If you like to bike, run, or walk on a truly flat surface, but don't want to take a trip to Florida (truly the flattest state in the US), you might try the Prairie Spirit Trail. I had heard about the PST for years. My parents bike there and several friends run there regularly. However I had never been on it before yesterday.
My friend, Paul, had suggested that we pop out to Franklin County, and run the trail for 7 miles out and 7 miles back between Ottawa and Princeton (it's always surprising to me that cities in Canada and New Jersey are named after small Kansas towns). I would do one loop. He planned to do two (because he is, apparently, twice the badass that I am).
Driving toward Ottawa at 7:18 am, the NPR announcer mentioned that it was 78F; never a good temperature at that time of day. Cue ominous music. When we arrived, there were no day permit envelopes at the trail head kiosk. The PST costs something like $3.50/day to use. One can also purchase annual passes for $12.50. And one apparently should purchase a pass of some kind, because the PST authorities are serious about enforcement.
Paul mentioned that a grocery store about a half mile away sold them. So we began our run with a quick stop at the grocery store. Cue ominous music again. The store did sell passes, but they required a driver's license and social security # (seriously). Well, fuck! Not a huge problem,but not great. I ran the mile round trip back to my Element, got my dl, and presented it to the clerk who then issued me my annual pass. At that point it was probably just over 80F and humid. We'd also added just over a mile to our run.
Anyway, we took off, and after a short trafficky initial half mile or so, found ourselves on the unbelievably long, flat, and beautiful PST. Now if you are someone who does not like running on a skillet flat surface, and being able to see where you are running miles before you will arrive, then you will hate the PST. Personally, I'm a fan of wide open spaces. But I do like a hill or two (and a curve) every now and then. The PST has neither. The trail does offer pretty scenery and the ability to actually travel from town to town by pied or velo - something that is not too common around these parts.
Almost immediately, we were covered in sweat. By mile two (not counting the grocery store mile), my shorts and shirt could not have been wetter had I jumped into the little ponds we passed. Paul and I both had Nathan packs on, and we drank religiously (well, that might be a slight misnomer, because I never heard either one of us say grace). But we did drink often. It was really hot and humid.
At the turnaround point, Princeton (blink and you'll miss it), we stopped to refill our packs with water and soak our heads. We took off as the sun moved into better position to administer a beat down. For me, it was all manageable until about mile 13 or 14. That is when I really began to wilt. 15-20 miles are not distances that will kill me. But in the heat and humidity, I just couldn't get enough liquids down to hang in there. By the end of the run at 15.84 mi, I had consumed 2 liters of water/sports drink, a Powerbar Gel, and half of a Bearded Brothers Bar. Stepping on the scale later at home, I had dropped 7 pounds.
As I prepared to drive home, I cautioned Paul about the heat. He set off to redo the trip we had just completed, mentioning that if one doesn't run in the heat, one will never learn how to do it. Since I'm not in training for Badwater, I couldn't have agreed with him less.
I called Paul some hours later. He had cut the run short, and had completed about 27-28 miles. Around mile 21 he had decided that the heat was getting to him. He made it back to his car after his water had run out. But Paul is a pretty resilient guy. He sounded better than I felt when we spoke.
I'll hit the PST again several times I'm sure. I'd actually like to bike it's 58 miles sometime soon as well. The temps, however will have to be tolerable.
Here's a link from a biking website. It has a better description than any other I could find: http://bikeprairiespirit.com/