A Road Runner’s Trail Tales: Chapter 1
Chapter 1- Sending it
Running can be done on many different surfaces, in all sorts of distances, and in a multitude of capacities. There are running races like the Spartan series that involve obstacles like spear throwing and carrying buckets of cement. There are triathlons that involve running after a bike and a swim. There are ultra races and adventure races that can take up to a few days to complete. There are even races designed to have people not be able to finish them (ahem, Barkley Marathons!). Then there are your bread and butter road races, weekend 5k’s, and marathons of the like. Honestly, there are so many different types of running races it gets hard to keep track of them all let alone name them all in one blog post.
To generalize, running tends to be divided into 3 major categories: road, track, and trail running. I got my start in competitive running on the cross country course with Santa Clara University back in 2014. This was just the beginning of 4 precious years of collegiate running competition in both cross country, indoor, and outdoor track. These four years went wonderfully, devoid of any major injuries, and with a huge learning curve that led me from being o
ne of the worst on my team to a 5-time All-American. I will forever cherish my collegiate athletic experience. In my first year as a professional runner I had the opportunity to join the NAZ Elite squad down in Flagstaff to continue to pursue track and cross country, and it was in the past year that I was introduced to road running for the first time, and let me tell you folks, it was love at first sight. I realized quite quickly that much of the anxiety and stress that I felt during track races was stripped away during road races. The more relaxed and friendly atmosphere among the competitors, the variability of the courses, the longer distances, and especially the over zealous weekend warriors lining up on the same line as me immediately put me at ease.
Armed with this new-found knowledge of what I like versus what I know now is not really my jam (*cough cough track cough*) I decided it was time try something out that had been on my bucket list for a loooongggggg time: run a trail race. (I now know there are differences between mountain and trail races but at the time thought they were all the same.)
I was no stranger to trail running on my easy days. During college I ran on the trails in and around Salt Lake City a few times a week and in Flagstaff I continued this tradition, trying to find new trails every chance I got. I loved the variability of the terrain, the views and the wildlife that I would get to see. This connection to nature seemed to satisfy and calm something deep down inside of me. Maybe it was my anxiety, maybe it was my adventurous spirit, or maybe both. Either way, I just knew that when I was running on the trails and losing myself in nature, it was genuinely a type 1 kind of fun, it was pure play, and I wanted more. This soul searching path, along with several other factors is what left me to graciously and voluntarily bow out from my place on NAZ Elite to pursue what I thought would be a better fit for me: road AND trail racing. I knew that this was not a common duality amongst professional runners but there are a few that make it work and do it well, VERY well (Joseph Gray and Magda Boulet just to name a few). And anyways, I never had had a common or orthodox running journey up until this point so I figured I might as well keep on dancing to the beat of my own drum
I had no idea how good I might be on the trails. I really had not done a lot of vert (fancy trail runner speak for elevation gain) in any of my runs or training. I knew that I was pretty good at running uphills on the road, but would that translate to running up mountains? But that wasn’t the point. Sometimes you do things because you are good at them, but some things you have to do because they make you happy regardless of how well you think they might turn out.
I signed up for my first trail race, and on June 29th, the day after my 24th birthday, I ran up some mountains and completed my first ever trail race (shoutout to the Cirque Series!) finishing in a shocking (to me at least) second place. It was one of the hardest efforts I have ever done, my entire body has never been so tired from a running race but more importantly it was the most relaxed and exhilarated I had maybe ever been in a race. It was a BLAST that reignited my spark for competition and running, just what I needed and was searching for. I knew as soon as I saw the view from the top of that first peak that it was love at first summit. After spending the last almost 40 minutes running, hiking, climbing, slipping, and scrambling my way up almost 2000 feet of elevation gain I knew that I was totally hooked in a super weird masochistic kind of way. Never had I been in so much pain while simultaneously having so much fun. Never had I felt so deeply connected to nature during a race. Never before during a race had I run/trudge through feet, and I’m talking FEET, of snow. Never before during a race had I slid. fell, and glissaded through said snow. Never before during a race had I felt genuinely concerned for my life should I take one wrong step. Never before in my life had I felt so much energy and support from the other competitors around me. This race left me awestruck and speechless and in complete admiration of those who had found this discipline before me.
They were GENIUSES.
Crossing the finish line in second place was awesome but knowing that I pushed myself as hard as I could and to my absolute physical limits was the most rewarding and entrancing thing about the whole experience. I knew right away that I was hungry and ready for more. Since this first race I have completed 2 more trail races and have several more lined up for the rest of the fall season. Road running will be in my back pocket and I am by no means done with that, but trail running will be my focus to explore this fall and I couldn’t be more excited. I want to share this journey of exploration and discovery with you as I dive deeper into the wacky trail running scene. To keep you in the loop I will be releasing a short post every week about a new lesson learned or challenge that trail running presents to me and my mostly road/track running filled resume.
Maybe it will brighten your day or convince you to get out and connect with nature on a deeper level but mostly I hope it convinces you that it’s never too late to try something new and that humility will be your best friend in adventure and in finding success.
Hang on for a wild off-road ride!