My love affair with trail running started when I taught myself to swim. Last year I decided that the best way to meet my goal was to sign up for a triathlon with some friends. So we joined the local rec center and went swimming on our lunch breaks.
On my first day, I couldn’t put my face in the water without holding my nose so I just worked on that. The next six months were tough. I learned a ton thanks to my friends and YouTube videos (and no thanks to the coach we met with once who told me I should take up a different sport). We progressed to open water swims and finally, I completed a sprint triathlon with a crowded open water swim, a borrowed road bike, and the fastest run I’d ever done.
Eager to keep working toward new goals, I signed up for a trail half marathon later in the year and pivoted my training plan to land only. At first, it was decided by the process of elimination: I only wanted to learn to swim, not to become a swimmer. And I had to return the bike. So running it was.
I was initially drawn to the practical things about running: the gear is relatively inexpensive and you can do it anywhere. But as I transitioned from pavement to dirt and observed more deeply how my body was working, something reignited in my spirit that I hadn’t connected to in a long time. It felt like belonging. I grew up where the air is thin and the wildflowers are vibrant. Following dirt trails leads me back to those places, back home. Where the challenge of uneven terrain offers rewarding views from the top and tired muscles are a reminder of the day’s effort. And there’s solitude. I love solitude. So here I am, hooked on trail running and in a perpetual state of learning.
I never really thought of myself as influential until 2009, when I had my daughter. Once the feeling of being a human-growing badass gave way to the reality that this little person was looking to me to paint her universe, the wave of responsibility was intense. I defined my role early on as one that required leading by example. And that meant treating myself the way I wanted to see her treat herself – the way we deserve to care and be cared for. No negative self-talk. Exercise and eat well. Cultivate healthy relationships. And practice a deep connection to our surroundings.
I’ve only been doing this parenting thing for a decade so I don’t claim to be an expert but so far, nothing has challenged those values like learning to swim and nothing has strengthened them like running. Layer in the fact that I’m a single mom, and this kid has a front-row seat to all the facets of my personal evolution.
I’m more effective when I have a goal so I tend to sign up for races and back up a training plan from there. My daughter and I talk about the location, what the trail looks like, and what she gets to do while I run. I tell her what I’m excited about, what scares me, and why I’ll do it anyway. She casts some wisdom beyond her years that puts things in perspective. Dreaming up adventures has always been our special way of connecting – whether it’s planning travels or rationalizing why we need a pet pig (that will, of course, travel with us).
And while I try to involve her in the planning and daydreaming, I also recognize that what we don’t talk about matters even more. I don’t need to come home from every run and tell her my stats or that the pinging in my hip flexor seemed to chill out around mile two. I can save that talk for my training partners (and my Camaraderie Challenge reporting).
Instead, we build memories. There were many days during triathlon training that the only way I could get to the pool was to bring her with me. So I’d create a modified workout for her and we’d share a lane and swim our hearts out. Open water practice swims were at 6 am on school days so I’d leave her on shore, tucked in a sleeping bag with some cereal and a book and she’d watch me try to make it just a little farther than the time before. She rides her bike with me while I run and shouts things like, “You’ve got this!” and “Get it, mama!” In life and on the trail, she sees me sweat, stumble, fall, laugh (or cry) through it, and keep going. I don’t have to tell her it happened – she sees it.
And she’s witness to many other journeys as she’s as much a part of our community as I am. She has relationships with the amazing women in my life as we camp, train, and race together with our kids and partners together on the sideline. She takes pride in looking after their younger kids and handing down her gear and clothes to them (we’ve passed Melanzana hoodies through four kids and counting). She feels connected to these women who are vulnerable, hardworking and supporting each other to the end of the earth. I love what she sees when she is looking up, especially as she’s rounding the corner toward puberty when, statistically speaking, her confidence is at risk. I love that running has invited us all to share our lives with each other.
She and I both recognize that we are entering the years where our relationship is going to meet some new challenges. And that’s okay, we’re still a team – even when we’re not. I move through life knowing that even when she doesn’t think I’m cool, she still sees me. Because in a reality where life’s adventures aren’t always picture-perfect, the way we handle them – especially in front of our kids – carries the biggest lessons of all.