Trails Over Pavement - Finding My Happy Place in Obstacle Course and Trail Racing
At the start of 2012, I had drifted out of shape and had determined to right the ship by registering for a marathon. After four months of training on hard, even, unforgiving pavement, I ran the marathon…on hard, even, unforgiving pavement. Having never run more than 3 consecutive miles prior to that, I didn’t know anything about endurance running in theory or in practice. During training though, I found several things to love; the muscle adaptation and conditioning, the cardio development, the mental focus, fortitude and commitment it took to start a session knowing that I’d be moving from comfort into discomfort and even distress, and to continue session after session, well-aware that although I was getting “better,” it was still going to hurt. During the marathon, I loved the excitement of being part of a pack, going out to hunt each of our own targets, whether it was a certain place in the rankings, a finish time, or some other internal measure of success. I loved chasing and being chased. I loved the mental games I played to keep myself engaged, mini battles along the way to keep my focus anywhere but on the physical discomfort and the voice that wanted me to slow down or even stop. What I found I didn’t love was running on pavement, past businesses and houses, along highways and on downtown streets, and past cars, especially ones kicking-out exhaust. I just never felt a connection between what I was doing with my body and where I was doing it.
I grew-up in New Hampshire, surrounded by mountains, lakes, woodlands and trails. Although I didn’t run for sport growing-up, I spent my fair share of time bombing through the woods playing any number of themed games. I remember how primal it felt – allowing my brain to conjure scenarios where a bear or mountain lion had spotted me and started pursuit, or pretending that the fate of my ancient village lay in my ability to deliver some important message through the woods from Point A to Point B before it was too late. When I had to run to train for baseball, basketball or skiing, it was always on the pavement or in the gym, and it always felt artificial and disconnected from the running that felt so natural on the trails and in the woods. My high school was small and we didn’t have a track and field or cross-country team. All I really knew of running is that it was something I needed to do to condition for other sports or that it was some type of punishment for someone’s wrong-doing in practice…or that it could be exhilarating and fun if done in nature. Now, I realize that this isn’t everyone’s experience with running. I know there are hundreds-of-thousands of people who run road and track for fun or as a competitive sport who don’t have any gripe about where they run; heck, many even prefer less natural stomping grounds – I however am not one.
When I ran my first Obstacle Course Race in late 2012, I found a perfect fit between all the things I loved about training and racing competitively and where I most wanted to do it. Over the years, I’ve raced in every part of the U.S. and also in Canada and Mexico. I’ve run courses in the mountains, through fields and woods, around lakes, along rivers (and certainly through them!) and no matter the variation of natural terrain, I feel a part of it; not just a body moving past, through or over, but physically, mentally and emotionally connected to it. I can’t say how many times I’ve wiped my muddy hands on a tree or in a grass patch or felt the dirt with my bare hands, knees and elbows as I crawled and rolled under barbed wire, navigated rocks under the water as I moved through a stream, or felt the branches and leaves brush my skin as I wound through the trees. Even as I write this, I can imagine myself running, competing in those elements and I’m happy.
As I think back to my first road race, and the handful since, and hold those up in comparison to the obstacle and trail races I’ve done, I can say with perfect certainty that although I’ll likely find myself racing on the pavement again, my happy place will always be somewhere nature can get its hands on me, and I can get my hands on it.
Tags: OCR, Obstacle Course Racing, Obstacle Race, Trail Racing, Trail Running, Spartan Race, Barbed Wire, OCR Training
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