I ran a pretty awesome trail just a couple of days ago. It was hard, it was steep (3,150ft), I panted, I dripped sweat, I questioned my sanity, got to the top, saw this view…..
and knew without a doubt that I was strong, unstoppable and a force to be reckoned with. It took me awhile to get there, not just to the top of this mountain, but to this place where I know I am capable of a lot more than I ever imagined.
Let me start at the beginning. I ran my first trail race a year and a half ago. I had a trip planned to visit Nevada with family and decided, I’m not sure why, that I would sign up for a trail race. My daughter had just turned 3 years old, she was my purpose, my joy, and also my most time-consuming commitment. I’m pretty sure the idea came from a need to do something, anything, for and by myself. Even though I knew the training would take time which I had very little of (I work full-time and have a van load of kids I care for after school), I felt compelled to put my name down, sign up and commit.
I had been running off and on since high school, and I thought the idea of running in the desert of Nevada sounded dreamy. It would be so unlike the suburban Seattle area streets that I run on. When the actual day of the race came, I woke up early (I know, I’m a weird vacationer) and drove myself to the pickup spot where all the participants would be bussed into the mountains. Right before the race, the race director of Desert Dash asked for a show of hands of anyone who was a first-timer to trail racing. I was standing in a crowd of runners freezing their tube socks, I mean compression socks off (it was unseasonably cold for that time of year and was somewhere in the low 30’s, so much for a dreamy desert run, huh?) and timidly raised my hand. Here I was, in my 30’s, a new mom, embarking on something totally unknown and scary and challenging, standing in the desert 3 states away from home with my hand raised. I felt like an out of place dork, sort of like I did in middle school.
“Just wanted to give you a fair warning,” he looked around at all of us, “trail running is addicting.” We all laughed, myself included because I thought this was a one-time thing, and lined up for the start. I had signed up for the 5k, I wasn’t sure how I would do with the elevation gain, I had never really run on trails before and I thought I should start small. Looking back, this is one of the best decisions I made when I started trail running. It is not the same as road running, the difficulty level is harder, the muscles used are different, and starting with a shorter distance was definitely the best choice.
The race began and I felt good. However, as we climbed and climbed and climbed, and I saw no downhill in sight, I began to do what I always do at moments like this, question my sanity. I wondered why I would do this on vacation, why I wasn’t in bed with my sweet baby and husband, why I chose something so difficult when I could have challenged myself in some other way, like learning calligraphy or to crochet.
To be completely honest, I was struggling. I was in my head, telling myself that I might never run again, probably wouldn’t ever exercise again and that I might just become a very slow walker for the rest of my life. Then, something awesome and totally typical in the trail community, happened to me that changed my mind game and kept me going. A man, probably 65ish, came up behind me and when I stepped off the single track to let him pass, he stopped beside me and said, “Come on.”
“I’m completely out of breath,” I heaved, “I’m just going to hike a little bit.
“Ok, me too,” he answered.
He told me he was from Boston, he was in one of those cool Boston running clubs and I told him I was here on vacation. He got me running to the top of the next hill. I told him this was my first trail race, it was his too. He told me he was really struggling because of all the vodka he had consumed the night before. I told him I was really struggling because my baby had kept me up all night throwing her hot, sweaty little arm over my back, and because this was hard.
He started running again and turned to face me, “Come on, you’re not going to let a fat old man beat you, are ya?”
I trailed after him, and yelled ahead, “You’re a fast old man!”
Then, in just the nick of time, the downhill came. I felt the sun now beating down on me, tried to remember to lift my feet so I didn’t land on my face and ran as fast as I could towards the finish. I came in 3rd in my age group.
With the race over, I stood around with all the people I had met, ate a banana, and chatted with other runners about where we all came from. I looked around at the beautiful desert that I had spent months dreaming of while running up a terrible hill on Main Street for training and realized that yes, it was quite dreamy. And then, on the bus ride home, I started to think about what trail I would run next because that race director was right, I was hooked.
So, here I am, a year and a half later, a complete and totally devoted trail junkie. And here is what I want to tell you, all you moms and daughters and wives out there that are exactly like I was. All of you that are wondering where you would find the time, how you would ever catch your breath, run up a hill and then back down, and then come home and be able to cook dinner and fold laundry. Here’s the answer. You will. Do you want to know why? Because trail running is a sport that gives back to you. It gives you happiness, fresh air, new friendships and a community of other people that are just like you. People that are trying to take a moment out of their busy lives, their city lives, to do something utterly different.
In the day to day of things, it is so easy to get caught up in who we are to others, not who we are. Trail running can fix this. It has for me and I believe that it can for you too. I still spend most of my days picking up dog poop, scrubbing dirty pots of spaghetti and watching Disney Jr., but I also make sure to take some time for myself. Time to train for other trail races (I happen to love Evergreen Trail Runs in the Pacific Northwest), time to be in the mountains or the desert or the forest. And spending that time out there running, by myself or with friends, has made the days where I spend all day working or wrangling children that much more precious. I have found a way to enjoy every moment of where I am, whether it’s on the trail or in the laundry room, because it’s all beautiful.
The bottom line is that trail running has made me a better person, and I have someone that can second that. I recently signed up for my first trail marathon Cascade Super Series , and almost instantly was hit with “mommy guilt.” I called my husband and let him know that I might not have the time to commit to the marathon distance and that I might not go through with it. He listened quietly and then we said goodbye. He called me an hour later and my husband, who usually listens to my ever-changing opinions and just lets me do whatever I feel like, had an opinion to share with me.
“I was thinking about it,” he said, “I think you should keep training for the marathon. It’s good for you,” he paused. “You just seem happier.” My husband is a man of few words, but those were all the words he needed to say at that moment. He was right. I am happier. Running, trail running in particular, has made me a better wife, a better mom, a better person. It has taught me that I am strong, that I can keep going even when I want to stop and that I can conquer mountains, even really big ones. The best part is, that by watching me, my daughter will know that she can too.
So, here’s my advice, from personal experience……go buy yourself an issue of Trail Runner magazine, treat yourself to a brand-new pair of Altra shoes (my favorite) and go out there. Run. Discover. Find yourself again. I promise, trail running will get you there.