Saturday, April 16, 2016

Urban Trail Running

I have been a runner for a long time. It started in junior high when I realized that team sports were never going to work out for me, I had a nasty habit of overconfidence in my ability which usually ended up in the ball going past me. I broke my thumb when I was a freshman at the batting cages because I wasn't exactly sure where my hands were supposed to be on the bat. I played volleyball for a year or two but my favorite part was rotating out. I tried out floor hockey but was asked to leave the team for being too aggressive. Southern private school rules. I finally settled on cheerleading because my best friend was doing it, and my boyfriend was on the soccer team.

I am not really what you would call an athlete.

But I discovered running and have been lacing up for over 20 years. I love the solitude, the scenery, and the fact that no one else depends on my abilities. When I lived in Ohio I ran around the suburban neighborhoods where I grew up. In New Orleans I ran in the Garden District and on the neutral ground where the St Charles streetcar ran. I have almost died multiple times by not paying attention to the streetcar bell. Those things can't stop on a dime because you got lost in G Love and Special Sauce. In Washington DC my route was a loop from our capital hill brownstone apartment down the hill to the Capital Building and around the Washington Monument. When we lived in State College I ran around campus and some various routes through our bourough neighborhoods.

But my favorite runs will always be the foothills of the Rockies. These trail runs were impossible to do with headphones in so I ran for miles with only the sounds of my strides and whatever nature was offering that day. This attention to surrounding is important, particularly when trail running alone. One run in particular crossed my path with what I am pretty sure was a mountain lion but I only heard the growls. I did make great time running back to my car, on the upside. Another memorable run had me frozen on the trail for several minutes while I listened to a rattling on the right side and then made my peace with God before hurtling over and continuing my run.

Most trail runs weren't so dramatic. I lived in Westminster, which is halfway between Denver where I was going to school at CU and working at the Children's Hospital, and Boulder where I spent all the rest of my time and money. It took 15 minutes to drive to the trailhead and I usually timed it perfectly so I was coming over the hill into Boulder as the sun was rising. If you have never seen a Colorado sunrise, you are missing out on the biggest show off in the universe.

I would get to the trailhead, tie my car keys to my shoelaces, and take off. I never knew exactly how far I ran because I could run forever. The trail was always changing, the scenery always different, and other trail runners were always good for some short lived company. Trail running is a completely embodied experience. Every fiber in your body is ready for a rock or an animal or a drop off or a flash rainstorm. Very few other activities in life force you to hone your attention to that ONE thing. Maybe sex.

I live in the city now. A very gritty and legit city, originally built up around commerce and the steel industry, and now a hub of health care and education. For the past 4 years I have been running neighborhoods and local parks, my running career taking a back seat to my current professions of raising 2 feral children and cardiac nursing. I also had some post partum issues that made running complicated and too difficult to really enjoy for it's simple catharsis. A year ago I decided to make some changes, and with the help of a fabulous surgeon and a very supportive husband, have been focusing on running again.

And I remembered, I freaking love it.

And very recently I discovered a large urban park where trails wind around far enough away from the road that the sounds of the city fade away. There aren't mountains to scale, but if I get off the running trail and find the mountain bike trails, I am embodied again. My Spotify playlist gets clicked off and I am tuned in to the rocks and the branches and the fallen trees. It's just me and my feet and my legs and my lungs. You have to forgive me if I don't invite you to join me...I don't do team sports.

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