Greenbelt Run with a Scare

Sometimes, an everyday trail run can turn out to be a bit spooky.

Photo of storm clouds at Barton Creek greenbelt at dusk.
Storm clouds over the Barton Creek greenbelt highlight the Hill of Life at dusk.

Friday night, we left to go on a college visit for my boy and make a stop by Nacogdoches to see our girl. Both were really fun and quite enjoyable and worth all the time driving in the car. We got into town Sunday mid-day,  just in time for the hubby and boy to hop back in the car and drive to San Antonio for a soccer game.

I planned my long run for Sunday afternoon. I’m much more of an afternoon/evening enthusiast than an early morning riser, so this was something I very much looked forward to doing. I put it out for anyone in Tri Zones to join me, hoping to get some company, especially in the later portions. My route: the full, main greenbelt trail, from Barton Springs pool access to Hill of Life trailhead and back. Start time:  2 p.m.

My primary objective was to see what my foot did with the longer distance. I’ve had no foot problems with my short 8-mile trail runs, and I’ve had no issues increasing my time on my feet to 2:00. This would be doubling that…and mile 19 on the road was where my foot “gave out” at Nike. So I figured this run would be a good test of how it would (or wouldn’t) hold up.

Round Trip Greenbelt Run

Going Out to HOL

I fully loaded the new Nathan vest, more to practice carrying the stuff than actually thinking I’d need it all. My flashlight and clip-on headlamp went in, along with all my emergency allergy stuff and any food and water I’d need. I had five takers on my offer to provide a greenbelt tour, and we took off more or less on time.

It was a great afternoon for a run. The temperature was perfect, there was that magic fall light in the air, everything felt great.

Four of my runners opted to call it a day at the 360 access; my friend, Pam, opted to continue on to the top of the Hill of Life, the halfway point. It was soooo nice having her company! We made a couple of small stops (when you gotta go, you gotta go) and I hit the top of the HOL in 2:02, right when I expected. That meant it was about 4:18 p.m. by the time I was bombing down the HOL. My foot was feeling good, my nutrition felt dialed in, and I thought the run back would be fun and easy.

Coming Back to Barton Springs

By the time I reached the 360 access, my foot was a bit achey. I’d been running for 3:06 and it seemed to me that the bounding I’d done coming down the HOL might have been a problem.

Barton Creek Greenbelt Hill of Life Trail
The Hill of Life is a nickname given to the section of trail heading downhill from the Camp Craft Road trailhead of the Barton Creek greenbelt. The official greenbelt trail is 7.5 miles long, though there are miles of additional unofficial trails.

As I wended my way down the stretch between 360 and Gus Fruh, I realized that I was firmly in twilight time. It wasn’t dark enough for a light but it was dark enough that, well, it felt a little creepy. That spot is creepy to me even in the daylight, for whatever reason, and so I picked up my pace a bit.

By the time I made the final creek crossing (there’s no water, so it’s a creek bed crossing, I guess) my game had become to see how far I could get without having to turn on my light. It was fun; the air was nice and cool, and there were owls softly hooting.

At the Spyglass entrance, it was time to turn on the light. I chose to just go with my clip-on light on the brim of my hat. With less than a mile to go, I was pleased to realize that my foot wasn’t hurting and I felt quite good, so I tried to run as fast in the dark as I had in the light.

The Scare

I could see within the arc of my light but everything outside the light was just black shapes, so it took me a minute to realize three people were walking toward me in the dark. It spooked me…people heading out into the greenbelt, without a light, at night? It spelled “homeless” folks, and I decided to keep running briskly and just scoot on by.

As I passed, a man said “Hello,” and without thinking, I replied…my light shown on them as I went by, and then they started yelling at me, stuff about “gimme that light, hey stop,” whatever. I think it was that, until I’d spoken, they hadn’t realized I was a woman. Suddenly, I seemed to be fair game.

I ran hard, just wanting to get back to my car as quickly as possible. Honestly, it ruined the end of the run because I spent the last half mile wondering who else might pop out of the bushes. Coming into the parking lot, where the canopy of trees thinned, showed a lovely peek at the nighttime Austin sky line but I’d had enough.


I had to stop at the grocery store on the way home; by the end of that store trip, my foot hurt enough that I limped. Iced when I got home. Did walking afterward put me over the edge? Or did I just have enough adrenaline going during the run that I didn’t feel pain as much?

So I learned that, yes, my foot will hold up just fine for 4:00 of running on the trail. And if I’m going to be on the greenbelt after dark, I need to have company. So I’ll continue to take care of it this week and we’ll see what happens with the 50K on Saturday.

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

0 thoughts on “Greenbelt Run with a Scare

  1. Oh Leah, no more nighttime solitary trail runs! We need to coordinate to keep you company the whole way, not just half! I\’ve never done night trail running before. I think I\’d be scared I\’d fall and break my neck, in addition to random scary people encounters.

    Take care of that foot!

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