As the early morning casts its shadow across the valley, my mind is taken to years past when childhood imaginations ran wild with thoughts and even occasional sightings of monsters and wild things lurking just beyond the light. Time has faded away the fears of fangs, claws and fictional beasts, replacing them with equally daunting grown up monsters.
Just this morning, while traveling to meet up with some great friends for a run, I reflected on driving that same route in similar conditions a year ago. The jagged ridges and peaks had cast equally terrifying shadows as these mountain sized monsters lurked in the darkness of a pre-dawn glow. Their intimidating switchbacks, never ending hills and rough terrain was a far cry from the comfort of my road running. Trail running had become the creeping monster literally hiding in the shadows.
Over the course of three years, I had worked myself from extremely unhealthy to an extremely mediocre road runner. I enjoyed my mind numbing rhythm. I enjoyed my attention to pace. I enjoyed the same routes with houses and stop lights that never changed. I was comfortable in knowing what was coming. Aside from the occasional side cramp, there were no surprises and nothing to fear.
I had only really been on one trail, and just a handful of times at that. It was a 9.89 mile out and back route with a grand total of 500ft of elevation change. It was probably the hardest run I did through my training, and the slowest. I never found a steady rhythm. That ridiculous climbing was messing up my pace. All the twists and turns had me lost. And day to day, the trail was constantly changing on me. I never knew what to expect or even knew where I was most of the time.
I was afraid of what I couldn’t succeed at. I was afraid of these seemingly insurmountable tasks. I tried to hide under the comfort of my road running, but I knew they were still out there… haunting me.
But how do you conquer your fears? You face them. Head on. You peel back the covers and peer into the dark corners and shadows. You accept what is or is not there and you stand up to it. You struggle and fight until the beast has succumbed.
It’s funny how personal reflection can be the night light that exposes those fears for what they were. Fear is just your imagination and personal intimidations getting the best of you. I look back on what I originally feared in trail running and ironically they have now become my favorite aspects of the sport.
It’s nice to get lost and forget about everything else, excepting what the trail will bring you. All of the curves and dramatic elevation changes are character that makes every trail experience unique. And it’s something that ought to be enjoyed because whether it is mud, snow, erosion or fallen trees, it will not be the same when you come back tomorrow. I have rarely experienced a greater reward than getting to the top of a peak and peering down 3,000 ft below and looking at the miles of ups and downs that it took to get there.
I look forward to today’s adventure as I get closer to those dark shadows that draw me in. It’s a new day in a usual place. A place where I can run and play where the wild things are.