What is the Big Deal About Trail Running Anyways?

Every time I am forced to take time off from running, my husband likes to point out that my happiness is too closely tied to running for my own good. He tries to encourage me to find other ways to achieve the level of happiness, contentment and mental clarity that comes from running. When he says this, I can’t help but think of pro runner Lauren Fleshman  and her struggle to find other ways to expend her physical and emotional energy during her long injury. I am not a professional runner, and can not even imagine the struggle of trying to maintain a sense of self when you can’t run and that is literally your job, but Lauren is great at sharing and allowing herself to be vulnerable which makes many of her battles totally relatable. I will run again, soon, and while I theoretically understand the benefit of a more balanced life, I have to disagree with him.  I fully accept that I become a less pleasant version of myself when I can’t run, and while I enjoy many other activities, nothing lights my fire so completely as running – trail running to be specific and I am not going to apologize for that. However, being in a partnership means I don’t get to dismiss him outright, and so in an effort to be a good partner, I decided to dissect exactly what it is about running that gives me what no amount of cycling,  yoga or climbing ever can.

Running is social. One of the biggest things I am missing during this time away from running is seeing my friends! For me, running is one of the biggest social aspects of my life and by not running, I don’t get to catch up with my friends. You can’t chat while doing a swim workout or at yoga but you can while going for a shakeout run. Even when you can’t talk during a hard workout, you are sharing that experience and feeding off of each other’s energy. My running-based relationships tend to accelerate much faster than my non-running based friendships because of the bond that inevitably forms during hours of shared trail time. In addition to friendship, trail running is an incredibly supportive and welcoming community. Whether its providing a smile and a hug at wet and cold aid stations, or giving you the shirt off their back because you are cold and still have 20 miles to run in your race, trail runners are incredibly generous and warm-hearted, to the point where this cold East-Coaster is getting all sappy about it on her blog. But seriously, trail runners are a tribe and I have already discovered that they stick up for their own and it’s amazing to know I have this safety net even though I have never met most of them.

Running drives me. Ann Trason didn’t become to godmother of ultra-running overnight and a quote of hers from a recent Outside magazine article really spoke to me: “I always had this yearning to push, push, push—to see what I was made of, to beat myself. It never went away.”   The beautiful thing about ultra-running is that it takes a lot of work and you typically get out of it what you put into it. When you are new to the trails, growth and breakthroughs come quickly. Seeing the improvement since my first ultra less than a year ago, just makes me want to try harder to get even better. Better meaning, stronger, faster and able to go longer. Why? Not for the sake of going faster, but because of all the other reasons listed here. The more I am able to run, the more I get to experience all the things I love. I have a job I really enjoy, but trail running is the one thing that gives me a rush of adrenaline on a daily basis when I think about the future, and I want to see what I can achieve.

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Running makes me hungry. I love food, and nothing makes me more excited for a balanced but tasty recovery brunch like a Sunday morning long run on trails. Everything just tastes better when your body reaches that level of hunger only achieved through multi-hour efforts. Theoretically any activity can make you hungry if you do it for long enough, but running is the only thing I don’t get bored doing for more than an hour.

Running is meditation. Sometimes I need some time to just disconnect. Running is such a second nature, that I am able to “switch-off” and just go with the flow if I am running on a familiar course. Sometimes I need a distraction. Running a new or technical trail forces me to pay attention to my surroundings and gives my brain a break from the stresses of adulting. Even after a really rough run, I come home feeling refreshed and energized.

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Running is exploration. I have been able to see things I probably would never have seen because of running. I ran across the Grand Canyon, I ran along the Tahoe Rim Trail at nearly 9,000 feet, I experienced jet lag induced midnight sun in Stockholm and I have seen more sunrises than I ever could have imagined. Not every run is an adventure, but many are, and these quench that thirst for exploration that I believe exists in all humans. As a species we are driven to explore our physical surroundings but also to explore within ourselves, to see what we are capable of. Some people build empires, others climb mountains, I run long distances on trails. It’s not particularly dignified, nor does it have a profound impact on society, but it takes me to new places that I couldn’t access otherwise.

Running makes me feel strong. Yes, cycling, swimming, yoga and strength training (all things I do on a regular basis for cross-training) are physical and mental challenges, and yes I feel stronger after a hard session on the TRX, but none of these activities fills me with confidence the way running does. This confidence comes from the fact that I am decently ok at running, whereas I have very little business being in a pool and no chance of ever even thinking about being competitive on a bike. This confidence comes from the fact that I have repeatedly challenged myself with new distances and races I never thought possible for me and have completed them all. When I moved to CA 5 years ago, I went for my first trail run at my local park (Redwood Regional Park). The loop I had planned was about 6 miles, and I had to stop at least 10 times and thought I was going to die. Now, that park is too small for most of the trail runs I do and I am gearing up to run 34 miles in the Alps.

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Running is Fun. I realize not everyone agrees with this statement, and in many sports running is a form of punishment, but you show me something that is more fun than a long, perfectly graded decent, where you can pick up the pace and leap and run with airplane wings while whooping with joy, and I’ll eat my trail shoes.

So while I appreciate that my husband just wants to see me happy every single day, I will fully appreciate my not-able-to-run wallowing because it means I have something in my life which is such a big part of me, that I feel lost without it.

4 Thoughts

  1. Yes to all of this!!! This is exactly how I feel about running! I just took a 3 week break from running after I had ran 3 big races in a row. I thought my body needed to heal but I was wrong. I was so depressed during those few weeks and I didn’t know why. Yoga made me feel a little better but not like running. So when I got back out there this week I felt like my old self. It’s amazing what a good run with good company can do for the soul!

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    1. So glad for you! Although, you may have staved off a longer break from running due to injury with that 3 week break! Choosing to take time off doesn’t make it any easier than being forced to though. Happy trails!

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