Why I love trail running (and you will too!)

By Katie Merrill, with help from Marc Almanzan

It’s 7am on a Sunday, and while the world sleeps, you are awake. You step out of your car and instantly the smell of dirt and the sounds of the trees and woods are all around you. You look down at your sneakers to make sure they are tied tight and grab a water bottle from the car, since there will be no place to grab a drink where you are headed. You walk, then jog, towards the thick line of trees until you come to a narrow opening where a dirt path greets you. It’s already hot out, but as you step into the woods it suddenly feels 5-10 degrees cooler. Little flecks of light pour in from the treetops above, and disrupt the shaded forest floor below. The ground is soft and moist and you are surrounded by bright shades of green, rich browns, and deep oranges (you will learn to cherish a pine covered path!). The path twists and turns, it climbs up and cascades down. The trail is challenging at some points and rewarding at others. You will encounter roots and rocks. These seemingly benign hazards will force you to keep your mind sharp amidst the natural beauty that surrounds you.  Plunging through the woods you feel peaceful and savage all at once.

This past Sunday two great feats occurred on the trails of New England. The first was Forest Hills Runners’ impressive showing at the VERT Race Series Sasquatch Trail Race in the Middlesex Fells. We had 28 registered runners, and took first place as a team! Special congrats to Paul Gennaro who was the overall winner and owner of the new course record. Newlyweds Thom Gennaro and Alicia Green took the next top two team spots, making it a truly amazing weekend. So much love, so many great FHR dance moves.

 

The second feat to occur this past Sunday was the completion of Scott Jurek’s 2,189mile trek across the Appalachian Trail. Scott encountered approximately 515,000 feet of elevation change and averaged nearly 50 miles a day. I’m hungry just thinking about that. One of the things I find so intriguing about his journey is how close he came to not beating the previously held record (he beat it by just over 2 hours), and how impressed I am now by Jennifer Pharr Davis. More than anything else however, I find myself staring longingly at his photos of the trail, the summits, and the beautiful snapshots of the wilderness that was his home for 46 days.

The first time I went trail running I remember worrying how bored I might be just looking at the same green stuff for an hour. I was a city girl who liked the excitement of the streets and landmarks to keep my mind occupied. I could people-watch while running, dive into a CVS for a drink or bathroom break, and not worry about getting lost. Why would I want to mess with that to go run in the woods?

When I started running more with my significant other (who absolutely loves trails), he would seek out weird little paths and rocky ridges, darting into any wooded area whenever he could, telling me he would see me on the other side. I called it his “off-roading” style. “Oh, there goes Marc. He’s off-roading again.”

Eventually, I decided to give trail running a try with the safety of some running buddies to keep my mind occupied with conversation. We went to the Blue Hills and after the first mile I was hooked. The trees, the birds, the hard climbs, jumping over things- it was like nature’s jungle gym. I felt free in a way that running along pavement through the city hadn’t given me. It was challenging, but in a good way, one that exercised my body and mind. It was also very peaceful. Running with no headphones, or honking horns, or sirens- just me, my running buddies, and the woods. I could hear my footfall and the crack of twigs under me.

 

If you’ve never given trail running a shot, I highly recommend it. It’s a great way to strengthen muscles you might not use as much running on the street or treadmill. It can also be a good relief for joints from pounding your legs on hard surfaces. You don’t have to go that far to find great trails either! Right around Boston there are some excellent places to experience some trails including:

  • The Arnold Arboretum
  • Franklin Park (Wilderness)
  • Blue Hills Reservation
  • Middlesex Fells Reservation (T Accessible!)

Make sure you wear sneakers with some tread and do a quick tick check when you’re done. Bringing a bottle of water with you on particularly warm days is a good idea as well. Know that you will probably go a bit slower than on pavement, but that’s okay! Stop and smell the roses. If you aren’t familiar with an area, make sure to bring a running buddy and your cell phone just in case.

If you get hooked (which I bet you will) there are some amazing trail races and clubs you can be a part of as well. You might even find yourself buying trail shoes and talking about elevation profiles…maybe you will even one day consider running (or hiking) parts (or all?!) of the Appalachian Trail…but until then just find some woods and get out there!

 

- We are always looking for personal stories from fellow runners, race recaps, training tips, recipes, and more! If you are interested in becoming a blog contributor, please contact Katie Merrill at merrill.kathryn@gmail.com for more information. And remember, as Owen says, Be Amazing! -

Posted on July 14, 2015 .