Trail running is often a spiritual experience for me – where I achieve enlightenments in the woods alongside squirrels and deer.
Other times? It’s just freakin’ fun.
The largest learning curve in trail running – to me – is how to handle downhills. Now, when people talk about “trail running” there’s a wide range of what they’re experiencing on their local trails. When I ran in Denver, I was blown away by how obstacle-free the trails were. Because there weren’t trees, there weren’t roots, and very few rocks. Those trails reminded me of a lot of the photographs I see of Trail Runners in the magazines, because I’m certain it’s easier to photography runners without the obstacles of trees.
Our trails here? Not quite like that. They’re lined with trees and you often find yourself thinking, Am I actually on a trail? Often you’re just weaving in and out of trees on a narrow trail that you’re not entirely sure exists. I find myself putting a lot of faith in the yellow paint marks on the trees as sometimes – they’re the only sign I have I’m in the right place.
My point? Our trails can be quite “technical” – to use proper trail running terminology. So – as you can imagine – the downhill trails? ARE INSANE. And the 25K I’m training for right now (I ran it last year too) – has some of the most insane downhill stretches on our mountain. Here’s the elevation profile:
Now – ignore the weird peaks periodically – my GPS is the lowest-end Garmin and doesn’t get the immediate readings perfect. However – you see the general gist. That drop between mile 5 and 6 is a trail we call “Rest Shelter”. It’s actually part of the McKay Hollow trail but regulars call it Rest Shelter because it starts on the plateau at an actual rest shelter that is marked like a trail-head. It’s steep and covered in rocks and roots with turns and drops the entire way down the mountain.
Downhill running speed almost has NOTHING to do with actual running speed. I’ve seen guys who do 28-minute 5Ks CRUSH guys who do 19-minute 5Ks. There are some runners that – on an average – are no faster than I am. But…they can KILL the downhills. This is partly due to shoes (rumor is HOKAS are the best) and partly due to trust/training. I’m not changing my shoes (I do have good enough trail shoes) so I’ve been working on trusting my feet and my body more. Every time I run that stretch of downhill, I try to actually “run” it a little more.
Yesterday? I decided I was going to run the entire downhill. I got in the lead of our group and just KILLED it. Now – those elite/fast trail runners? Would have still passed me easily. But for me? I was going damn fast. I ran practically the entire thing, hopping from rock-to-rock, around trees, through the mud. Several times I caught a root and just righted myself before I crashed. I rolled my ankles a few times, I cut my leg jumping over a downed tree.
And when I got to the bottom? I FELT AMAZING. This is the picture I took. I was EUPHORIC. It was just SO. MUCH. FUN. As an adult? It’s very hard to achieve that kind of exciting sensation. We’re not trying to flip swings or hanging from monkey bars on a daily basis. We miss a lot of opportunities to just have FUN. And yesterday? I did it. I ran the second downhill you see around mile 11 too, but it’s not as steep so the Fun Factor wasn’t quite as extreme.
Now – I’ll admit – every step you know that one bad move could mean a broken leg and if you rely on your legs to work that could mess up you or people who are supported by you. I had a friend who broke his leg on a hill run, thankfully he had Breeze Insurance to take care of him while he was healing. But I digress. If you have a local community you run with – you’ve heard stories of broken bones on the trails you run. And many of the times it happens to the elite runners! You just have to suspend belief in order to really trust the downhill force you’re riding. And I don’t think I could ever do that on a trail I don’t know. This is probably the 7th or 8th time I’ve run this particular downhill and I’m just now comfortable enough to run it.
All in all? It was just really awesome. I’ve been super-stressed and anxious lately. Depressed and sad. But – out there on the trails in the cold sun yesterday – blazing down a mountain thinking of nothing else but WHERE DO I PUT MY FOOT? – that was EXACTLY what I needed. Some fun. An escape. I’m not saying I’m cured and nothing but unicorns and rainbows from here on out. I’m just saying it was FUN and I needed that.