I’ve run 4 ultramarathons, 3 of which took place on the trails. But…I’m not a trail runner. Yet.
I have made a goal to run on the trails a lot more this year than I have in the past. Even though I have run 4 ultras, I didn’t have the time (at first) or discipline (later) to train on the trails. What I mean is that in New Jersey, it was about an hour’s drive to some decent trails and as I was in college and worked on the weekends, I didn’t have the time to drive out that far and make it back in time for class or work or other commitments I had. When I moved to Portland last January (’15) I had no excuses anymore as Forest Park has trails that I can get to in a less than ten-minute drive, but I lacked the discipline to bring training from the roads to the trails.
I think I was a bit nervous, too, if I’m being honest with myself. I know the roads. I know how to listen for cars and when or when not to ignore the orange hand at the crosswalk. I know I can run the same way and not worry about tripping or taking a misstep. But on the trails, there are many variables to take into account. Many unknowns. There are no blinking orange hands to tell you to slow down. There are no signs that tell you “Slippery ahead,” or “Slow down! Sudden decline around the bend!” so if you aren’t aware of your surroundings or your body, things can happen. Not-good things. So you learn very quickly how to run on the trails because it forces you to learn quickly. You learn that you need to raise your legs up just a tad higher to avoid the roots and rocks because your brain remembers, quite well, that the last time you didn’t do that, you ate it and nearly left some facial skin for the trail to remember you by. Most importantly, though, you learn how to appreciate nature and how to truly run: like our ancestors ran.
As I want to run a gnarly ultra this year–not sure which, but it will certainly be the most challenging one I would have completed after I cross the finish line–I needed to start running the trails and get off the roads as much as possible. With a pavement marathon in early April (on the Banks-Vernonia State Trail pictured above), I do still need to train on the roads, but the trail running will help strengthen my legs and many other muscles that, when strengthened, will benefit me even during a road race.
What’s helped me break out of my shell so far this year has been finding a running partner to venture out with. Running with Adam, who also happens to be from New Jersey and a fellow vegan athlete, has been so much fun and nearly every day we’re talking about runs and trails we want to do that upcoming weekend or that year. Talk about motivation! I’m grateful for us connecting and for being reminded why I need to be on the trails if I’m going to take my ultrarunning a bit more seriously. How can I expect to run multi-day stage runs crossing desserts and forests and mountains, if all I ever run on are roads and the track? I can’t. So I’ve decided to do something about it and I’ve been loving the decision.
I love running on the track and the Portland esplanade along the water, but just look at what the trails offer…
Ultrarunning is not easy. There’s a lot of sacrifices and training that goes into it, but even then, the effects of an ultramarathon can hit you hard.
Here I am after my first 12 hour run (on the roads..womp, womp) in July 2015. After 62.4 miles, my legs had it and so many leg muscles just seized up as soon as a I was done. Would trail running have helped prevent this and/or improve my time? Likely, yes.
My running will look very different than any other year and I’m so excited to see what it’s going to involve into this year!
If you haven’t tried trail running yet, I highly advise that you give it a shot. Don’t be like me and let a bit of a drive keep you from experiencing what running on the trails is like. It’s great for your muscles for so many reasons and it fosters an appreciation for nature that running anywhere else just won’t accomplish.