“It’s time you stay home and grow up,” said an acquaintance, when I told him I was heading out of town to run a 50km trail race. I was surprised to find that his words stung. Was I being a bad father taking the night off from being a dad, holding up at a hotel, and running through the forest the whole next day?
It’s true that I’m not getting any younger. Just last week, I was taking the buzzer to my hair, and found all my greys falling like snow into the bathroom sink.
The other sure sign that I’m getting older is that it has been taking longer to recover after big workouts. Right before I started to taper for the 50km Sulphur Springs trail race out in Ancaster, Ontario, I was noticing that my legs were feeling cooked, even when I was just leisurely riding my bike to work. My longer required recovery time actually helped dictate my race plan, which was to treat Sulphur Springs like a training run for my 170km Tour du Mont (TMB) run in July (done over 5 days). I figured the harder I go now, the longer I’d need to recover before being able to do the final ramp up for the TMB.
Still, even with my plan to go slow, I was occasionally getting piss-pants nervous about running Sulphur Springs. Then, thankfully, I reminded myself that I’m doing a 50km meditation. This run was not about competition, thrashing my body, or fighting the ground I was running over. It was about going into the zone and staying there as long as possible.
On the morning of the race, I was pretty zonked, having caught about 3 hours sleep and feeling a bit hazy from 2 days of carbo-loading (the process of loading muscles with glycogen, the fuel the body uses for long endurance events). To counter this, I did a meditation at 4:30am and then ate my last meal before the race. By the time, we were all lined up for the 7:30am start, the sun was already hanging fierce in the sky (the 50 and 100 mile race began at 6am).
The area out in Ancaster was lovely, lush, and green, thanks to the recent rains. Many sections of the trail were on wide paths, with little in the way of technical downhills. Some muddy bits added to the fun (and being spattered with mud probably added to our trail cred). I was really happy to be there, sharing time and encouragement with fellow runners. As the hours ticked by, the trails seemed less peopled, and it
became less social and more meditation, listening to the animal sounds of the forest or my own body informing me that it was tired and would like some more food, water, salt tablets, or just to walk.
About 33km in, I remembered that the famed “wall” that so many runners hit in road marathons, actually exists in the wilderness, too. I slowed down, my legs heavy. But I recalled a piece of advice that I had been given during my 80km race in Whistler last year: “You may feel like crap now, but in 10 minutes you may feel great.” Sure enough around 40 kilometres in, I felt a surge of energy. I’ve used that trail wisdom, in fact, in my day to day life, when shit just doesn’t seem to be working out in my favour. With patience and tenacity, the tides may just turn.
That brings me back to the “grow up” comment made at the beginning of the post. How is exploring the realm of our inner and outer limits while trail running through nature less “adult” than, say, going drinking with pals on a Saturday night? The answer, of course, revealed itself on the trail, in the form of dozens and dozens of runners in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s. I’m clearly not alone in recognizing that trail running has a deeper quality to it, which not only takes us within ourselves but also links us in a pretty profound way to our surroundings. When we are out there, it’s as if we are fulfilling the most fundamental aspect of our nature, harkening back to a time when the forest was our home and our legs were our main form of locomotion. And, thankfully, that feeling never gets old.