True Confessions of a Trail-Running Traitor

trail runningAfter 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.

Birkenstocks, Anyone?

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.

6 thoughts on “True Confessions of a Trail-Running Traitor”

  1. I can not relate at all, especially to your “typical responses”! Trail running is great, and it is something I should start doing more of.

    My favorite season all through school was cross country season, and most of my training runs (when I could swing it) would be off on trails. We had a small loop beside the locker room that we could run for a warm up before a track workout or when we were hurt (it was very soft), and there were cool trails a few miles down the road that went out as far as you cared to run at any given time, and we had power trails in the other direction that got us to a couple of different parks and had some side routes to other trails on its own rights. I hear that they recently cleaned power trails up and made it easier to use, as well.

    I have found a few trails since I moved into my house in April, but I have not yet determined which trails are public and which are private so I have not explored them yet.

    Trail running can have its own clique of runners, but I have never gotten the feeling that they feel ostracized from the running community as a whole. Maybe that’s because in college I didn’t care and here in Maine nobody is bothered, or maybe you are just fabricating this in your head. I don’t know.

    I suggest you suggest that you bring some of your running buddies out on the trails with you some time. They’ll probably enjoy themselves.

  2. Being that I used to be almost exclusively a trail runner, I’m 100% down with a sport that, to me, is nicer to my body (less impact on knees), more challenging (jumping roots, scurrying down gravel hills, fording streams, and avoiding interesting beasts), and has better scenery (my state park system is better than the neighborhood car washing community).

    I think you’ve found the better path. : )

  3. Thanks for the comments everyone. Chris, you mentioned the big side benefit that I left out: the lower impact. That’s a huge consideration, especially as we all get older 🙂

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