10 Things I Love About Trail Running
I've been injured for what feels like years, but is more like months, and at the moment, I’m feeling completely sentimental about trail running. I can’t remember the last time I’ve logged a run longer than 15 miles, and while I’m working hard to overcome an Achilles injury with PT, yoga, cross-training, and even the occasional 5 mile run, it’s just not the same as packing up the car to head out for a day in the mountains. So, while I’m feeling all romantic about trail running, I thought I’d buy it a nice Pinot Noir, rub its shoulders and slip into a velvety robe while I list the things that I love about it.
Connection with the Land
I love the connection I have with the land when I’m out there. I love looking at a peak miles away, and thinking that’s where I’m headed. I love moving over a difficult trail, picking my way up a steep line, bouncing over rocks, and then throwing myself down a hill without a fucking care in the world, flying by people wearing 10 pound hiking boots and using trekking poles to carefully plant each foot. I like my intimate knowledge of each and every bump in the trails I run regularly, knowing that around this next corner I can push a little harder on the steep uphill because it will level out pretty soon, and the next downhill is the perfect spot to open up on and stretch the legs, not having to think about where the feet are landing because this is the perfect line.
It would be hard to find another group of people that doesn’t like other people as much as trail runners don’t like other people. The trail has a way of distilling people to their bodily functions. Men and women blowing snot, farting, burping, pulling off to take a piss or the occasional, nonchalant dump, and I’m seriously not just talking about guys (see Equality below). Have you ever been to a runner party or a pre-race dinner? Most runners can’t come up with more than three words to string together in a social setting (unless it has something to do with running), but get us on the trails and it’s like an episode of The View had a 3-way with The Man Show and Oprah.
And the shower beer. This is the best part of my day, especially in the summer, after a hot, dry and dusty run. I’ll just sit there as the dirt brown water swirls down the drain and sip a cold beer, and if I listen hard enough I can hear angels singing.
No, not the liquefied calories partaken during the run, but the post-run feast. I read on Wikipedia that you can eat as much as you want of whatever you want for an hour after you run, especially if you keep your heart rate strictly in Zone 3, so take advantage of that window. There is something special about a post-run burrito, and the only time I can keep a straight face and say “wow, this Arby’s Beef ‘N Cheddar is delicious” is after a long day in the mountains.
You want to see democracy in action, run a trail race. If there is some kind of genetic, sex or age advantage that runners display on the roads, it is severely diminished on the trails, where the main advantage is toughness.
I like to play a game whenever I run an ultra. I look around me, judging the other runners with the cutting eye and bitchiness of Regina from Mean Girls. I pick out who is going to finish well and who is going to drop. Without fail, I’m wrong on close to 100% of my picks (just like last time I went to Vegas). The triathlete that I picked to win, the one with the shaved legs where you can see every vein feeding the massive calves came in limping behind the 63 year old grandma wearing Crocs and a fanny pack. Experience, smarts and grit all go a long way in leveling the playing field on the trails more than any other sport I can think of, which is a good thing because I’m not getting any younger or fitter (and I can wear the shit out of a pair of Crocs).
It doesn’t necessarily relate to trail running; I just like beer.
The Not Running Part
The planning, the hanging out before or after a tough race, the scouring over maps and elevation profiles, watching Salomon running videos, the endless discussions about barefoot vs. minimalist vs. zero drop vs. platform cushioning vs. whatever the next big thing that will force our perfect, favorite pair of trail shoes to be discontinued. All this time spent on what is supposed to be the simplest sport. There must be some kind of special punishment we crave in turning the basic task of putting one foot in front of another into a complex science.
The chemical rubbery smell when you open a new box of running shoes
I try to meditate. I try to sit on my meditation pillow, breathe slowly, quiet my mind, but then that picture of Jessica Alba comes to mind, the one where’s she’s wearing a bikini and she’s suntanning, and then I think about how she made a billion dollars selling bad sunscreen, and then about how bad Fantastic Four was, and then about Sin City, and on and on until the Buddha bangs the gong in my meditation app on my iPhone, and the Buddha says “great job today,” and I say “thanks Buddha, but how much spiritual growth has actually occurred?” and the Buddha doesn’t answer because it’s just an app on the phone. I also try to reach this stillness when I take yoga, but I’m mostly just concentrating really hard on not farting.
The only times where my mind isn’t turning around on a hamster wheel, and is still enough where time bends, and I can’t remember the last 30 minutes, or 20 miles that just passed have happened while on a run. Something about the rhythmic, deep breaths, and the repeated patting of feet can make the time slip by in stillness. It’s not always like that, and most of the time it isn’t. Usually, my thoughts bounce from one thing to the next while running, whether it be a problem, or an idea that needs to be fed a little more, or even the career arc of Jessica Alba, but those moments of stillness are a welcome sliver of quiet in my noisy life.
The fact that no matter what happens during the day, the stress, the sadness, the anger, the anxiety, nothing is ever worse after spending some time on the trails (except for my Achilles), and most things are a little better.
I can’t wait to get back on the trails for some long runs, if for no other reason than to remind me why running hurts so bad, and why so many people hate it, because all this romance is starting to scare me.