Yesterday was a gorgeous fall/winter day in Vancouver. Unseasonably warm and sunny, when I looked out my window, I heard the trails calling me. As I set out for my run, golden yellow, orange and burnt red leaves crunching under my feet, I quickly realized that I was wearing too many layers. Trail running is new for me. But being on the trails, in the trees, away from the city and the noise and the crowds of people, is not. As an avid hiker, which is essentially mandatory in Vancouver, I am familiar with the trails and the roots and the rocks and all of the stumbling blocks.
I watch, somewhat awestruck, the “experienced” trail runners as they make their way along the trail. Each footstep a slight adjustment, a nuanced difference, from the one before it. Making accommodations for each root or rock or slight change in terrain. Their movements effortless. Moving with an ease and a grace down the trail that resembles art, or perhaps, magic. There is no hesitation but rather a surefootedness and a confidence that I have yet to embody. I can’t deny that there is envy in my eyes and a desire in my heart to move with the same nimbleness.
Last year I made the decision to switch to trail running. Perhaps heeding the advice of my physiotherapist, who recommended that due to my “back issues” it would be a good idea to get off the concrete. Or perhaps approaching 40 and no longer having a desire to run yet another half marathon, it was time to make a change. Trail running has a different technical side than road running. Navigating the roots, rocks, streams, and terrain changes with any sort of confidence takes skill, practice and patience.
I signed up for my very first trail run. 11 km. Mid- June of 2016. The race was in Squamish and involved mostly mountain biking trails. The day before the race, I decided to go for a short run on the Vancouver Seawall. It was a gorgeous early summer day and I was excited to run by the water and soak it all in. I was about 2 kms into my run when I felt a sudden and sharp pain in my left foot. It stopped me in my tracks, almost as though I was shot in the foot by a sniper. If you’re a runner or know a runner then you know it takes a lot to stop us…especially mid run. But I just couldn’t. I stopped and stretched my foot, thinking perhaps it was a cramp. But the pain was instantaneous with my next foot strike. This time I stopped and took off my running shoe to lightly massage it. Nope. Agony as soon as my foot hit the concrete. I limped sadly, oozing self pity, back to my car. Driving a standard transmission home that day proved to be immensely painful and somewhat challenging. When I arrived home, I performed my go to cure for everything..foot up, ice and Advil. I also added in a small shout out to the running gods to please let my foot feel better by the morning.
The next day I awoke and tentatively put my feet know the floor. Testing a few small steps…no pain!! My shout out worked! I was convinced. I hurriedly got my gear together and jumped…ok tentatively…got into my car to pick up my girlfriend, who was already ordering Venti Starbucks coffees for us. The 45 minute drive from the city was filled with meandering chatter about work, running and boys. It was a beautiful June day, the sun was shining and we were excited to be part of the race! We met our other friend there and we took excessive amounts of selfies and photos waiting for the race to begin. I felt so strong when I started off, tackling the up hills like a champ and feeling unstoppable. Approximately half way through, consequently on the way down the hill, my foot hurt. It didn’t just hurt, it throbbed. Intense. I actually hobbled over the finish line and I just knew, it was broken. This would be confirmed a few weeks later by a CT Scan. After a stern lecture by the Orthopedic surgeon about stress fractures and staying off my foot, I donned the aircast, or “walking boot”, that was going to be my new fashion accessory for the next 3 months and alternated between anger, self-pity and sadness.
After a 6 month running hiatus, I was itching to get back on my feet, honest understatement. I was somewhat forced onto the trails, but I have never looked back. I’m at peace in the mountains, on the trail, inhaling every moment of solitude. I don’t look like an art form on the trails…or magical. I’m tentative with my foot placement, I slow down to a crawl for some of the trickier, more technical sections and I quite literally flail my arms all the way along the trail, in an attempt to balance myself. I’m sure that the look of concentration on my face could easily be mistaken for a frown. But in truth, I am having the time of my life. I’m learning to run all over again. With every step I become a little more confident. With every kilometer under my feet, I become more at one with the trail. With every descent, I laugh a little more, run just a little bit faster and jump over a few more rocks, streams and roots than the time before. With every turn and jump, root and stone, I become a little more trail runner and a little less trail-flailer.