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Nov. 9 2009 - 8:56 am | 56 views | 0 recommendations | 6 comments

Tale of the trail

Trail running

Image via Wikipedia

When I think about what running means to me now as opposed to what it meant then, it’s hard to believe that “then” was only three weeks ago.  That’s all the time it took for trail running to transform me as a runner.

For the eight years of my previous running life, everything was about getting faster and trying to qualify for Boston. It wasn’t running that I liked; it was the idea of setting a huge goal that seemed entirely impossible and watching myself slowly progress towards it. That was fun, but the running wasn’t. Running was work, exercise, nothing more than a means to an end.

A long run on a Saturday used the be the thing I had to get finished with before I could enjoy my day. Now, it’s the high point of my weekend.  Barely a month after I finally did qualify for Boston, I’ve just completed the highest-mileage week of my life, much of it done on trails through the woods. Not as part of a training program, but for fun.

So what is it about trail running that has me, for the first time, counting the hours until I can run again? I’m convinced it’s the mindset. In fact, when I first tried a trail run a few years ago while I was in Boston-qualifying mode, I hated it. I went in with the plan of running 15 miles at eight minutes per mile, as specified by my training program. A few wrong turns, a wet shoe, and a fall on slippery rock later, I was done.  This wasn’t running, I thought to myself, it was hiking.

What I didn’t realize then was that trail running isn’t simply road running with scenery — it’s an entirely different sport that requires an entirely different mindset. Trail running is not about mile splits, intervals, heelstrikes or striderate. It’s about getting from point A to point B and dealing with whatever comes up along the way. It’s about doing what it takes, whether that’s wading through a stream or stopping to walk on the steepest hills. It’s about getting dirty, getting wet, and celebrating afterwards. And it’s about running a long, long way.

Trail running is the gateway to ultrarunning. That might not the be the reason everyone starts, but it’s the reason I did. The vast majority of ultras are on trails, so if you want to get into ultrarunning, it’s pretty much inevitable that you learn to run on trails. And the funny thing is, when I used to talk about one day running a 50K or 50-miler, I always said, “Sure, it would be fun; it’s just too bad I’d have to run it on trails.”

Now, with just three weeks of trail running under my belt, my running having been injected with life and — dare I say — passion, I can already envision myself expressing a sentiment quite the opposite:

“Sure, the Boston Marathon will be fun; it’s just too bad I’ll have to run it on roads.”

By Matt Frazier


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  1. collapse expand

    Matt, I’ve been intrigued by trail running for a few years, but never lived anywhere with convenient trails to give it a try. I was wondering, how do your legs/feet hold up on a trail vs. road running? Do you find more or less soreness? I’ve heard it can be great to reduce injury, because there’s less impact.

  2. collapse expand

    Matt, Do you wear special trail running shoes on your runs? Or are regular training shoes OK for a trail running beginner? There’s a race in Pennsylvania called the “half-wit half-marathon trail run” that I’ve always wanted to do. The course is supposed to be pretty wild!
    -Megan

  3. collapse expand

    Katie – I’ve found there to be much less of that soreness that comes from pounding on the roads. Still muscle soreness, but not joint pain. There’s much less impact, and you have to take smaller steps too.

    Megan – I am still wearing my road shoes, and some people have told me that there’s not a huge difference. Trail shoes have a little harder soles and more stability, but you can definitely run trails in normal shoes. Do it!

  4. collapse expand

    Your old views on running are very similar to my views on running now that I am coming off a big injury. Running blows, and it hurts. I remember blowing thru 45-60min runs, now 15 minutes go by and i feel achy and depressed. when i get back up to par, i want to try out trail running, and hopefully it’s as fun as you say it is.

    Appalachian trail, here i come.

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Running Shorts is a part of the True/Slant network specializing in Running News, Trends, Insights and Perspectives. This blog is maintained by Megan Kretz (megan [dot] kretz [at] gmail [dot] com) and Geoff Decker (geoffreydecker [at] gmail [dot] com). Email either us with tips, suggestions or feedback. And thanks for reading!

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