into your outdoor experiences.
- Be Proactive and plan time for nature
At Outdoor Rec, we view adventure as an intentional exploration of the nature around us. A beneficial outdoor experience requires planning and most important, intentionality. As you head out on your next walk on Liberty Mountain, think about what you are doing, why you are doing it and be sure that you plan ahead and prepare to make the experience enjoyable.
- Truly disconnect from your technology
Don’t just put in your headphones and turn on Spotify! Turn your phone OFF. Trust me, you can go off-grid for 90 minutes. This is what truly helps with anxiety and stress. It is a feeling of pure peace. Knowing that no notification (app or human) is able to intrude on this time. This should be a place for you and your thoughts. Even music has a tendency to interfere with that. There is a time and place for music and community. But, there is also a time and place for silence and solitude.
- Use your senses
Use all 5 senses as you walk. Look at all the rocks, tree bark, leaves and plants. Listen for the rustle of a squirrel or chirp of a bird. Smell fragrances of nature and taste the fresh air. Touch the trees and feel the grass with your toes. Too often we only engage a few of our senses and miss out on unique moments of discovery.
- Tell your friends and share your experiences
Share the joy. Christians are built for community. We should share our experiences with others. Allow them their input and encourage others to participate. Research new ways that you can experience nature and the wilderness that is all around us.
This semester, we are offering a new type of event. On the first Monday of every month, our staff will meet up at Snowflex for a regular hike. This hike will be focused on wellness. They may include some materials for reflection, silent moments for prayer or just a time to get away and unwind during the week. These “Wellness through Wilderness” hikes are a great opportunity for those who feel tired, alone or burned out. Come visit with us, we want to encourage wellness in your life.
If you want to learn more about how spending time in nature is beneficial to your mental and physical health, be sure to read “The Nature Fix” by Florence Williams. I am planning on reading it this month and it comes highly recommended.
November 22, 2019
Written by Tim Lewis
This fall, I had the privilege to participate in a Leave No Trace Master Educator course through Landmark Learning in Cullowhee, NC. This 5 day course introduced the topic of Leave No Trace (LNT) to myself and a several other outdoor professionals and recreationalists.
During that course, a foundation of experiential learning and outdoor ethics were built, and upon graduation, we would teach to our respective spheres of influence. We were tasked with teaching the course to each other throughout the 5 days. What better way to learn the material!?
What Is Leave No Trace?
Since the 1980’s, Leave No Trace has been a respected organization in the outdoor community who’s mission has been to protect the outdoors “by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly” (LNT Mission Statement). Through “cutting-edge education and research”, LNT has become a household name in the outdoor industry and continues to send ripples well beyond the banks of the outdoor industry. So what is it exactly?
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
These 7 principles can be applied to all outdoor activities, sports, and environments at any time by anyone! While following each principle, you will find that they relate back to and support one another in countless combinations and scenarios.
To illustrate, let’s say I am going on a camping trip, I will want to consider the following:
- I am prepared for the endeavor by the gear I take and research I do beforehand. Do I have a map, do I understand the local laws, do I have a bear bin, and have I packed appropriately?
- I am conscious of what I am going to be camping and hiking on. This can be anything from established trails, rocks, endangered grasses, to delicate highland bogs.
- I want to make sure that I use proper restroom facilities and trash bins, when available. Otherwise, I will want to bury or pack out waste appropriately.
- If a particularly intriguing natural souvenir such as a rock, flower, or artifact catches my eye, I make sure to take only pictures and leave it where I find it.
- When it’s time to build a fire, I am mindful of where and how I do this. Should I use an existing fire pit, build a new one, or reconsider the appropriateness of a fire altogether?
- Wild animals can be dangerous when approached or fed, so I am always diligent when I recreate in their space. If I cannot cover the animal with my outstretched thumb, I am probably too close.
- Lastly, when recreating, I am bound to run into other people keen on enjoying the same space I am. I want to make sure I am respecting their experiences by giving them the room to do so and for all extensive purposes, remaining as invisible to them as possible.
Hopefully, this information has gotten you thinking about ways you can implement the principles on your next outing and how to influence your circle of peers. I encourage you to look for signs of poor and exceptional Leave No Trace principals the next time you enjoy a natural space. For now, I will leave you with a couple final thoughts from my course…
Education Is Preferred Over Regulation
A theme that stood out to me during the course was how much LNT desires to avoid creating constricting rules, a multitude of do’s and don’ts, that only discourage us from heeding them. Instead I found that LNT seeks to motivate and inspire people to care for the natural world. This is, more often than not, done through education. Your chances of educating successfully are multiplied greatly by interacting with individuals face to face, by demonstrating proper usage, and by taking the time to understand the context of their visit to that space. Nobody likes to be scolded for doing something wrong, especially for something that they were not taught was important. Part of the job of a Master Educator is to teach people in the classroom but also to teach people in the moment. For example, it is one thing to have an LNT workshop with participation from enthusiastic individuals. However, it is a different thing altogether to confront someone who is poorly exhibiting one of the principles. The goal of LNT is to meet people where they are, to educate them in the classroom, in the backcountry, and in the small every day moments we find ourselves in.
Leave No Trace Is For Christians Too
By now you may be asking yourself, “how is LNT relevant to believers?” True, conservation and stewardship can sometimes take the back burner to more pressing world issues. However, as Christians we should be the first ambassadors of God’s creation. In fact, it was our first task assigned to us from God in Genesis. One of my favorite aspects of LNT is that it recognizes that nature and outdoor spaces are meant to be used and enjoyed, not simply left in idle wilderness. As a Christian, we should believe that the world can and should be a better place with us in it. Our fallen nature often fails at this, but remember the many triumphs of using nature throughout history such as the invention of carpentry, farming, sailing the 7 Seas in the name of exploration, or the establishment of civilization in general. Jesus himself was a carpenter after all with a special place in his heart for fishermen! As Christians, let’s continue to use and enjoy nature but to protect and preserve it for future glorification and Kingdom use.
Remember that Leave No Trace is not simply “leaving it alone” but rather “leaving it better than we found it.”
October 10, 2019
Written by Luke Whitmire
Fall is here, and it’s our last chance to soak up the warm weather before the cold arrives! One great way to get out and enjoy the changing seasons is to go out and do some fishing! Central Virginia has some great opportunities to go after many different species of fish! If you’re into bass fishing, grab a canoe and head to the James! The James River provides great opportunities for both smallmouth and largemouth bass. If you’re really hardcore, grab the biggest streamer you can find, throw some salt over your shoulder, and go hunting for some muskies! Always be sure to pick up your fishing license when heading to public waters, this is a great way to support conservation and save yourself from some trouble, if you happen to see a game warden.
Another great spot for canoe and kayak fishing is to located at Clemmons Lake in Ivy Creek Park. They stocked over four-hundred pounds of trout and catfish last November and you can catch and keep up to four catfish or trout a day, so whether you’re a spin fisherman or a fly fishermen, head on over and try to catch some dinner! If you’re a fly fisherman looking for trout streams, take a drive and head out to some public streams. Due to lower water levels in the late summer, try to adjust your tactics to the conditions. Consider using a lighter tippet and being even more careful on your approach to the stream to combat the easily spooked fish. If you’re looking for more tips, or needing to stock up on some lures, stop by our friends at Angler’s Lane or Taletellers Fly Shop and get their tips and favorite lures for fishing this time of year!
Another great way to go after some trout this fall is to come to the Fishing Derby at Hydaway on Saturday, November 2nd. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout just prior to the derby, and you can catch and keep up to five trout! Food will be provided, and awards and prizes will be given to the anglers with the most total inches, highest average overall, and the largest fish.
Angler’s Lane will be there to help us run the event and provide tips or answer any questions you may have! If you’re an experienced fisherman, come out and show us how it’s done! If you are new to fishing, this is a great way to meet some new prospective fishing buddies! Fishing is a great way of bringing people together, and there is no better way to learn than under the wing of an experienced fishermen. No matter how much knowledge I have learned from watching videos and reading articles, some of the best tips I’ve ever gotten was going out with some of my friends who knew what they were doing!
Click here to register and always feel free to call or email us with any questions. We’d love to see you there!
July 1, 2019
Running through college
Written by Danielle Ledgerwood
We take pride in the fact that our Liberty Mountain Trail Series provides a way for new runners from the community to learn and gain a sense of familiarity with the sport of trail running. But we also love that the series gives Liberty students an outlet to use their competitive high school running careers in college.
At only 18 years old, Marina Iodice was our youngest LMTS finisher this past year. In her first year as a residential student at Liberty studying American Sign Language Interpretation, she ran all five races in our trail series in addition to Harvest After Dark, our short distance, Halloween-themed fun-run.
Her results in each of the 5 LMTS races were as follows:
Deep Hollow 5K: 4th in Female age group 14-19
Valley View 5 Miler: 3rd in Female age group 14-19
Reindeer Run: 3rd in Female age group 14-19
Arctic 5K: 4th in Female in age group 14-19
King of the Mountain: 5th Female in age group 14-19
Marina has been running for most of her life, and she started seriously competing around 5 years ago, when she ran track and field and cross country in high school. “I personally think running is fun,” she said. “What motivates me to run is the feeling of accomplishment after I finish a workout or race. I never found the time in college to be consistent with it, but the races gave me an opportunity to do that.”
She enjoys both the tough competition at LMTS races and the less competitive, casual events, like the Turkey Trot in her hometown on Thanksgiving Day. “This race helps raise funds for cancer research and also allows people to make room for Thanksgiving dinner.”
Her advice for anyone just getting into running would be to find their own pace and start slow. “Many professional runners have been training for years, so you shouldn’t compare yourself to other runners,” she encouraged. “Don’t focus on the number aspect of your time. Just be aware of that number and try to improve it slowly each time you practice.”
For more experienced athletes, she offered some advice for when your workout routine feels like it’s stuck in a rut: “Try to expand their drills and techniques. Maybe add more distance than usual, or try shorter distances at a faster pace. The internet is full of running videos with new ideas to try. Don’t be afraid to push yourself because you can always do more than you think.”
June 17, 2019
A family that runs together…
Written by Mike Ellsworth
Tina’s family moved to Lynchburg from Buffalo and knew that they wanted to connect to the University and the community. They found that by running the Liberty Mountain Trail Series. They also found a great new way to connect as a family.
Tina was new to running on trails, but not new to the sport. She had been a runner for 36 years, but with easy access to beautiful trails, it was very quickly became habitual for Tina to hit the woods for those moments of peace. “I like them better than just running on the flat road and pounding. I enjoy it a lot more…” She later mentioned how the quiet alone time that she spends on the trails acts as her downtime, where she makes time for prayer and peace.
Running for 36 years, Tina has always used running as an anchor to hold her life together. Though she has always been a competitive and fast runner, it was always the joy of the run, not the outcome of the competition that she seemed to reflect on during our conversation. “It has always been a quiet time for me” she says. Through marriage, raising children, a move to Lynchburg and a battle with breast cancer, running has seemed to act as the consistent fuel to keep her connected to God and help her refocus.
Trail running has turned into a family affair for the Chriest’s. Tina and her husband Steve both completed the entire series and with their two college-aged children, the family ran 4/5 races together. “We used to have the kids on a bike and they would try to keep up with us. Now, life has gone on and they are leaving us behind.” Though the whole family doesn’t love running in the same capacity, it still is time for them to be together. Tina’s favorite LMTS memory of course involves her kids. She mentioned the King of the Mountain as her favorite event, when asked why, she responded very quickly, “My kids did really well in that. My son, Wyatt ran with a 40lb weight, which was pretty cool.”
Tina and her family are looking forward to another season of trail running at Liberty, be sure to say hello if you see her training for the next race!
June 17, 2019
Written by Linda Galvez
“When an eighty-five pound mammal licks your tears away, then tries to sit on your lap, it’s hard to feel sad.”
Kristan Higgins (author, In Your Dreams)
As a pet owner, I’m always searching for dog friendly places to bring my best pal, Eli.
A little bit about Eli, he is a 92 lbs. “force of nature”, becomes friends with any human who pets him, and loves other dogs big and small. He fears nothing, but can also be the biggest baby in the room. Eli has extensive amounts of energy which when controlled can be so much fun, but when left to his own devices can be a terror. Which is why I have found training techniques which allow us to enjoy the outdoors in a safe and fun way! On my days off, I love coming back to Hydaway and bringing Eli with me to run trails or go swimming. We welcome all dogs at Hydaway and encourage all owners to be in control of their pets while visiting our facility!
Eli and I enjoy running Lake Trail, Trail Too Far, and Lasso and then jumping into the water to cool down after. When we’re not on Liberty Mountain, we enjoy driving to Black Water Creek Trail or Percival’s Island downtown. On nice cool days you can find us at any dog friendly restaurant with outdoor seating. Some of our favorites include El Jefe, The Waterdog, Chipotle, and Millie’s. On weekends I like to work on projects and love to bring Eli on shopping trips to Home Depot and Lowe’s with me, we love going to the gardening section and looking at all the plants. Since I travel home to Charlottesville often, we always go to the Downtown Mall where Eli gets so much stimulation from all the people, dogs, noises and smells. A walk through the Downtown Mall always guarantees a long hard nap when we get home! Some of our next adventures include hiking Mount Pleasant, beach camping at First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach, and rollerblading at Black Water Creek this summer!
If you’re considering spending time in the outdoors with your furry pal, below are a few “dos and don’ts” for dogs in the outdoors:
- Do keep an eye on your dog at all times! There are all sorts of animals and plants in the outdoors (bears, hornets, and poisonous toads, bigger and more aggressive dogs) and if not deterred by a barricade or fence these factors could be a serious threats to our pups! The elements and temperature can also poise great danger to your pets, a good rule of thumb is if it is too hot or cold for you to be comfortable, it’s too severe for your dog.
- Do pick up after your pet! No, your dog’s waste is not good for the earth. Wildlife scat is beneficial to its ecosystem because they consume resources and nutrients directly from that ecosystem. Here’s a great article from Leave No Trace as to why you should be picking up after Fido!
- Do keep your dog on-leash! Unless your dog has an incredible re-call or you as an owner have voice control over your dog, I encourage everyone to keep their pets leashed. It can be such a danger and liability to lose control of your dog if not properly socialized or trained.
- Don’t forget the right equipment. Pet stores like Chewy have a variety of options for doggy backpacks which allows your dog to carry his own water, water bowl, etc. If your dog isn’t bred to swim, consider investing in a personal flotation device for your dog.
- Don’t start too young! Short walks and play time is recommended for small breed puppies up to 9 months and 16 months for large breeds. Kiddie pools are great for puppies and small dogs that enjoy water!
- Don’t start too hard! Start slowly with short distances, just like us dogs need time to build up their stamina and energy.
Always check the local rules before you go somewhere new with your dog, it keeps them safe and you prepared.
Finally, one of the factors that has made all of these adventures and activities possible for me and Eli is that he’s very well socialized and trained. I encourage every dog owner to go through some basic training before planning any outdoor adventure!
Hope you enjoy pictures of our fur-friends at Outdoor Rec!
June 5, 2019
A Time to Connect
Written by Danielle Ledgerwood
Running, for Shelley, started after attending other races and watching a friend compete, so she decided to try it herself. She really enjoyed the environment at those events and knew that they’d help her to grow as a person, in more ways than one. Shelley Stephens has now been an avid runner for 13 years.
“I’ve always been introverted and have kept to myself,” Shelley admitted. “I noticed that being around people with the same interests pushed me to talk to others.”
Her time spent running on the Liberty Mountain Trail System also helped her reconnect with her husband Mark after they divorced in 2000. They’ve used their time on the trails to spend time getting to know each other better and to listen to what the Lord is saying to them. Since then, they’ve been remarried for 11 years.
“We developed a bond, and I think he started to gain a certain amount of respect for me, seeing that I was really pushing myself.” Recently, 4 back surgeries have prevented her husband from running, but they can still hike and bike together.
Shelley has definitely been pushing herself. In the 2018-2019 Liberty Mountain Trail Series, she won the female master’s category at the Deep Hollow Half Marathon, the Arctic 5k, and King of the Mountain, plus a 3rd overall female finish at Reindeer Run (pictured above).
She’s gained a sense of familiarity with these courses over time, as she’s been running our trail races since 2014. And even when she’s not competing in a race, she’s still out on the trails. Whether it’s with a friend or her labra-doodle Bella, she likes getting out there.
“Running has given me a sense of peace,” Shelley said. “I feel alive out in the woods. My favorite trail is Trail Too Far, it has a nice incline up to the top of Donahue.”
She also mentioned how much she appreciates the opportunity to participate. Shelley has no connection to Liberty University; she’s a local Lynchburg native who enjoys running. Luckily, our races are open to the public.
“I’m grateful to have run the whole series,” Shelley said. “I’ve made some amazing friends. And I don’t take walking or running for granted.”
May 28, 2019
Jumping Right In
Written by Mike Ellsworth
Talk about jumping into trail running! Derek’s first experience with trail running was right on our home turf on the Liberty Mountain Trail System. In December of 2017, Derek set out on the Deep Hollow course armed with a new Garmin watch and a Strava account. He might have got a little lost and felt miserable for a few days, but the love for trail running was ignited and he ran the Deep Hollow Hal-Marathon the next October.
Derek ran Indoor and Outdoor track in high school right here at Jefferson Forest. He was involved in short distances mostly, the 400M and less, as well as hurdles. From there he went on to ran one season at Bridgewater College. After that season he basically took a 13 year hiatus from the sport. Derek shared with me his thoughts on how he transitioned from being a competitive track sprinter into the trail distance runner that he is now.
“It is a different world. I saw my competitive 7:30 half marathon pace drop to 8:30 overnight. I though “Aww man, I’m going slow!”” was his initial response. It really was a slow and steady transition for him. In the beginning Derek had a great friend who was able to prepare him for success. Derek remembers that “He set up a training sheet for me and held me to it. I was running 6-7 days a week and hit 100 miles in his first month. I also was able to utilize Strava to keep track of times, distances and receive the coveted “thumbs up” from my friends.”
As we chatted for several minutes, I was very encouraged to hear that Derek and I have the same favorite race in the series. Valley View race day is a different feel and it is evident to everyone who participates. Not only does the race has special meaning to those who knew Major Mike Donahue (the race is in memorial to him), but the course gives the best comprehensive snapshot of the trail system. Derek agreed, “For everything that the trail system has to offer, you get a touch of it. You’re running on the wider roads, you’re running on the narrow one lanes. You’re getting the elevation…also running through the creeks and getting the view of Lynchburg” he stated. Derek also spoke to the distance being perfect. “If you’re a short distance person that normally does 5k’s, you can push yourself that day to do the five mile. Or if you’re a person who likes to do 7 or more, it’s not too short where you wouldn’t want to do it.”
Though Valley View is his favorite race, his children cheering his finish during the Arctic 5k is his favorite memory from the series. Derek has three kids; 5 years, 7 years and an infant. He is just starting to run with the 5 and the 7 year old as they participated in last year’s Virginia 10miler. Teaching healthy running habits to children can be challenging. It is important to encourage and support, but sometimes we can put a little too much competitive pressure on them. Derek says that “I want to make sure that my kids understand that they’re gunna be out there racing somebody else, but they are there doing it for themselves…I don’t want to be that person putting the pressure on them to not have fun.” I think that is the best advice to give to those running moms and dads who want to share their passion with their children.
As we finished up our conversation, I asked him why does he continue to stick to trail running? He had a rather simple answer…
“It is a whole different feel.” Avoiding the crowds and finding peace is one of Derek’s reasons for hitting the trails. “You are out there by yourself or with a few friends. You can just zone out in the shade and fresh air. I just get more pleasure out of it. Pick a good trail, push yourself and go out there. Just turn off and enjoy it.”