I am at work, standing on aching feet (they only ache at work… weird), smiling at a customer as she tells me about her weekend. I am interested in what she is telling me – I really am. But suddenly I’m on a familiar trail, on a steep incline that leads to a peak with a view of three counties. A pair of hawks fly over. I smell sagebrush, juniper and soil. A butterfly, blue as the sky, circles my head until its course is altered by the wind. The wind is strong. The wind is always strong here and clouds race across the sky. A storm might be brewing to the south, the clouds ominous over… Oh crap. I pull myself back, finish the conversation with a twinge of guilt and hope I didn’t miss anything critical.
I am lucky to have an interesting and active job, a job that provides all the coffee I need and more pastries than I should have. I meet hundreds of people a day, and over an eight year period I transformed from an introvert to an extrovert. But can such a transformation be real? I know that whenever possible my mind and body escape to the lonely serenity of the hills and forests, to the mountains ringing the valley where I live and work.
If you opened my skull and took a look inside my brain it would probably look like a topographical map covered with a mess of trails that wind and cross and intersect. Sometimes the trails end abruptly (because I’m lost!) and double back. Some trails are dark lines from hundreds of treks, others faint from one memorable trip. This map on my brain is encompassed in just one state, all the trails confined within a political boundary. But the state is big, and the possibilities are endless. I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of discovery and adventure.
All my life I loved the forests and mountains, but running there brought an unexpected richness to my life.
All running is good, I believe that. I started as a road runner and will soon complete my twelfth marathon. But for the past few years, when I run on the road, I struggle to get myself out the door. I struggle to put on my shoes and just go, knowing I’ll feel good afterwards.
When I run on the road I think about finishing, of getting in the miles, of having a good pace. I try to get lost in music, a song at a time.
I never listen to music on the trail.
On the road I try to stay alert. I watch for distracted drivers and traffic lights. I count street lights and keep a close eye on my watch.
On the trail I keep an eye on the trail. I get distracted by deer and squirrels. Sometimes I fall. Now and then, I remember to look at my watch. If I see something interesting, I stop and look. If I hear something interesting I stop and try to figure out what it is (and will it eat me?).
On the road… I just run. Get it over with, feel good about it later.
On the trail, sometimes I push myself, work on my speed. Sometimes I do hill repeats. Sometimes I have a destination, a mountaintop or a new trail to explore. Sometimes I have no destination and I go where the trail takes me. Sometimes I sit down in a grove of trees and eat real food. Most of the time, I have a dog with me. I take a lot of pictures.
I would never take my dog on a road run.
I have a road marathon that I love. I’ll do it every year that I can run, and I’ll do the training required. But I’m pretty burned out on the whole road thing.
I love running, but the road no longer calls to me. It’s the trail that is etched onto my brain.
So I leave work and hit the road, to drive to the trail.