After years of running almost exclusively on the roads, I’ve recently started putting in a lot of miles on trails. And I love it. I can’t get enough of slogging through the mud, jumping over downed trees, scrambling over rocks and splashing through streams. I come back from a run and my legs are caked with muck, my shoes are soaked and I’ve got cuts and scrapes everywhere. It’s like being a kid again.
But I also have this odd feeling of guilt, a weird sense that I’ve somehow turned my back on the roads and the track and have become—gasp—a trail runner. I belong to a track club that was started by Bill Rodgers, once counted Alberto Salazar and Greg Meyer among its members and is coached by Tom Derderian, a world-class marathoner in his own right. We have some of the fastest and most versatile road racers in the country on our roster and consistently win national club titles year after year. I consider it an honor to train with these folks.
But lately I’ve found myself missing practice in order to run seven or eight miles on the trails. Now, for those of you who started on the trails and only run on the roads in order to get to the next section of trail, this is probably a hard concept to grasp. But for me and most of my running friends, “real runners” put in their miles on the asphalt and the track.
To us, trail running was essentially just fast hiking and was favored by people who drove Subarus or Toyota Priuses, lived in Colorado or Vermont and took frequent breaks for granola and green tea. They were more interested in enjoying the scenery than running fast and improving their race times. We sneered at their goofy 16-ounce shoes, laughed at their 50-minute 10K times and dismissed them as non-athletes.
Even now, when I do go to track practice or talk to one of my other running pals and they ask how my running is going, I kind of look at the ground and mumble that I’ve been running on trails a lot. The typical response is something like, “What, you don’t like running anymore?” or “Really? Tell PETA I said what up.”
But the exhilaration and joy I get from trail running outweighs all of this. And isn’t that what this whole thing is all about? Sure, I love to run fast times and collect trophies, but none of that matters much if I’m not having fun. And I gotta tell you, I’m having a big pile of fun right now.