Trail Running by a non-convert (yet)

My silly mind tricks to keep pushing through

Wilson asked to meet at Thornhill Broome beach in Malibu at 6:00am on MLK day. We parked on PCH. For SoCal standards, it was a cold morning at 50F (or 10C). The rain had stopped around 3am. We headed south along the freeway. It was still dark and breezy and the passing headlights of the infrequent traffic accentuated our tranquility. “I’m getting back in the game,” he said. “Marathon number 35?” “Yea.” “Why don’t you try an ironman?” I asked him. “Because the cycling part is too tough, you have to have an unbeatable tolerance for constant pain for 100 miles.”

Ok, fair enough. He forgot to mention the swimming and the running part. We kept running south and took a left at the entrance of the Big Sycamore trail. We were 2 miles into our run and now about to push uphill on the muddy trails for a good 3 miles, followed by 3 miles downhill. For a non-runner like me, this didn’t sound very exciting. I was panicking a little, to be honest.

So we began.

Mile 1, no problem. Then it gets steeper and my legs start burning. I’m thinking who the fuck designed this trail with no flat segments. Just give me 10 meters with zero inclination, please. But no.

Somehow I completed the entire 8 miles without stopping. I didn’t know how. The longest I had run before was also 8 miles but on a flat surface.

Driving back home, I attempted to identify the tricks I resorted to during the joyous climb.

  • Take in the formidable view of the ocean and the sunrise. As we made our way up, the sky kept changing colors (it was the golden hour) and each turn on the trail would gift us a new vista of the mountains with the Pacific on the background.
  • Take in your buddy’s determination. Wilson was clearly fighting a cold and the hill with limited airway capacity. I could hear his agony with each breath. Yet he kept pushing through. It was inspiring.
  • “Because the cycling part is too tough.” This is where I get into the simple, perhaps silly, mind tricks. On mile 5, my legs were begging to stop. They were burning. I imagined the ironman cyclists going on for 100 miles with their quads burning… not complaining, not resting, just pedaling. What is a meager 3-mile uphill run in that much greater context? Move your legs faster!
  • “Find an excuse to win. Keep going.” Same concept as the image of the cyclists. In the documentary about Class 234 of BUD/S, one of the instructors yells at the candidates “just find an excuse to win, keep going!” I played that phrase in my head over and over again.
  • Think of the moment when meditation is over. I’ve been doing 10 minutes of Headspace every day for over seven months now, and there’s a particular feeling of peace and “being in the zone” the moment the meditation session is over. Someone told me: “when things are bad, think of that moment.” Things were bad rallying up the little mountain.
  • Think of your other buddies pushing through mile after mile in remote locations. Finally, I thought of my buddy Fresa, who is training in the suburbs of Lima for a Spartan Super. He’s got a job, two small children, and other afflictions of the common man. His only choice is to run innumerable laps in a public park, at night, no mountains, no ocean, no golden hour, just the occasional rodent or cockroach crossing the street.

Do I have the right to even think about stopping? Do you?