Learning the Trails

I’m not sure what it is in me that causes me to be drawn to things that are going to be difficult, possibly even painful. Things at which I will likely never excel, but will instead push through with stubborn (and possibly dumb) determination. Some people react to being told, “You can’t do that”, or “You’ll never finish that”, or “That race is beyond your abilities” — but I don’t even need to hear any of those things before I’m mulishly butting my head against it.

I took 12 months off from distance running, never running anything over 10k (at least, not on purpose– there was one run that went to 7-ish on a day I simply wasn’t paying attention) and then I greatly reduced the frequency of my running while I increased cycling mileage to prepare for my first century ride. As I resumed running earlier this Fall, I started looking for interesting events that I thought would help keep me motivated.

Around the same time, I decided that I needed to find a way to better balance my two sports and that I didn’t want to do as many road runs. To avoid road running, I decided I’d try to make more runs with my crazy trail-running buddies, Misery Loves Company. Then, I started to plan out ahead and put some events on my calendar so that I would have things to train for, both for running and cycling.

I’m not a natural trail runner. My initiation to the trails, thus far, has been both kind (the MLC crew really are great people) and a little painful. I haven’t injured myself beyond turning my ankle a few-dozen times, and the only injury to my pride is the one I’m used to: I’m usually the slowest person in the group.  I’ve attended several “newbie”-focused runs with MLC, and even tagged along for a tricky, spooky night-time trail run (the week before Halloween) that was certainly beyond my abilities. (I measured success in two ways that evening: I did finish under my own steam, and none of the blood spatters we saw along the trail belonged to me — or anyone else in our crew.)

And yet, all this data aside — my slowness, my general clumsiness, my struggle to adapt my form for the light step needed on the trail — I somehow decided that the event I need to prep for is the hilly, challenging Quadzilla 15k. Currently, the only reason I hold out any hope for finishing this race is the fact that I have seven months to train for it. However, I may end up regretting that when race day arrives and the temperatures are in the 90’s!

The next trail race I’ve registered for is in April, the Tyler Arboretum 10k Trail Run. I ran this last year, and had a lot of fun — I think this event is behind my decision to do more trail running, honestly. 

After Tyler, my original plan was to ramp up the cycling mileage and prepare for another century ride at the end of June. Now my new plan is to find a way to balance trail running and cycling, so that I can complete a century ride followed two weeks later by the Quadzilla, which will be my longest (and, from all reports, most challenging) trail race ever.

I may actually need to take the time to work up a formal training plan. Whether it’s stubbornness or just plain dumbness that gets me into these things, I’m going to need to train smarter if I want to finish and feel good about it.

If there are any trail runners reading this, what are your favorite tips for new trail runners?

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