Today, I woke up at 5 AM to get ready to hit the trails – my usual Sunday-Funday routine to run in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California. This is arguably the best part of my week despite the fact that it is still dark outside and the ground is coated in frost. If you told me three years ago that I would voluntarily wake up before dawn to do hill repeats, fartleks, and long-slow runs – I would have laughed, maybe thrown one of my Birkenstocks at you, and I would have most definitely deadpanned, I’m not a runner.
Growing up along the coast in Southern California, my younger years were spent in the water – swimming competitively, surfing, working as a lifeguard and certified swim instructor. After college, I continued to swim with U.S. Masters Swimming, and started participating in open water events like the Santa Cruz Rough Water Swim, and the Alcatraz Sharkfest Swim. I enjoyed the endurance aspects, and the unpredictability of open water events. Never fast, I came to realize that my strength lay in endurance rather than speed. This would come to serve me well later as an ultra trail runner.
Then, three years ago a friend posted on Facebook that she joined a trail running program that met at a trailhead down the block from my house. Always up for something new, I reached out to her, and she encouraged me to join the program – promising that it was not too late, I did not have to be fast or experienced, and I did not have to run hundreds of miles. I remember the first day – I showed up wearing basic gym attire, standing shly in a sea of glowing people, wearing all kinds of gear that I had never seen – I wondered if I made a mistake. The coach came up and greeted me as if we had been friends for years, and over the next twelve weeks I learned that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Could I really be a trail runner if I’m this slow, if I don’t look like how I think a runner should look?
Don’t get me wrong, there were times when I doubted myself . My coach, one of the most amazing people I have met, continues to remind me, ‘You ARE a trail runner. You are here, and you are doing this thing. How amazing are you, and how awesome is this!?’ So I kept doing this running thing. Five miles or a 50K; heat or snow; a swarm of hornets, cramps, or Star Thistles (which should be called Satan’s Spikes) — I kept going.
I’ll be honest, I don’t do this because it’s easy or glamorous (and it’s especially NOT easy or glamorous when you have to squat with burning quads on the side of the trail after 20 miles to relieve yourself as a dozen runners pass by.) But there’s truth to the runner’s high, there’s magic in being the first person to touch the trail in the morning, and there’s grace and sense of belonging in the community of trail runners. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.