Trail Running: A Runner’s Conversion
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My lungs burned like a match to fresh tinder. The steep rocky grade continued onward in a punishing fashion. Fighting the urge to walk I dug deep, searching for something to kill the pain in my legs and lungs. All I could think about was the approaching summit and the respite waiting at the rocky peak. I began calculating distance, time, vertical feet left to the top and pace, all in an effort to distract my mind from my physical desire to stop. Just a few hundred feet shy of the 11,752’ summit of Mount Timpanogos in Utah and the fact that I wasn’t running on the road was painfully and embarrassingly obvious.
I had developed what I thought was an indefatigable half marathon ability. Not that I could ever dream of keeping up with the best, but I could run the distance confidently. I ran incessantly up and down the hills of Salt Lake City like a crazed dog forever searching for a lost bone, but that was on the road. No amount of hill training, interval work, or distance could have adequately prepared me for what I had poorly anticipated to be an easy and scenic 15 mile round trip trail run. I had hiked the Timpooneke Trail before, and the 4,389’ vertical gain had been a relative breeze. I hiked in the mountains nearly as much as I ran in the city, yet there was an indisputable disconnect. Running in the mountains was far different from hiking in the mountains and further still from running in the city.
At last the small white cabin that houses the Mt. Timpanogos summit marker came into view as if it were a reflection of the proverbial white flag I was waiving. I was beat and I knew it. The sweat beaded from every pour of my body under the late morning summer sun. I sat there trying to catch my breath and work up the energy to run the 7.5 miles back down to the trailhead. It felt like hours before my feet once again began searching for safe places to land as I plummeted down the same trail I had painstakingly climbed. By the time I reached my car some 6 hours after I had left the trailhead that morning my legs felt like skyscrapers wobbling in an earthquake.
Driving back down the canyon to my SLC apartment with the radio off I began to think. The warm air pouring through the open car windows dried the sweat and dirt on my skin, but my mind was clear. I had just struggled to complete 15 miles in 6 hours, a time that was more than double my normal pace for that distance. Every muscle in my body was beat and my legs were still shaking. That trail had literally kicked my butt. I had started the run that morning with the confidence of Goliath, but had finished the run humbled as if every stone on the trail was shot straight from David’s sling. Something had switched during those grueling 15 miles and my running would be forever changed. Laying silently on that rocky trail was a desire to run in the city, a desire that would never find its way back to me. For me that first trail run 4 years ago changed everything about running. I still crave the run everyday, but if it’s not on a trail it’s just not the same. It took a single run for me to become a convert to the trails and I have never gone back to look for that lost desire to run in the city. I lost my desire to run that day, but gained an even greater desire; to trail run.