Trail Running: The Runner’s Escape

For many people, running is an escape. An escape from the busy workday, the family; in other words, an escape from real life. And it’s part of the reason running is so popular. But sometimes I feel like I need an escape from this escape. When I start thinking too much about times, worrying about tempo runs and speedworks, concerned with PR’ing at my next big race- that’s when I know I need an escape from running. And I find this escape in trail running.

On a bitter February morning, my brother and I, gasping for breath, reach the top of a several hundred foot climb. We look up from the trail and see a beautiful panorama; just mountains and forest as far as the eye can see. And we stop to enjoy it. This repeats itself; at lakes, at a cave, at the highest peaks of the hills we run on. We stop and appreciate where we are.

Unfortunately, this is something we don’t do often enough during our regular runs. Generally, you know your neighborhood well as a runner, which makes it considerably less interesting to look at. But trail runs take you away from the mundane. My brother and I meet and take an hour drive up to Bear Mountain, which is, as my brother always notes, an hour away, but infinitely different from New York City, where we drive up from.

When we get there we choose a trail arbitrarily, and just start running. We have watches, but only to know when to turn back. The terrain is extremely technical and hilly, but that only makes it more fun, not annoying. And snow on the ground makes it all the more enjoyable. And, best of all, we appreciate it. We allow ourselves to stop and look around, appreciate the beauty of the natural world. We have no problem with stopping and walking up insanely steep hills, or with not knowing how far we run. On a regular run I’d feel guilty if I walked, and even worse if I didn’t validate my run by mapping out to the hundredth of a mile how far it was. But with trail running, all of these concerns melt away. It’s just you and nature; and in my case, it’s nature, someone I love, and me, which makes it that much better.

Trail running reminds me why I love running. Not for the PR’s, the age-group medals (not that I get too many of them), or the times.

For the run.