Trail running doesn’t have to be a race. You don’t need GPS tracking, sector splits or energy gels. You just need yourself, the trail, and maybe some shoes. Su shows us why.
My breath comes in quick bursts. I don’t have the steady rhythm of the road. Instead, light and nimble, like a cat, like a fox, I leap from one rock to another. You learn to run again, when you’re on the trails. You relearn the movements of your body — your feet, your ankles, your hips, your core.
A branch up ahead; instead of stopping, I twist to the side, my arms flinging out instinctively, providing me balance. Movement is unconscious; the body remembers these things, written in the genetic code of the ages.
The trail begins to climb. I run on the balls of my feet, stepping lightly but digging in, breathing rhythmically, letting my breath power me onwards. I am a machine. The trees give me oxygen, I use it to create energy and I release carbon dioxide back to the trees. A thank you gift. The pebbles are loose under my shoes. One step forward, a few centimetres back. The peak beckons me onward, promising a worthwhile view.
The trees give me oxygen, I use it to create energy and I release carbon dioxide back to the trees. A thank you gift.
I finally reach the end. A vista unfolds before me, a hidden river in the valley, a silvery ribbon flashing in the fading afternoon light. I pause for a moment. There is no Strava here, no Runkeeper, no GPS. I’m not recording my stats, to be posted on social media later in a moment of bragging triumph.
This moment is for me.
I let out a breath and freeze the image in my mind. Later, when I’m back in my windowless office, buried to the hilt in messages and emails screaming for attention, I’ll remember this moment. Resting. Maybe not physical but mental. When there’s nothing to think about but this feeling of power, of pride in the human body. In its sinews, its strength, its flexibility. Its mental capacity, the neurons firing off quick messages between my eyes, my ears, my muscles. The euphoria of endorphins, nature’s way of affirming desired behaviour. The wind blows gently, cools the sweat off my body. Another remarkable marvel of the human body, thermoregulation. We were made to move.
The wind turns cold, and it’s time to go. The peril of the trails — the onward passage of time, and possibly elusive phone access. Getting lost is easy and sometimes dangerous. False trails always lie in wait, traced by intrepid explorers and underage kids mucking around with illicit bottles. The signposting isn’t always the greatest.
But I know this trail like the back of my hand. It’s one I’ve run many times. It’s always there waiting when I can carve some time out to skip the road, and go that slight extra distance to lose myself in the bush. There is always a bit of something waiting there for me.
Road running takes stamina. It takes strength, not only physical but also mental. How else to endure kilometres upon kilometres of flat, unforgiving pavement? The irritating interruption of a traffic light? The car poised in the driveway, uncertain if it should let you pass first?
I let out a breath and freeze the image in my mind. Later, when I’m back in my windowless office, buried to the hilt in messages and emails screaming for attention, I’ll remember this moment.
Trail running is a different mental kettle of fish. There is alertness, your mind is on edge, ready for the next obstacle, fielding the constant threat of possible injury. There is pushing past the niggling pains, feet unfamiliar with uneven terrain, ankles that have spent the majority of their existence on flat and smooth surfaces.
But then there’s Mother Nature. And you forget about the ache in your right ankle, because the golden light comes pouring through the canopy of leaves at just the right angle and suddenly you’re transported to a magical kingdom, a world of fairies and elves. Or you can ignore the sting and scratch of wayward twigs because you can hear the screech of a rainbow lorikeet, and it reminds you of being 10 years old again, in the playground at school. Or you don’t mind the burn in your chest as you climb the last of a 400m incline, because you are rewarded with that view.
A view that reminds you that even though your body is a little older, a little slower, that view is still there, waiting for you. Waiting for you to rest.
Feature photo by Jon Harris Photography
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