Trade your treadmill for the trails
By Kristen Wicker
Photo: The couple at Carriage Hill MetroPark in March 2014 after losing a combined 250 pounds
The first time Michelle and Brian Coleman visited the Grand Canyon, they could do little more than walk the rim and peer into the majestic chasm. This summer, more than six years later, the couple will return to the Canyon – this time, to hike down one of its most rugged backcountry trails. This time, the Dayton couple is ready, having lost more than 250 pounds between them.
Their inspiration started with that trip to the Grand Canyon, but the pounds started peeling off with hikes in their MetroParks.
“We decided to go to one of the MetroParks and start by hiking one short, mile-long loop,” Michelle said. “That led to us saying, ‘Hey, we can hike a bigger loop,’ to ‘Let’s hike every trail in every park.’ We completed that during one season in 2009.
“In the beginning, I remember how hard it was to hike the longest loop at Sugarcreek MetroPark,” she continued. “Now, we have a hard time finding trails that are long enough. We’re planning to complete the Twin Valley Trail 40-mile challenge in June. We hiked, biked and kayaked 1,000 miles one summer. I couldn’t have imagined doing all that just a few years ago.”
Now that spring is at hand, it’s the perfect time to get fit in nature. You can follow the Colemans’ lead and explore the trails – all of which are well-marked loops – and try cycling, kayaking and backpacking in your MetroParks. Information on all these activities, including maps of the parks featuring the trail routes, information on paddling local waterways and on the more than 330 miles of local bikeways is online at metroparks.org.
However, for those who’d like some guidance, Five Rivers MetroParks is launching a new series of introductory-level fitness classes, Get Fit in Nature. Classes on walking and cycling will be held now through June, and yoga and trail running classes will be held July through October.
“We’ll be educating people about how to exercise outdoors in the different seasons, the kind of clothing and shoes to wear, proper form and technique, and how to enjoy fitness outdoors all year long and avoid injury,” Michelle Fornes, outdoor program support specialist for Five Rivers MetroParks said. “If you have the wrong pair of shoes or wrong bike, you’re not going to enjoy it as much, and we want everyone to participate and have fun.”
Still, getting started with exercising in the great outdoors doesn’t mean you have to rush out and buy a bunch of expensive gear. It can be as easy as taking some first steps.
“Walking is a great way be stronger and fit while improving overall body strength and endurance,” Fornes said. “Before you know it, you are picking up the pace for longer walks and doing other types of activities outdoors, like hiking or running and even yoga.”
In addition to Five Rivers MetroParks’ new classes, people can join other structured activities to get fit in nature. Several 5K walks and runs are held during the warmer months. Dayton Metro Hikers meets in the parks year-round for group outings. One of the most popular is The Unit, a boot-camp-style workout held Monday and Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings at RiverScape MetroPark.
When this volunteer-led group was founded in 2009, perhaps 20 people attended. Now, the numbers have reached as high as 100, said co-founder Lamonte Hall, Jr.
“The park has beautiful scenery and fountains, it’s a central location downtown, and with the stairs and hills and architecture of the park, you get a great workout,” Hall said about The Unit’s growth. “People absolutely love being outdoors. Some of the people we get to come out would never come inside. They like the sun, the fresh air, the scenery.
“Some days are hotter and some cooler, so it’s never the same when you’re outdoors,” he added. “It keeps you motivated, and you’re doing something that doesn’t feel like working out.”
Indeed, the scenery, beauty and fresh air are part of what’s kept the Colemans coming back for huge helpings of nature as they shed pounds and got in shape.
“It’s so beautiful out there,” Michelle Coleman said. “You feel so good when you get done, and you can’t get that feeling on a treadmill.”
Beyond the beauty is the rush of doing something outdoors – and the mental health benefits of accomplishing it.
“My confidence level has really gone up as I’ve branched out with new activities,” Brian Coleman said. “Kayaking, backpacking and zip-lines are just a few of the new activities we’ve taken up and love to participate in. I am no longer afraid to just jump in and try anything new.
“This summer, we will be hiking and backpacking for our summer vacation,” he added. “We never would have even considered this as something that was possible for us six or seven years ago, but the MetroParks have been our training ground. We’re also considering a backpacking trip to Machu Picchu or El Camino de Santiago for a few years down the road. In the meantime, I guarantee you will find us most weekends on a trail or river somewhere in Dayton.”
Reach DCP freelance writer Kristen Wicker at KristenWicker@DaytonCityPaper.com.