Different Modes of Exploration #11: Trail Running
I wake up with the question, “am I born to run?” turning in my mind. Christopher McDougall’s book doesn’t pose the phrase as a question but as a statement. At the 5 am hour though, I’m not even sure I’m willing to wake-up and go for one run, let alone admit that running is an inherent, genetically-coded, evolutionary standard of my primal humanity. But according to the text message my brother sent to urge me from my slumber, I better be ready: he’s promised to lead me on a sixteen mile jog of my favorite loop in the mountains of our youth near Idyllwild, CA. And since reading Born to Run by McDougall a few months back, I’ve felt a continuous urge to run.
So I awake fully and get out of bed.
As I make final preparations, ensuring that I pack ample food and water, I think over a conversation I shared with my college lit teacher a few nights earlier. In the 80s and 90s he ran extensively, half-marathons, marathons, and every street in Redlands, CA. When I mentioned my new excitement for trail running, he said he could hear his ankles cracking just from the thought of pounding up or down a dirt trail. The asphalt roadways of his running pursuits remind me of a similar sound my knees make while running on city streets. Despite our agreement that we probably grow accustomed to our preferred running environment, before walking out the front door on this beautiful morning I must shake the sound of my cracking ankles from my worried mind by tying my laces tighter.
Moments later, my brother and I step into a fast walking pace for the first seven miles we hope to cover in under two hours. My heart pumps harder immediately which encourages me to focus on my breathing, attempting to reach a more meditative state. I consider how often I seem to be chasing my brother, whether up a mountain trail or a rock face, or even to the same college, he’s always in the lead with me struggling for air a few steps behind.
By mile three, the cool morning turns much warmer. I swap out my long-sleeve shirt for a short-sleeve running shirt, and I begin regretting wearing pants. What on earth was I thinking? Too focused on whether or not I was born to run as opposed to focusing in on whether or not I was prepared to run. But at the top of the uphill, I step into a nice rhythm, feeling much more comfortable. We begin our first downhill jog, growing quiet and focused, peacefully listening to our feet crunching on pine needles. Keeping my head up, I scan the trail ahead for hidden rocks and soak in the stunning vistas on the horizon.
At 9 am, we’ve jogged or fast-walked ten miles, and we’re now looking at our final uphill to the summit of Tahquitz Peak. I’ve hiked to this point many times, always enjoying the high mountain air, the limber pines bending in the wind, the typical poetry of the alpine world. But today, I feel a bit different. My legs ache, my lungs claw for every breath, and endorphins race through my bloodstream. There is a physicality to the day’s pace, and a rhythm that I discovered to help overcome the pain. It’s simply beautiful. Addictive. Delicious.
We finish the last five miles from the peak down to my brother’s house, and I think over all the things I will do differently. Running shorts, not pants. Short-sleeve shirt to start. Less water. Smaller pack. Shoe laces not-so-tight. Less hesitation to follow my brother up another trail. But the key here is that I’m considering the next time, the next run. I’m sure now that I’ll get out of bed at some early hour for another run. I’m sure now I’ll do it more than once. I’m sure now that I am in fact, born to run.