Trail Running: A Humbling Story

Hi there! Hope your Monday wasn’t too terrible. I was yawning by 10:30 a.m. so you can say I’m whining my way back into a normal post-vacation life. I’ll fill you in on this morning’s painful November Project workout, but today I want to share some true life confessions of trail running, a new-to-me sport that I soaked up every day I could on my recent West Coast trip.

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I started thinking of myself as a runner six years ago when I was training for my first half marathon my sophomore year of college. Five marathons and countless races later, you could say I’m hooked. I toe the starting lines of races fairly confident, and I venture out for a run in any city street faithful that my legs will take me wherever I want to go. Trails, however, are a different story. A humbling story.

I ran trails for the first time ever last summer with the Boston Brunch Runners, a Sunday running club led by November Project members. We ran a short loop in the Blue Hills, and I was hooked from day one. I felt so alive running through the woods and loved how kinder the trail felt to my body, despite challenging my muscles in new ways with each unsteady step.

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Without a car in the city, however, it’s tough to get a crew together to go trail running regularly so I didn’t see trails again until my trip to LA in March. Orrin and I spent four days on the mountains, and I quickly learned that I had to check my ego at the door. A mile into our first run I was walking up a hill. I never walk when I run. Never. I was embarrassed and frustrated, but I got over it with time.

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While some beasts can power up hills without missing a beat, most people (myself included) slow down on the trails, focusing instead on covering the ground in front of you and choosing to walk up steep inclines when form starts to suffer. There are many times when I know I can walk a hill faster than run (something I think during Summit sometimes) and it’s only my ego holding me back. During this last trip out west, I once again got down on myself about my abilities when I felt like I should be dominating every hill considering my training these last few months. Turns out 50 mile weeks don’t mean a thing if you aren’t running trails every day.

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The first mile of our run in Muir Woods was straight uphill. I had moments when I thought to myself, “Am I actually a runner?” Dramatic, I know, but I felt so incredibly out of shape. Orrin and Clayton, the co-leader of NP San Francisco, bolted ahead and the rest of us starting walking in the back of the pack. I was embarrassed to tell the group that I was training to qualify for the Boston Marathon when I could barely keep a ten minute pace on this trail. Once I hit a downhill, things started to get better and we all joked about how emotional trails can be – you go from literally hating every single step you take to being giddy running through scenes like this.

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This was without a doubt one of the hardest runs I’ve ever done, but I would do it all over again in a heart beat. It was a good learning experience, yet again, that trails are built for endurance, not speed, and that there is absolutely no shame in being a beginner again. Just when I started to get a little cocky out there too, this happened.

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Point taken. I still feel like I lost a bit of speed during my trip but definitely not endurance, and I’m hoping that will carry me through the last few marathon miles when I know I’ll want to call it quits.

If you’ve never run trails, you’re missing out. Trust me, you can’t get these moments running through crowded city streets.

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Next time I’m lucky enough to find a mountain, I’m making a promise to myself that I won’t let my ego get in the way of enjoying every moment. Maybe some day I’ll be able to write a “Trail Running Tips for Beginners” post but I’m definitely not there yet. We all have to start somewhere right?

Do you like running city roads or trails?

Have you had any humbling experiences recently?

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