Happy Trail (No, not that kind of happy trail)

New running resolution: find a way to run on a trail at least once a month.  This is going to be a difficult one for me to keep, for a couple of reasons.

First, and most importantly, is the time it takes.  The nearest trail to me is about a fifteen minute drive.  Now that’s not much, but when you consider that my time is as precious as dolla dolla bills between kids and writing time and occasionally spending some time with the wife, fifteen minutes out and back in addition to the time it takes to actually complete the run makes it a not-insignificant factor.

Second, on a more practical note, is that it’s very very difficult to get a run in by myself lately.  The vast majority of my runs over the summer (and by vast majority I really do mean all but maybe two or three runs in the last six weeks) have been completed from behind the stroller, pushing his highness the sprout around like a sheik on a fancy rickshaw.  (Is that how you spell sheik?  Spellcheck is telling me it’s wrong either way.  Technology!)  Trails are not stroller-friendly, at least not the type of trails I’m talking about.

Third, and most sillily (yep), I have to drive to the trail.  This sort of goes against my zen minimalist philosophy of running, which is that you just step out the front door and go.  Add in a drive to a running location and I might as well be shelling out $20 a month to pound a treadmill into oblivion.  Okay, that’s not a perfect comparison with driving to a trail, but this is really the way my mind works.

So it will be tough to get out there even once a month.  But, ah, trails!  They delight.  Especially for a road warrior like me, there are some things you get from running on a trail that street miles just can’t even touch.

  1. I’m off the roads.  This could be its own list, but being able to complete a run without having to worry about drivers not seeing me and turning me into road pizza gives me more peace of mind than it probably should.  I had no idea how much space that tiny fear was taking up in my mind on every run.  It just evaporates on a trail.
  2. Nature smells nice.  Even just a few miles outside of town, the air changes a bit and it feels easier to breathe.  This is probably because, on the trails in my area at least, I’m surrounded by a literal oxygen factory.
  3. Shade.  Holy god, it’s hot out.  Have you noticed?  90% of the trail I covered today was engulfed in fantastical, splendiferous, glorious shade.  On my typical routes I’m lucky if I see shade for thirty seconds at a time; today, it was the sunlight on me that was the rarity.  Again, this point alone is worth virtually the price of admission in its own right.
  4. The quiet.  There’s so much ambient noise when I run around the suburbs — even in my own neighborhood — that just isn’t there out in the woods.  I don’t feel compelled to plug in headphones to block out the dull roar; rather, I feel like leaving them out entirely.  Wearing headphones in the woods almost seems a sacrilege, like I’m bringing something profane onto hallowed ground.
  5. The workout.  Even the gnarliest of roads won’t give you a hill to climb like the ones I saw today.  My calves and quads are burning just thinking about it.  The ascents and descents are sharp, sudden, and sometimes without warning, and there are rocks and roots to hop over or sidestep, which brings me to the next point:
  6. You can’t tune it out.  I think there’s value in being able to meditate, to detach and unplug and just go on autopilot during a run, and roads are great for that.  Surfaces are (generally) uniform, so you don’t have to watch your feet so much as the oncoming traffic. Generally you can leave your brain at home.  Trails are not nearly so detached.  The rocks and roots and sudden drops and uneven surfaces can send you sprawling in a heartbeat, or twist your ankle if you’re really unlucky.  Each step has to be carefully chosen and plotted, which means you’re always scanning the ground in front of you, plotting the best course.  It sounds like it should be taxing, but it’s actually rather Zen, I think.  You have to be in the moment and incredibly focused, but there’s calm in that.
  7. Spiderwebs.  Aargh running through spiderwebs is the worst and I am pretty sure I still have spiders down my back twelve hours later SERIOUSLY WHAT IS UP WITH ALL THE SPIDERWEBS

Road runs, even runs where I really run like the zombies are chasing me, do not leave me feeling wrecked like I feel today after four miles on the trails at Clinton Nature Preserve.  It was exhausting and invigorating and it reminds me that I really do have to make an effort to leave the roads behind now and then.

Now to run an ice bath for my aching, pummeled feet…

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