If you asked me even five years ago if I would be running trails, I would have immediately told you, “Absolutely not!” I was a road runner through and through and up until that point I had done only one trail run the River, Roots & Ruts in Alva, Florida. I had done the 5k and had fun, so I decided to do the half marathon the following year because, well, how hard could it be? I had run dozens of road half marathons so figured running a trail half would be no problem… I was wrong, it was a total mud pit. I was in road shoes, a classic mistake, so back to road running I went.
Fast forward to 2019, after years of being in one marathon training cycle after another I got a really bad case of plantar fasciitis. I ran one last road marathon before taking time off so my injury could heal, but with every intention to get back into road running again once healthy. When I did get the go head to start running again, I decided to sign up for a local 5k trail race, and while I still wasn’t sold I was able to get through the race and post-race without any pain. Enter classic mistake number two. Like any good runner I went and immediately signed up for all the road races I could and jumped back into training. I soon realized I was burnt out on road running and getting out for my runs felt like torture and again sought solace on the trails. We are lucky in Charlotte, North Carolina to have really great trails, so I set out to give trails a try again and see if I could fulfill my love of running away from the pavement. Within a week I bought a running vest, trail running shoes, and had signed up for a local race that was a few months away. Then Covid happened. While Covid led to the cancellation of all the road races I had initially signed up for the trail race I had signed up for was still able to be put on!
Race day came and there I was in all my brand-new trail running gear, no idea what I was doing, and around a whole new group of people. Road running can be a very individual sport and for me it was always very hard to connect with people in that community. To my relief, trail running was the complete opposite! After that first race I walked away with a whole new community of running friends. We were all in the same boat, the majority of us were new to trail running and the idea of doing an ultra-marathon was a faraway thought. Although we could not see each other every day we all kept in touch via social media and when the next race came around it was like seeing friends you have known for years at each start line. The community aspect of trail running is one of the most amazing parts of the sport, a gift, it doesn’t matter if you are finishing first or DFL there are not the egos or the silos that I witnessed in road running. Everyone is cheering everyone on from the first runner to the last and finishing DFL is just as important as winning the race outright.
As someone who was a road runner for ten plus years there were some very stark differences I noticed right away, especially when I started working with a coach. The first was worrying about pace, in road running pace is everything and I would borderline obsess over it – what my splits were for training runs and races, you are always chasing that next PR. Looking back now there were probably only a couple races that I actually enjoyed and took in because I was so focused on hitting a specific finish time. When that wasn’t going to happen, I would feel defeated no matter what the outcome was. It has probably taken me a good two years to stop worrying about what my watch is saying and just enjoy the process and the amazing places we get to go as trail runners. A gift.
The other thing I noticed quickly was fueling and how to properly fuel. In all my years of road running, nutrition during long runs or races was not really at the forefront… For me it was very much take a few gels, chug some Gatorade, and go on your way. Thanks to my amazing running and nutrition coaches, I learned that eating all the snacks and gels is part of being successful in all forms of running. And I’ve come to learn that is especially true of trail running and critical as you progress to the longer distances. Looking back now, I realize that for so many years I was severely under fueling for my half and full marathon training and racing. If you don’t already know this, trail running aid stations are the best! It’s always great to see a newbie trail runner experience grilled cheese or a quesadilla at an aid station for the first time. Where else do we cheer on runners as they chug soda, eat candy, and take the occasional shot of fireball? A gift!
While I will always love the years I spent road running, I don’t think I could ever go back, trail running has taken me to some amazing places from the local mountains in North Carolina to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and everywhere in between. It has also introduced me to some of the most amazing and inspirational ladies that I am so lucky to share all the adventures and struggles with. Being out on the trails gives you such a feeling of peace, that I can’t find anywhere else, and also makes you realize how small you really are in the grand scheme of things. No other sport, and no other community will humble you while also helping you see how strong you really can be.