I wasn’t a runner growing up. I played soccer, a lot of soccer, and like many people who have only been exposed to running through team sports I hated it. Running was something you either had to get through as part of warmups or worse it was punishment for screwing up in practice or on the field. Growing up I also had a rather short fuse and there are a number of things I did on and off the soccer field that I’m rather embarrassed to admit these days. Vocal, profane (and very loud) outbursts were pretty much a given if I was in any sort of competition. Let’s just say my mom wasn’t always proud to admit it was her son out there.
I continued playing soccer, albeit more casually, throughout college but the temper was still firmly in place. I also was introduced to running outside of organized soccer through some small adventure races. I still hated it! There was nothing about going out and pounding my legs on the pavement that I found enjoyable. It was boring, hurt, and what the hell was the point? Running a few miles throughout the course of a soccer game is no big deal. There was an objective at hand, I got that ball or no one did. Running just for the sake of running? Why?
It wasn’t until I moved to San Diego after college, got extremely out of shape, and signed up for my first triathlon that I decided to force myself to start running regularly. While I still didn’t enjoy it, I was fortunate to be a member of a group that had a fantastic coach. Part of our weekly training was a long run that moved around to the various trails of San Diego. All of a sudden running started to become a much more pleasant experience. Trails were what I was missing! The exposure to the woods struck a chord with me from my childhood of growing up in a rural area and hiking and playing for hours in the woods with my brother, cousins, and family. Being able to see and hear deer, rabbits, squirrels, and coyotes instead of tailpipes, red lights, honking horns, and angry drivers was such a change from what I thought running was that I immediately knew I had found something amazing.
Since that first season of endurance training I have gravitated more and more towards trail running until I have gotten to where I am today, constantly looking for new ways to challenge myself and push myself farther across rugged terrain while escaping, even temporarily, the pressures of everyday life. It’s this escape that trail running has given to me that has probably had the biggest impact on my life. Trail running has provided me with so much; amazing friends, the ability to see places most people never will, a higher level of fitness than I ever thought possible, and much more. However, the thing trail running has brought to my life beyond all of these is peace. Peace of mind and peace of soul that has allowed me to embrace all of these other elements and appreciate them more than I ever would have before.
So what does any of this have to do with running through pain? In July 2012, a good friend of mine and his climbing partner went missing while on an expedition in Peru. On the day that his body was found, a group of us who knew him were taking on the 8,000 meter challenge when we got the news. It was with incredibly heavy hearts that we completed that day in his honor and together pushed ourselves through something we hadn’t done before. It was also on this day that I realized how much emotion plays a part in trail running and how much trail running allows us to process our thoughts and emotions while escaping from any other worries we may have.
Last weekend I was out in Mission Trails Regional Park when I received a phone call from my dad to let me know my grandfather wasn’t going to make it through the night. I immediately booked my flight home and was there the next night to be with my family and do what I could to help and comfort them. In order to help and comfort myself, I laced up my running shoes, threw on the Yaktrax, and headed out into the 16 degree, snowy weather to work it out. While knocking out a hand full of miles through the rural roads surrounded by trees, creeks, deer, and snow I was able to think through a lot of the memories I have of my grandfather. The huge 4th of July (his birthday) celebrations we had at the campground, stories I’ve been told about his long career at the State Prison, trips to Disney World which usually included him joining in the parade in some way. The miles ticked away and the cold was negated by the warm memories. By the time I returned from the run I was feeling mentally and emotionally stronger and much more capable to help my grandmother with her loss.
This and another run I snuck in were key to me being able to handle the emotional pain that this past week presented. While these runs were in no way “training” they were far more important. Trail running has given so much to my life, but I am most thankful for it’s ability to continuously teach me more about myself then I ever thought possible through the process of emotional, mental and physical exploration that occurs when it’s just me, the dirt, and the miles.
What has running brought to your life? I’d love to hear about it!