Last weekend I ran my first trail race. I’ve done a fair amount of trail running, mostly just with the motivation of getting out into the woods, into the wild, amongst the trees, along the ocean, or in the case of here, amuk in the rainforest. I’ve ascended and descended my fair share of mountains and hills and been humbled by a few logs, sticks and slippery gravel patches.
I’ve also pounded out, slogged out, and jubilantly sprinted out, literally thousands of kilometers on roads. Through training and road racing, tracks, hills and intervals, I have spent a lot of time on the roads, slaying the challenges, the ups, the downs, the snow and the storms.
But the trail is its own beast. Not just as a thing, but on every single run. A different beast today than what it was yesterday, or what it will be next week. On every day, on every route, it’s its own thing. Today you run it and it’s wet and slippery, with parts that are 2 inches below water and other parts you have to precariously wiggle around stepping on stones to avoid being up to your ankles in mud. Next weekend, the same trail is dry and dusty, the thin, invisible layer of chalky sediment caking around your ankles, up your legs and drying out your mouth.
And guys, trail running is its own definition of hard. It’s that hard where you push it to whatever level you want it to be. The hard where if you’re having a tough day, you walk up the hills, or if you’re feeling on top of the world, you run up the hills. The hard where you don’t realize how much you put into it to get to the end until you wake up sore and fatigued the next morning.
But this is the beauty of it. You can make it what you want, push it to the level that you want to and pivot it up at that level of being uncomfortable and painful, where you say, “but it hurts so good!” In other words, let’s get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I’ve been sitting with it for a while, going back and forth on that edge of pushing myself and not pushing myself far enough. But trail running is this great vehicle for showing you how far you can go, proving you can do it anyways, and testing your limits. Here’s why you need to take on the trails:
- Challenge yourself – Maybe the challenge is just going there and getting started. Maybe the challenge is to get to the top of the mountain, or get through the really tricky, narrow part of the trail. Whatever it is, the best part of trail running is that it is way more conducive to allowing you to take on a challenge than when you are on the road. And the more often you go, the more you will want to challenge yourself and push harder.
- Test your limits – And once you’re into that challenge state of mind, you’ll find that you’ll be more inclined to test your limits. You might do a trail a few times over, seeing if you can run it faster, or push yourself just a little bit harder on the hill. Or maybe you take on a new trail that is a higher level of difficulty and makes you really see where your edge is and helps you see that however much it hurt last week or last time, that wasn’t all that you had. You can give more. You can push harder.
- Explore new areas – There’s nothing like tackling trails in an unexplored area, where you’ve never been. Where the views are new and exciting, where reaching the peak of the hill or the mountain lets you have a perspective you have never seen before. You might see new wildlife, new plants, new flowers and trees, and of course, afterwards, you get to drink beer or have treats or eat brunch at a brand new place!
- Improve agility – You get quicker on your feet, quicker at avoiding obstacles and improve your balance and coordination. Trails mean you are always hyper-aware of your surroundings, your footing and your terrain – one wrong step and you’re down on the ground. But the more you have to practice being in tune with this, the better you get and the better you get at executing responses accordingly. The result is some fast-moving feet and this can only boost your running, no matter what the terrain!
- Boost your fitness – You’ll climb mountains, descend mountains, jump up on top of things, over things and in between things. You’ll do your fair share of hills, and run through so many different terrains, and when you get lost, you’ll run farther for longer, just to make it back to where you parked your car. And all of this builds fitness and endurance and boosts your strength in amazing ways. Plus, it’s way more fun than just doing hill repeats on the hill at the end of your street.
- Fight your fears – At first, you might run down the hill pretty slow for fear of slipping and falling; at first, you might avoid the really muddy sections for fear of getting stuck and dirty. But hit up the trails enough and you’ll slowly feel your confidence building up, your fears falling down and you’ll hear this voice inside of your head that says “just try it and see what happens!” It’s the first step in taking on more challenging courses, more difficult terrains, and maybe even a race!
- Have fun – Trails are a whole other type of fun compared to road running, or road racing. They pump your adrenaline more and ignite that fire inside of you more. They give you that little bit of fear that makes you run faster and they give you just that little bit more satisfaction and sense of pride and accomplishment as compared to running on the streets in town. Because for every run you finish on the trails, not only did you conquer the distance, but you did the distance with the hills, and that mountain and the swampy part and narrow sections all in between. Go get it. You’ve got this!Use the trails as a way to take your running to the next level and see your full potential. If you need some guidance, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org!