When I ran trails in Denver with my brother last year, I experienced something I knew to be true based on photos in trail running magazines: Not all trails are the same.
The Green Mountain area where we rain has a terrain more of shubbery instead of trees. I’m sure there’s a more accurate way to describe the flora/fauna there, but the point is? No huge roots. And whether or not related: No huge rocks.
Here, in our state park, the trails are covered with tall trees, huge roots, and a SHIT-LOAD of rocks. Hazards ABOUND. And while Denver still poses the “No Oxygen!” hazard, that one is not as treacherous to your limbs by creating huge fall risks. So, less scary to me. But our trails here? SO TERRIFYING.
I started trail running here one one of our simpler set of trails. Bucca Family Bike Trail, and the White/South loop. Neither of the trails descend really at all, and since good chunks of them are design for mountain bikes, they’re well worn and relatively easy to navigate. However, compared to the surface of the trails in Denver, VERY HAZARDOUS I learned. I’m very jealous of trail runners near Denver. Anyway – I eventually tried out our North/Blue loop which also didn’t descend, but was waaaaaay more treacherous with rocks and roots. I guess I started getting my “trail legs” on those two trails.
When you run on a trail that is “technical” or maybe not very “runnable” (those are terms trail runners use a lot to describe difficulty in trails) you find that you can only think about one thing: Where do I put my feet? You learn to trust things like: If you pick up you’re feet, you decrease your likelihood of tripping greatly. You also learn to trust parts of the trail that you’ve navigated before. You learn things like: THOSE ROCKS DON’T MOVE, so running over them is a possibility. You wear trail running shoes that have more protection between the bottoms of your feet and those rocks so they don’t impale your arches on every step. You remember the first rule: PICK UP YOUR DAMN FEET.
And then there’s the descents. There are very few trails that lead down the mountain up here that aren’t covered in rocks and roots and probably make the casual hiker hold on to trees along the way. My first year of running? I became a hiker on those downhills. I held on to trees and gingerly stepped the entire way down the mountain. Even during races. I was surrounded by runners, some twice my age, running down those trails…but me? Nope. Hiking. And holding on for dear life.
But last spring…I started to trust my body, my feet, and the surface more. I learned to work with to momentum and basically I get my adrenaline rush every week but running down these treacherous trails, one specifically that I’ll have to do three times in my next 50K. I get better and better every time. But every time there’s a voice inside my head that knows that one tiny wrong move and I’m toast.
But the thing is – on the most dangerous parts – I’m the most focused. I’m paying attention to every rock and every root and I’m always aware of trees to grab if I stumble and embankments to aim for if I gain too much momentum. While it’s the most dangerous topographically, I’m probably the most focused, and therefore safest, mentally.
That brings me to THE FALLS.
I’ve had dozens of falls. And several “bad” ones where my first instinct was not to laugh or jump back up. And all of those bad ones? ALL of them? On the stupid “easy” trails I mention in the beginning of this entry. I’m not saying I won’t ever bust my ass on the dangerous trails, but it seems my worst falls are the ones I take on the trails where I stop focusing entirely on my steps and maybe think about things like: I’m almost to the car! 20 miles done!
Which is EXACTLY what I was thinking this weekend when I had my worst fall EVER. Mile 19.7 or so of a 20 mile run. I was feeling great, thinking about how great I was feeling, and just coasting along when BAM! I hit the ground with the left side of my body SO HARD that I momentarily considered that fact that my running buddy may need to carry me the rest of the way to my car.
I didn’t even get up at first, I rolled over and surveyed my body. Everything hurt. I was bleeding already on my thigh. Once I tested out all of my extremities I checked on my clothing. Damn it if I wasn’t going to be pissed if I tore my $60 running skirt. (I didn’t!) I wiggled my fingers and moved my arms. Decided the majority of the pain was in my hand, my shoulder, and my thigh…but nothing was in so much pain I couldn’t move. I got up (slowly) and decided to walk that last bit to the car. And man…I was SO SORE. This was Saturday and I’m feeling better this Monday morning, but man…I fell SO HARD. It was super scary. And on the stupid easy trail because I don’t pay as much attention on those as the harder ones. I was almost angry at myself because my 50K on those SAME trails is in 3 weeks…I do NOT need a new mental hurdle to surpass with any sort of gun shyness going on.
So, we’ll see how the quick trip on the trails next week goes. I’m hoping I’ll still trust my body/feet/reflexes on the downhills and maybe I’ll pay more attention on the “easy” trails. But MAN…after falls like that I totally get why people avoid trail running.
But then…THEN…you remember how AMAZING it feels to be out there in the woods. While I always say running is therapy – TRAIL running is like therapy AND a spa day rolled into one. You soak up so much energy from the nature around you, and you leave all of your worries behind because out there the ONE thing you think about is: WHERE DO I PUT MY FOOT? And this time of year it’s beautiful and you don’t have to worry about snakes or heat and the leaves are changing and you just coast down those trails deeper into the woods and think: HOLY SHIT, IT’S SO GOOD TO BE ALIVE.
Which is why I’ll still be out there, regardless of my nerves or pain. Because, while I enjoy road running and road races…I LOVE the trails.