Redefining Running (Part 1)

Trail-Running

       “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” -T.S. Eliot

As early as I could walk, I ran; bet that’s most of our stories, that running came as natural as breathing. I often wonder though, when I hear claims today of -running’s not for me- or -we just can’t-  it’s too difficult, too tiring, too time-consuming, too hazardous, so-not-my-thing, the list goes on… as our excuses melt into, well.. excuses. What happened? Where did our natural ability to give flight to our worries, cares, fancies and even dreams go? When did we become such a sedentary-type people with lips that move more than we do? I’d wager that the advance in information technology (IT) gave birth to not just knowledge and information, but with its advance came the decline of human autonomy and our desire to engage ourselves and our senses in the act of living.

Yet, this is not all our story. There are many of us who have moved past the seduction and post-coital stages of the IT era to embrace its ability to enhance our lives and bring fulfillment to our running experiences. In fact, running is now enjoyed by more people the world over than ever before in history. The 1970’s saw the explosion of running across the United States with thousands of road races and marathons being run each year. Running now enjoys the prominent place of being the sixth most popular form of exercise according to Dr. Richard Well, CDE of Medicine Net.com. We owe our thanks largely to Pheidippides (490 BC), an ancient “day-runner,” who put running on the map. He is supposed to have run 149 miles to carry the news of the Persian landing at Marathon to Sparta to enlist help for the battle. Some believe the story of Pheidippides to be a myth, whether myth or legend, it is the genesis of the modern marathon. It was the first running of the marathon (26 miles, 385 yard) in the modern Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens that commemorated Pheidippides’ historic run.

Today running has taken on more depth and definition. While many of us run for health reasons and see it mainly as a form of exercise, there are those who have taken it to the next level of fun and competition. Another, slightly newer though fast developing  area of running is the extreme sporting aspect of ultra running events for the ultra-competitive and thrill seekers. Here we move from marathons, track, road races and various fun runs to ultra-marathons, trail running, decathlons, triathlons and Iron-man triathlons.

  • Considered any race over 26.2 miles, Ultra-marathons generally come in two forms: those that cover a specified distance, and events that take place during a specified time (with the winner covering the most distance in that time). The most common distances are 50 kilometres, 100 kilometres, 50 miles, and 100 miles, although many races have other distances.
  • Trail Running can include endurance and cross-country running and hiking over trails and is typical to most ultra-marathon events.
  • Decathlons are composed of ten track and field events run over a two-day period.
  • Triathlons are multiple-stage competitions that include three successive sporting events of varying distances. The most common form is swimming, biking and running.
  • An Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile run, raced in that order and without a break.

With all this new additions to the sport of running, it is no wonder that many of us are no longer satisfied with a fun run or just running for exercise. There is an innate drive and desire in us for more; it creates a discontent with the status quo and allows us to push beyond boundaries and exceed limitations in our pursuance of that sense of overwhelming fulfillment that can only come from the ultimate challenge. In the words of Michael Finkel, 100-mile Western States Endurance Run Ultra-marathoner,

“I was suffused with this warm sense of overwhelming fulfillment. In one day, I’d totally rejiggered how I calculated my abilities and weaknesses. I was deeply happy.”

 

The Joy of Trail Running

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Running is a sport that’s hard to love. It could be because it requires so much of one’s energy among other emotions that there’s hardly room left for anything else. Most runners run either because they’re good at it, are very competitive, like the physical & psychological results of running or a combination of the above. Very few, I believe, will admit to loving the constant pounding of heart, feet and muscle to the insistent beat of their personal-health-aspiration-drum.

imageQuite frankly, after my teenage years and before I discovered trail running, I saw running as strictly a competitive sport and would hardly consider it something I did for fun. The trails changed all that. There among nature, I discovered my inner ying that responded to the call of the wild with a resounding yes that echoes wherever trails are found. I want to discover, explore and enjoy them all. Within those trails I am able to step outside of myself and see the beauty of God’s creation as He intended it and it’s a wonder to behold. I don’t know why I respond this way, what it is within me that unfurls at the sight, sounds and smell of nature blossoming in my midst..I just know that I do and that to be given the opportunity to experience it is a precious gift I treasure. Upon my return to the track and roads there’s really no comparison. Time stands still among the quiet chatter of birds and insects; the cackle of leaves underfoot is background music to the sighting of a unique flower or plant as the fresh air pleasantly tickles my nostrils, and my senses are thoroughly assaulted by the explosion of color as the seasons change. And If per chance I encounter one of my wild friends, it’s always with a gaze of awe as I humbly submit to their authority in this world of theirs..where I am but a guest..a world seemingly untouched, unspoiled by the passage of time and those who are fortunate to enter in.

I try to get to the trails as often as I can, which is not often enough in my mind. Thank goodness New York offers lots of opportunities to the desirous trail runner, as there are lots of parks surrounding the city that one can get lost in. Venture a little further upstate or head out to the Catskills and it’s trail heaven out there and great for hiking too. What I have not been so fortunate to find are running events that involve the trails, I guess it’s harder to organize those, but be that as it may, there are always opportunities for those so inclined; my eyes and ears are open to new trail experiences this year.

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