I don’t know the exact date of when I began trailrunning, but it wasn’t that long ago. I didn’t even realize such an amazing, beneficial and pleasurable thing existed this time last year. I had no idea.
Yes, yes… it was sometime leading into last fall when my kungfu brother (Jarrad) and I started going on a # of very cool waterfall hikes around-throughout the nearby Smokey Mountains. The hikes, for the most part, were easy ones –anywhere from 4 to 8 miles in total. The tourist-traffic drive to get to the hikes was always a solid hour long hassle that would almost (everytime) take away the worthwhileness of the whole venture.
Most of the hikes we chose to tackle were map-deemed “strenuous,” but in my mind , they were all pretty mild. The trails were usually marked with gradual up’s and down’s all the way to the specific falls or whatever the chosen endpoint may have been on that specific hike. It was all fun and just fine, nothing too amazing or physically demanding, but still very enjoyable. Results were typically t-shirt backs of broken sweat and some pretty good photography. I usually brought a small backpack and my red-taped walking stick. The stick was bamboo. That’s what casual hikers generally look like: someone with backpack a stick.
As the opportunities for hikes slowly began to come to a seasonal close, my mood started to shift. It was on the way back from these final hikes that my mind and body would start craving just a little bit more. And so what would typically be me keeping a steady walking pace with Jarrad on the way back to the trailhead & car, would eventually become me, picking up my own personal pace and begin (just barely) starting to jog down to the finish point… I began speed walking down the mountain, so to speak.
Fast forward a few months and I’ve met this crazy guy Chris from playing basketball and I’m at his house for some derby party or something like that. Chris seemed to be that one liberated-type guy who throws a lot of free-wheelin’ parties, despite being married and having a couple of young kids. Anyway, I meet some of his just-as-odd crew and we’re all talking to each other and Chris and this one guy who brought with him some really good beer start in about their latest trailrunning exploits: Did you trailrun the blah blah blah?” “No, I missed that one, but I did do the blah, blah..
My mind blows up, and, with great (probably a little drunken) enthusiasm, I tear into both of them, asking the two all sorts of questions about this thing they’re calling “trailrunning.” Chris’ buddy with the good beer had this cool black-n-white tattoo of a skull inside a bicycle gear. It was on the back of one of his calves. So Chris spots a squirrel or something and wanders off and I just continue picking this guy’s brain about trailrunning. People actual do this? What is it? Who does it? Where does it happen?
He tells me about a series of local organized trailrun races, trailrunning spots, etc.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I’m following the good beer/calf tattoo guy’s recommended local trailrunning/track club links and I pretty much immediately sign-up for the next possible race –“roughly” a 6-mile trailrun called something cool like Forks of the River or something like that. So, essentially no training at all –only pure curiosity as my driving force and a couple of beer-laden laps around my neighborhood. And yes, I think I researched on the net a day or two before the run, “What to eat before a race.” As a result, chicken, pasta, and white sauce is what I consumed the night before.
That was basically the extent of my training. And besides all of my horrible smoking, I still felt I was in decent post-tournament fighting shape. How hard could it be? I’m a warrior, no?
The morning was rainy and cold and, maybe because of the sheer lunacy of it all, I was doing all sorts of unhealthy things in the parking lot before the race began. Blah, Blah, Blah… Anyway, in the end, out of a shit load of crazy-looking trailrunners of all shapes, sizes, and ages, I grind out a 9th place showing. It wasn’t that difficult. Not knowing how much longer was probably the worst element, and that was purely mental. Physically I could have kept going all day long.
Funny sidebar: the race started when I was using the restroom. I had no idea what was happening. Had to urinate. Urinated, and when I walked out, I stepped out onto an empty starting line. A bystander pointed in the direction of the trailhead. So the entire run consisted of me playing catch-up with the remaining 42 runners. The Game Plan/Strategy I repeated to myself throughout was simple: Only pass, do not get passed.
Fast forward again and crazy Chris has invited me to trailrun a trail somewhere near my home, our homes. Chris lives around the corner from my place.
The trail is a series of 3 healthy-sized hills and 3 long lakeside shore-runs which connect (by means of a cool bridge) to another series of slightly more complex hills and runs. All in all, it’s about 8 miles. 8 miles trailrunning can not be compared to 8 regular street or track miles unless perhaps one imagines an 8-mile track obstacle course peppered with all sorts of elevation shifts and descents, both steep and gradual… water hazards, fallen trees, etc.
Since that introduction of the trailrun Chris so graciously revealed to me, I don’t know how many times I’ve made the 5 minute drive to “King’s Crown” and have run some variation of the course. Maybe 50, 60 times –maybe more. It was a few times a week at the beginning of this new “sickness.” Now it’s petered down to once or twice a week, but always at least once. These days I need it before anything else. Kungfu, basketball, free-weights… they have all become second fiddle.
And so now, with the help and silent encouragement of Jarrad, I have begun branching out and experimenting with new and different trails. Too easily do I find one thing I love and beat every facit of it to death until (ultimately) I can no longer bear to think about it, much less take part in it. Concord trails near his home, new trails leading us back into the Smokey’s where it all began. I even ran an amazing trail deep in the Blue Ridge with my cousin and older brother just here recently. It was a family gathering of sorts and I made sure that trailrunning was on the agenda.
It doesn’t matter, and yet it does.
Trailrunning has certainly changed my life. From a physical and training standpoint, this newborn activity (the word “activity” doesn’t do what trailrunning isproper justice) has strengthened my Core to a level I’ve neither reached, nor hinted at before. I feel I could break lumber against my stomach, where before the power and strength I gathered in my Core and middle was forced and overly-strained –not truly strong. Not true strength. My legs have become viable resources for quick running, acceleration and bursts, and jumping. Coordination, a crystalline clarity of mind… Yes, Oh the mind! From a mental standpoint, my trailrunning has become an amazing instrument of positive, personal therapy. There isn’t a single run where, at the end of it, I haven’t worked some sort of lingering issue or problem.
I can’t recommend it enough –to anybody! Nothing brings me more joy than taking a virgin trailrunner running through the mountains for his or her first time. So many rewarding aspects when it’s all said and done. Even on time-limited and rare parental visits, I’ve managed to take my 60 year old mother and 64 year old father trailrunning. And all of these people… have they gone and done any trailrunning since then, without me? I don’t know. Probably not, but I showed it to them, and that’s all that matters for now. They know that something so wonderful exists and is free and available to them in some form or function, wherever they may be.