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The Long Run: Why Trail Running Is Sublime

  • By Scott Jurek
  • Published Sep. 5, 2011
  • Updated Mar. 15, 2012 at 5:09 PM UTC
Photo: Scott Draper

This column first appeared in the August 2011 issue of Competitor Magazine.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I have not lived.”

—Henry David Thoreau

It was one of those days in which I wasn’t quite sure where to run. I didn’t have a specific training focus; all I needed was a 90-minute run. Should I run the road loop that I normally do on easy days or head up the three-mile trail that snakes it’s way to the 8,000-foot summit? The trails beckoned and I answered the call.

The running didn’t come easy as I worked my way up the steep 15 percent grade. As my legs felt like lead and my feet stumbled over the rock-strewn path, I questioned my choice. It seemed like the wind blew harder into my face with each stride and each rock step seemed to grow higher. Was it just one of those days or was it my imagination?

I decided to take it easier, reducing the burning in my lungs. As I did, a female grouse startled and flew from the ground to a nearby tree; the stillness was interrupted and at once my senses became attuned to all the subtleties of the woods. I heard a warbler sing a melodic mating call. The needles of the Ponderosa pines whirred as the wind rushed through. The prehistoric crushed rock of the trail spun underneath my shoes and produced a grating sound like a pepper grinder as I propelled my body forward with a solid push off. The cold mountain air met my warm exhalations to form a condensed mist that evaporated quickly. Immersed in the moment, I enjoyed the primal feel of running in the wilderness. I became one with the mountain and the woods that led me to the lofty perch of the summit.

Trail running experiences like this one remind me of why I answer the call of my inner trail voice. When I am running on the trails through the woods, it seems like I am more alive as I take in the sights and music of the wild.

Trails don’t appear as confined as the roads of a city; a certain unpredictability and lack of control exists. Wild animals roam, and the weather can change in a blink of the eye with no shelter in sight. Even though fear may exist because of this lack of control, an inner calm can be realized from knowing I am a part of the wild space of the woods.

When I return to the comforts of home, I contemplate the harsh beauty of the trails. The memories prompt me to remember who I really am and the role I play in life. Maybe Ralph Waldo Emerson was pondering what trail running is like when he said: “A reminder of what the world is like without us.”

FILED UNDER: The Long Run / Trail Running TAGS: / / /

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