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In Defense of Trail Running March 30 2012

 

I spend most weekends slipping down muddy trails chasing after nothing in particular for no reason in particular. It's called trail running and most of the people in my social circle seem to think it's an activity that is best left to the insane, masochistic, and stupid. I'm not even going to try to defend myself against those accusations, but trail running. This I have to defend. From an outside perspective I can understand how running twenty miles early on a Saturday or Sunday morning might be considered insane. I realize that those looking in from the outside see only a bunch of exhausted human beings covered in mud with faint lines of blood scratched across their legs and arms as they stagger into a parking lot mumbling incoherently about the beer they've been dreaming of for the past ten miles. And yes, that does seem like grounds to institutionalize someone.

But you have to dig a little deeper. Last week while sprawled out on my living room floor watching The Big Bang Theory, a friend asked me to name two things, family and friends aside, that I simply could not live without. Massaging a sore calf, I went through my mental checklist of guilty pleasures before decidedly giving an answer: trail running and potato chips.

Apparently this is an amusing answer because it took him a few minutes to stop laughing.

"Nikki, you are an oxymoron."

"I resent that. And I'd rather be an oxymoron than just a moron."

"Nice."

"Thank you. And I'm perfectly serious. I could not live without trail running."

"Or potato chips"

"Right"

And then I tried to explain.

I live for running, but not just any kind of running. I have to drag myself out the door during the days my evening runs are confined to the city streets. Considering that I live within minutes of the paved Bay Trail and in one of the most running friendly cities in the East Bay, this gives some indication of my reluctance to slamming my feet down against pavement. Basically, I hate it. But come Saturday and Sunday when I am free to spend hours roaming the trails in Tilden Park, Redwood Park, or the nearby Muir Woods, I am transformed into a 6 year-old who runs for the sheer joy of it. I run because my heart is so happy to be outside that the only thing that can adequately reflect that happiness is running.

Imagine dropping down into a ravine on a single-track trail enveloped by redwoods. Your feet are moving faster than your brain, your reflexes kick in and you're amazed at the fluidity of your body. Your buddy in front of you lets out an adrenaline-induced whoop. You respond by hollering. Suddenly seven runners are dropping down a trail at a breakneck speed while shouting and singing just because they're happy to be there. Hikers flash you bewildered and startled glances. You respond with an exhausted smile and try not to splatter them with mud as you race past. When you stagger back to the parking lot twenty plus miles later, your body is battered and your legs having nothing more to give, but your heart is full.

When I'm trail running I'm so happy to be out there, to be alive and moving that nothing else really matters. My world could be crashing down on top of me, but when I'm running, it doesn't matter. And when I'm running with people who understand that, I'm even happier. Maybe it's nothing more than the sense of camaraderie that develops when the world thinks you're crazy, but you know you're not. Or maybe you are, but you don't really give a damn. In a world of spectacular technology and perpetual connection, it's nice to be unplugged and connected to someone in a completely different way. Whether you spend ten miles talking or ten miles running in comfortable silence (well, minus the occasional interludes of "Want a shock block? Margarita flavor?" or "Wait? Is this the right way?") you're 100% in that moment with those people. You feel your connection to the people and place around you and at the risk of sounding like someone who has clearly lived in Berkeley too long, that interconnectedness is invigorating and comforting in a way that Siri simply cannot comprehend. Mostly because, let's face it, she doesn't really comprehend anything.

All I'm saying is that it's hard to knock something that involves mud and ends in beer because trail running, if done properly, always ends in beer. And potato chips. What can I say? We're a bunch of health nuts.