I’ve been a road runner for almost 9 years now, and it has been a big part of my life. Through running, I’ve been able to have more energy, sleep better, and of course lose a lot of weight. These just scratch the surface of the many benefits that come from running. When I run, the entire world melts away and all I am concentrating on is breathing, moving my legs, and getting through that next step. It is the most peaceful way for me to relax I’ve found. Yes, it is very hard on your body, particularly your joints. I realize that I am very lucky to be able to run, though I’ve not been without my fair share of injury.
Early this year I started getting into a new type of running: trail running. The impetus behind this came from a group of friends of mine who decided to walk/run/crawl 100km through the mountains for a charity event, without sleep and without stopping longer than 10-20 minute breaks. Always up for a challenge and some physical pain, I didn’t hesitate to join. This started what would be many months of running on trails and participating in trail running events to train our bodies to make the 100km.
Before my first trail run, I was over confident. My friend and I planned to run about 12km over 600 meters or so of elevation. “Pfh,” I thought, “I run 12km on my daily runs easily, this will be nothing. Yeah sure, there’s some elevation, but nothing I can’t handle. I’ve been running on the road for years, after all!”
I don’t think those who know me would consider me the arrogant type, but I was never so humbled in any physical activity I’ve done following my first trail run. Just 2km in, that 12km started to look increasingly difficult. What I will never forget, as I tried to run up the first 300 meter summit without stopping, was that I was never so out of breath in my life. I just couldn’t catch my breath. My lungs and quads were burning. Believing that my body was up for this, I was both surprised and angry at myself.
Somehow I made it to the top, and as we ran along the ridge to the second peak, I started to realize what is so amazing about trail running. No cars. No crowds (for the most part). Softer ground that requires more technical skill and concentration to run through. Trees, wind, birds, and the sounds of the forest. Nature. I felt like this is what humans evolved for: running through the forest, chasing dinner or escaping becoming dinner. The feeling of being in nature, and running through it – no matter how fast or slow – is something that road running cannot compare to. At least for me.
We only made 10km that day, but I finished feeling ready for more. The next time I ran the same course, my body was more used to it, and I was able to run all the way to the top of the first 300 meter summit without stopping, and finishing over 15km in a much better time. Since then, I’ve been hooked. I get out to the mountains any chance I get, and have participated in a lot of trail races, from casual 5km runs up to the 100km charity event that my friends and I finished. Just last month I ran a 28km race, and while I was depleted due to no training for three months from a series of injuries, it was amazing.
I’ve talked to road runners who don’t trail run, and some have the same opinion that I did in the beginning: it’s easy because you are walking/climbing up sometimes and are not constantly running. Believe me, when you are walking, climbing, or slowly running up to the top of a 1,900 meter mountain, your body is working much harder than when you are simply running on a flat surface. Go try it for yourself and see.
Even though it’s hard, I also have found that trail running is a really accessible sport. While going up a mountain is challenging, I have family and friends who find it mentally more rewarding because, even if you are just walking up the mountain, you are still walking up a mountain and don’t have to feel bad like you let yourself down. This is opposed to road running, when if you take a break or start to walk it’s easy to get down on yourself. And when you are trail running, no matter your level, just about everyone can run down the mountain. This is where the real fun begins!
Finding trail running is something that has really enriched my life, and I’m thankful to my friends who got me into it and to my family and friends who continue to trail run with me, and put up with me when I get injured. So thanks, everyone, you know who you are!
Now go find a mountain!