I've always been a runner: I was that obnoxious sixth grader who was excited to run the mile during the Presidential Fitness Test (do they still do that?); I ran cross-country in middle school and was part of a record-breaking relay team in high school; and in college I ran to burn off the beer and the mental misery of bluebook exams. But after college, it became harder to get a consistent schedule. Like many, I was too busy - too wrapped up in work, social activities, and netflix. I would run every other day for 2 weeks, feel great, and then a new project or a long weekend would blow a hole straight through my resolve. It always felt good to lace up the shoes and get out the door, and the post-run endorphin rush was amazing, but the runs themselves were uneventful and monotonous - it's hard to motivate to do anything when you're not actively enjoying it. And then I fell in love.
My first love was well worn – it had been ridden often, but run less frequently. Six Mile Run (a name, not a distance, where ‘run’ historically referred to a small stream) is a single-track mountain biking trail in Somerset, New Jersey, through the woods and over streams, with a dizzying amount of tight twists and turns. A few miles from one of the busiest highway hubs in the country - where Route 18, Route 1, and “the Turnpike” all come together – is this network of dirt and rocks and roots. And it was here that I rediscovered my love of running, and discovered what to me is the key difference between road running and trail running.
When a friend apologizes and says “woah, sorry, must’ve zoned out for a second”, it’s not in a positive context. Nor, for me, is zoning out while running, which happens often when I go on longer road runs. One stride after another with barely a glance at the ground – it’s easy to get lost in the monotony, to zone out and find your mind wandering to other thoughts.
When I’m on the trail it’s the opposite; I’m zoned in the entire time. My mind and eyes are constantly a few paces ahead of me, as my feet, legs, and body twist, turn, and feel their way along the trail. Dodge left! Hop right! Gently kiss off that rock, short step right, then leap over that root! My whole mental and physical focus is centered on the task at hand, and everything else melts away – it’s a rush! But also, peaceful.
I’ll still run roads, do speed workouts on the mind-numbing oval of a track, or run a charity 5k through city streets and neighborhoods, but I crave the trails! And when I have so much fun doing it, it’s easy to stay motivated, to push myself further and faster, and to create new goals. When the foremost (if not, only) thought in your mind is the here-and-now run and the next step, and not troubles with work / life / relationships, then it’s easy to fall in love. Do it for yourself; do it for your health; do it for the love of the trail.