Why I Run Trails

Running across a high mountain meadow in the Wasatch Range
Running across a high mountain meadow in the Wasatch Range

Many people think of running as boring, monotonous, painful. Maybe running on roads is like that, but not mountain trails. To me running trails is the ultimate workout. I’ve loved the mountains and the outdoors in general since my parents began taking us camping and hiking when I was very small. Trail running has been a natural extension of my love for the mountains. I began running as a teenager and spent two years on my high school cross country team. Then I got distracted by other outdoor pursuits, primarily surfing and rock climbing. But I always found time to run, mostly on the pavement, but occasionally on trails. I was always interested in pushing myself, to see how far I could go. Once when I was probably about 17 or 18 years old, I drove up to the town of Saratoga (CA) near where I lived and parked my car at the bottom of a long highway (Highway 9) that topped out on Skyline Drive in the Santa Cruz mountains. I had not been running too much but felt the need to really test myself. So I took off and ran up the highway 7.5 miles to the top, then turned around and ran back for a total of 15 miles and a 2000′ elevation gain. When I got back to my car and transitioned from running to walking my quads seized up and I could hardly walk. But I felt pretty good about my accomplishment. Throughout the rest of high school I ran a few 10K races and some trail runs, the longest being 8 hilly miles.

Throughout the years of college and graduate school I continued to run the occasional 10K, but my running was not consistent. In 2001 I ran my first marathon (Top of Utah in Logan)  followed a few months later by my first Ultra, a 50K trail run in Durango, Colorado. Since then I have been hooked on trails. I ran one more road marathon (Park City), but have kept exclusively to trails since then. I have run trail marathons, a 25K snowshoe race a couple times, 50K trail races, and a couple 50 mile trail races (Squaw Peak 50 Mile Trail Run). Entering races is a good way to stay motivated, but I certainly do not “race” them. I am simply out to have a good time and test myself.

One of my favorite local trails.
One of my favorite local trails.

Here are the reasons I love to run trails:

1. It is an escape

Life gets pretty hectic at times, with family, work, and church responsibilities. Running trails allows me the break I need to recharge and refocus. Unlike running on the road, trails are quiet, there is no traffic, no stop lights, no distractions, except for the beauty of the mountains, forest, meadow, and so on. I can leave for a run in a pretty rotten mood, and almost without exception I return feeling relaxed, refreshed, and much happier.

2. Nature

It is my way to connect with the natural world. Each generation gets further and further from that connection. We are losing our sense of place. The seasons and the weather hardly matter anymore in our artificial climate controlled lives. I like to feel the wind in my face, feel the squish of mud under my feet, hear the flutter of aspen leaves, the soothing babbling of a creek, and see the world untouched (relatively speaking) by man.

Up a muddy trail
Up a muddy trail

3. Meditation

While some see running as monotonous, I love being alone on a mountain trail with only my thoughts. I don’t listen to music when I run, even on long runs. I find that it detracts from my surroundings. Running for me is mediation. I have deeper, clearer thoughts when I am out running. Some of my best ideas have come when I have been running. While out running and thinking I figure out answers to my questions, how to solve problems at work or with a teenage child, and it is when I gain my greatest spiritual insights. If I have something heavy weighing on my mind, I go for a long run. It is no surprise to me that Biblical prophets of old went to the mountains to clear their minds and commune with God.

Bonneville Shoreline Trail above Provo, UT
Bonneville Shoreline Trail above Provo, UT

4. The physical challenge

As I mentioned, I love to challenge myself, to push my limits, to see how far I can go. I love running trails because I love the the challenge of the topography. Give me steep trails, rocky descents, crossing creeks on slippery rocks, snow, rain, and icy winds over a flat paved road any day. The uneven surface of a trail keeps you focussed, in tune, alive.

There's no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices.
There’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices.

The biggest challenge I face in trail running is staying healthy. I’ve had nearly every runners injury, including IT band issues, plantar fasciitis, neoromas, etc. I am a fan of the minimalist shoe movement and it has made a big difference in staying healthy. More of that in another post.

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