The lightly defined trail sitting under a few inches of snow suddenly became a flutter of feet digging for their next push up the hill.
The first group of runners charged ahead, followed by the next and the next, reaching the switchback above the Old Shooting Range Trailhead and heading up Davis Gulch.
“I’ve always hated running but would like to participate in the Don’t Fence Me In, so I’m trying to overcome my fear and loathing,” joked Peggy O’Neill, communications coordinator for Prickly Pear Land Trust.
O’Neill posted an invite on her organization’s Facebook page for a new running club. On Jan. 9 the Happy Snails convened at the trailhead for their first run under the motto “run at your own pace.” Every Tuesday at noon since then, the club has gathered for a trail run that is free and open to all abilities.
“I’ve been surprised at the number of people that’ve come,” O’Neill said, with eight to 13 runners joining each week. “For me, I enjoy running with people. I don’t feel the pressure to have to keep up with someone that’s faster than me, and it’s great to see the other runners and non-runners just come back every week.”
Local endurance runner Martin Miller chooses the course and leads each run.
“I’m not a coach, but with working with beginners my approach has been to gradually increase our long runs,” he said. “The challenge is not only getting running, but getting running with the trail conditions has been really tough.”
Snow, ice and freezing temperatures mean many runners use spikes or other traction devices, and sinking feet into snow can be a bit like running in soft sand.
Runners who gathered last Tuesday counted many reasons for taking part in Happy Snails. The enjoyment of the trail system and looking to branch out on new tracts inspired Ty House, while Kristin Drees and others appreciate running in the group and the accountability that comes with it.
Most participants are in training for the Don’t Fence Me In 12k coming up in May, including O’Neill, who takes her dislike of running with her goal in stride.
“Hopefully I’ve learned to love running by then,” she said.