Making the Trail by Running

I've been lax in blogging because I didn't want to leave a trail of minutia. I'm two weeks into a new semester, and the most adventurous thing I've done is grill meat 6 of the last 7 nights. Cooking with fire! It makes me proud to be at the top of the food chain.

But I spent some time today reflecting on my year. 2011 has been full of adventures, and it's been easily the best and hardest year yet. My nerves were stripped away at so many junctures--in LA for MLA, during campus visits, the waiting, the packing, the house repairs, the selling, the moving, the starting. And every time it became uncomfortable, J. would say, "This is what you came for. This is the celebration. You've trained for this."

It reminded me of a run I was on last year, as I trained for my first off-road 10K. It's a controversial statement, but I'll make it: Trail running is harder than road running. (A better way to say it: trail-running is a different kind of hard compared to road running.) Your attention is constantly focused ahead of you, you're scanning the ground for obstacles (of which there are many), you're shifting your body weight, powering up hills, pounding down them (sometimes sideways, sliding). I was running at Hastie Natural Area, a tight single-track trail with lots of rocks, about 3 miles long. And unless it's been dry for weeks, it's always a little damp. Between November and March, it's particularly tough because you can't even see the roots and rocks.

Hastie in the winter. Good luck finding the trail.

I always run with some kind of mantra. Last year, it was "Don't hurry. Don't worry. Trust the process." (Also my diss mantra.) Running at Hastie was so hard, though, I had to step it up: "Cut corners in training, you'll pay on race day." Count of two, breath in; count of two, breath out. Four full strides.

The Panther Creek Off-Road 10K (part of the Montrail Series) represented a PR for me. I'm a slow runner under the best conditions, and off-road running is naturally slower. Unlike most road courses, you're not looking for even (or negative) splits or consistent pace times because the terrain is so unpredictable. At a different race,  the officials rerouted parts of the course because a storm the night before had washed out parts of the trail, and there was standing water over 2 feet deep. (They would have kept the course, I think, if there had been only a foot of water.)  I remember feeling very light the day of the 10K, but the last mile was a slog: a long, steep uphill. I remember feeling like my lungs would collapse and my calves would explode (lots of climbing at PC), and that day my mantra was, "This is what you came for." I wasn't scared or frustrated (even though I was Dead Last Finisher), but confident and excited. And in pain and gasping. And Dead Last.

I can see threads of my physical training in my new start. Grad school: the Hastie Run (x 7 years). Having the opportunity to start this amazing new job with brilliant and kind colleagues: the race-day event. The metaphor falls apart some there at the end, but I think there's some point to it beyond the obvious. Of course grad school trains you for a job (in most cases, I think).  But it's this beauty in the struggle--both of training and racing--that stands out to me, the celebration of learning and growing and building something. Being okay with making mistakes and having bad days and feeling out-of-kilter because I'm new and learning the ropes. But I feel now like I did at Panther Creek: calm, confident, excited to be there. I  have this overwhelming sense that I'm ready for this, that this is what I've trained to do.

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