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My Journey into Trail Running: A Love Letter from the Back of the Pack

My journey into trail running.

Imposter Syndrome

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with an overburdening case of imposter syndrome. I’ve never truly felt like I fit anywhere. As a socially awkward child of divorce struggling with a learning disability as a kid, I was a square peg in a round hole for most of my formative years. I struggled even more in college to fit in, so I became the “party guy” in my dorm. Drinking was a way to chameleon my way into social circles. In recent years, I have struggled with crippling anxiety and depression. I struggled with finding myself in the sober community because my story isn’t the same as most. I struggle to find where I fit in my career pursuits in the engineering, research, and development world because my education differs from others in the field. I struggled to call myself a runner since I am slower than most and don’t have as much experience as some. Wherever I go, I always feel like the odd person out. This internal struggle started my journey into trail running.


A Baptism for my Soul

So, after a couple of years of solo trail running and lurking on ultrasignup, I took a chance and signed up for the Oakadoke Trail 18 miler. So, not knowing what to expect, I made my travels way toward Creekside Trails in Valparaiso, IN. From the first moment I stepped out of my car and checked into the race, I immediately knew something was different about this. I felt a warm energy as I gathered my race bib, pins, complementary toe socks, and chia seed gels the evening before the race. So, on that early summer morning, after a seemingly sleepless night, I toed the line for the start of my first sanctioned trail race. From the first step onto Creekside Trails, I knew I was witnessing something profound, an almost electric feeling in the warm summer air. From that moment on, I was consumed by the miracle of the trails. The crisp summer air and the morning dew that hit my legs as I traversed the first few miles were nothing short of baptism for my soul. I knew this was where my heart belonged, deep in the welcoming embrace of the back of the pack with like-minded folks, drinking in and celebrating the miracles of movement together. 

Friendships Formed Amongst the Trees

It didn’t take me long to realize that the back of the pack was home for me. I’m okay with the notion that I will always be a back-of-the-packer; I love it here! I love the stories, the camaraderie, the snacks, the come-as-you-are mentality, and the long-lasting friendships that are formed at the back of the pack. I’ve been deep in the well a few times only to have what was once a stranger pick me up by sharing some kind words, a smile, and a few miles, turning my entire day around, and in the end wind up friends. These bonds I have formed amongst the trees have been nothing short of amazing. Trail running has a beauty that I will never be able to give its true homage to in the form of words. It’s in the embrace of the trail that I have found my tribe, sanctuary, and authentic self.  Everyone is there for their own reasons and has experienced their own journey that is unique to them. Still, when you are there, there is a synergy in these single-track utopias that can only be felt by getting out there yourself and experiencing your own trail-running miracles. So, I invite you to come out and experience the transformative power of trail running and the beauty of finding your community amongst the trees. This is my journey into trail running.

Yours from the trail, Joe


Joe Hardin Author Run Tri Bike

Joe Hardin is a father of two, a lover of the trails, and a new ultra-distance runner. By day, he is a research and development technician; by night, he is an aspiring artist and writer. He is also an advocate for addiction recovery, inclusivity in endurance sports and a plant-based lifestyle.