Running Trails, or The Virtue of Doing Things You Don’t Like

I do not like trail running. Trail running in Colorado usually follows some iteration of “run uphill for an hour at the pace of a sloth swimming through quicksand, then sprint downhill for 10 minutes over roots and boulders while trying not to careen over the side of a cliff. This last part may seem like an idiot move, but when the trail turns on a hairpin, you only have a few split-seconds to notice. Trust me, it’s not always obvious.

As it happens, I am oddly good at trail running, for someone so opposed to the practice. My legs and respiratory system tolerate the uphill quite well — enough to compensate for cautious mincing on the way down. You see, I hate falling, and nothing trips you up quite like screaming down a trail. Yet I’m a competitive creature, and being good at something is sufficient reason to keep doing it — and even more so if your friends are all doing it, too. Thus, I’ve found myself on more than one occasion muttering darkly under my breath — or I would mutter, if I had the breath under which to do so — while running stupidly uphill like the doomed quicksand sloth, in the middle of a woods, slogging up switchback after godforsaken switchback. Sound like fun?

It certainly takes some getting used to. Having friends helps. In fact, trail running is not like road running, in that it’s perfectly acceptable to stop and chill on occasion, so everyone can get caught up. Not that that’s not acceptable in road running, but waiting on a street corner in the middle of traffic for someone 5 blocks and 3 traffic lights behind you is not nearly so pleasant as catching your breath surrounded by pine trees on the “Enchanted Forest” loop. It is in this manner, and surrounded by good company, that I ran 16 miles on trails a couple of Saturdays ago.

Proportionally, it probably totaled about 2 hours going up, 45 minutes going down, and only 15 minutes on the rare flat bits. However, it was outside and gorgeous, with quality company all the way. I didn’t have a gps, or even a watch, let alone food/water. Just me and friends and running.

Suffice it to say I was flabergasted. When we got back to the parking lot and tallied up the miles, all I could think was “but…but…but… I had fun. It was on trails, and it didn’t suck!” I’ve never even run 16 miles before without at least tracking the distance obsessively on a gps watch! I still cannot believe something so difficult felt so effortless! Don’t get me wrong, there were parts that were tricky, and difficult, and really uncomfortable. But it was also gratifying! New sensation for trail running, that.

What surprised me even more (if that’s possible) is the insane boost it gave my workouts during the rest of the week. I fully expected to be burnt toast in the days that followed, if the pain in my legs as I tried to fall asleep meant anything. Instead, the minor elevation-gain from that run imparted noticeable respiratory reserves once I was back in the city. Pacework that was taxing the week before felt… breezy. Even now, what, 2 weeks out from that trippy experience, my legs feel more neuro-muscularly efficient, which is to say faster and more powerful.

It’s completely unprecedented, and feels like a weapon that can backfire easily — I mean, I’m not exactly in trail running shape! Besides, the more you trail run, the greater the odds of accidentally plummeting off a cliff. Nevertheless, I’m excited to experiment with the implications of trail running — judiciously applied, of course. A couple more runs like that, and 13 miles on the road won’t seem like nuttin’!  

Also, maybe possibly, it is a wee bit fun.  

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