Here’s the thing about being inspired by fear: It’ll make you do things you hadn’t planned on. For me, that thing was trail running.
The first time I ran on trails, I hadn’t meant to. It was that moment when you realize the sun is actually setting and things will go very badly for you if you don’t get back to the car before dark. At the time I was new to Colorado, so it took me awhile to understand the concept of the out-and-back hike. Simply put, if I extended the hike on the front end, it also meant I’d extended it on the way back. And if I got a late start, that meant I increased my chances of getting caught out, alone, and very likely disoriented in the woods.
Don’t get me wrong—I love hiking. I’m a huge fan of long walks in nature that invite inner reflection and long, breathy conversations. But once I finally realized how to time it so that I wouldn’t get caught in the dark, I also knew that I could see more if I moved a little faster.
Granted, I ran through a lot of trial and error–and more error–before eventually landing on the right advice and support that helped me establish a running habit I hope I never kick. Here are a few things I learned that enabled me to right-size my expectations and find a stride that worked for me.
When I first moved to Colorado from sea level, it was all I could do to climb the stairs to my apartment without fainting. I’d always enjoyed some form of activity, which included running, but living a mile closer to the sun was an entirely different story. And seeing so many paper-thin athletes whizzing past me on trails made me doubt whether I’d ever be able move beyond a shuffle again. But I got my wind back and learned after lots of starting and stopping that running’s just hard sometimes. If you’re just starting out, keep in mind that your body is working a lot harder on the trails to acclimate to different conditions, to coordinate new movement, and to get you where you want to go.
While there are lots of differences between running on roads versus trails, one of the biggest distinctions between the two is that falling on the trail is to be expected, whether or not you fear it. In fact, it’s only been in conversations about trail running that I’ve heard Superman referred to as a type of falling—and it’s got nothing to do with heroics. It’s understandable to be afraid to fall, but running with an overwhelming fear of that likelihood can cause tension in the body that makes you lock up and become rigid in anticipation of a big spill. For what it’s worth, envision yourself as the hero–or shero–flying free and strong over the trails.
Trail running is not road running, and your expectations for the sport, as well as for yourself, should be different, too. It’s not uncommon for runners to think because they enjoyed a certain pace on the roads, it should translate seamlessly to trails. When that doesn’t happen, disappointment sets in. “What’s wrong?” they wonder. “I’m so much slower! Why am I not running my same pace?” Welp, because it’s different. For starters, the mix of terrain, technicality and new demands on your muscles will all have an impact on your pace and performance. So let yourself off the hook of high expectations and enjoy the process.