I’m running scared. Its been an hour now of pushing every climb, bombing every downhill and trying to stay in a tempo state on the flats. The moment of reckoning was coming soon and I had no idea what to expect. If favor was against me, and I’d know that sooner rather than later, mentally I would be faced with the real challenge of the day - and how would I respond? Out with a whimper or fight to the finish?
The adventure run can take on many appearances and doesn’t have to be preceded by packet pick-up or a mandatory runner/crew meeting. The classic adventure run can start out as a random afternoon run or be an elaborately planned run with a midnight start on a school night, it can bring you to your knees or leave you flying high. At the core of everything we love about running is experiencing some adventure, a story to tell, a place to see or experience. Here are a few ways to get the adventure back into your running and to create your own trail classics:
THE HOME TRAIL CHALLENGE
We all have our home trails that we run over and over. They provide the backbone of our running lives, but they can also be the place we dread to tread the most due to all of those miles. This was evident to me a few weeks ago when I got the chance to run the Wildwood Trail with some of the Territory Run Co. team. As I ran through this trail running wonderland I couldn’t help but smile. The rest of the team had spent so many hours on those trails that they took a much methodical approach to the day. At times, I had to remind them that we don’t all have it so good.
To beat back that loss of love for our home trails, which I think in most cases is due to the natural ‘slogging’ we end up doing during those repetitive maintenance runs, I suggest you make it a challenge to meet set time goals. Its even better when you announce your intentions to your running group. Because you’ll be running faster than normal, you tend to experience the trail in a whole new way, and it can bring back some of the luster that may have been lost.
In my running community we have set up a range of time goals for our trails and its fun to watch others, through training, reach a milestone. There will always be those that completely rip up the trails and set Strava course records, but these home challenges are more about personal goals - like a race, except free and more relevant to the people you run with day in and day out.
THE LOOP TRAIL
One of the home trails that I frequently visit is a nineteen mile loop that skirts the side of a Tennessee mountain. The entire loop is actually on the campus of a liberal arts school in a small little town. For the vast majority of the loop, you’d never know that civilization was so close. But there is also a section of the loop that is on a paved trail that runs along the main road and through the town. This path connects the trail back to the trailhead parking lot. The trail leaving out of the other direction from the parking lot takes you down into a gully (a ‘hollow’ if you are from the south) through technical trail. Because these terrains are so different, we’ve developed something called the Death Match. Its a great little adventure that takes a few hours to unfold. All you have to do is: 1. find a fellow runner of equal strength, 2. flip a coin to determine who decides the directions of travel, 3. Go as fast as you can in opposite directions and hope that you meet your competition at the mid-way point to give you hope for the back half (trust me, the unknown will result in a full-on freakout the first half, then a period of figuring out what just happened, and ending in an all-out dash to the finish).
Any loop will do for this type of adventure - easy, doesn’t require a lot of planning, and results in a fun, hard workout. This is truly one of my favorite adventure runs, its what the opening of this article was based on. There are so many great qualities of just racing against someone, without worrying about a time or a cutoff. It is very binary, yet so fulfilling. Also, there are bragging rights - and redemptive values to the loser to run it the opposite way.
Long runs taking a day or more can be done with more planning and provide the opportunities to see areas that races just cannot go. We have all seen spectacular photos of runners crossing through picturesque areas of the known longer trails such as the John Muir Trail, the PCT, the Appalachian Trail, the Long Trail, etc. Planning a day or multi-day traverse of these types of trails can be far more rewarding than your 15th 100 mile race. Most of us began running to get in or stay in shape, or to have a competitive outlet. At some point we found that the ability to experience this world in a different way than driving up to a lookout - to actually be out in the land that most people look into from the car turnout, was the true reward of all our efforts. These long traverse runs provide a little more wild to your days. Its not a requirement to only travel these lands in a FKT attempt, just be prepared and do your planning.
It seems a new ridiculous 5K race is invented each week. Climbing over walls, under barbed wire, through a bomb of colored powder, chasing zombies, being shot by a pellet gun. OK, I made that last one up, but wait a week… I’m just not a huge fans of these runs, but don’t get me wrong, I love the ridiculous. In fact, combining my love of running with ridiculous things is one of my favorite things to do. That’s how the 42 mile adventure Pancakes to Poker was developed, as well as its Bizarro World sibling, Moccasins to Moonshine. For my birthday this year a group of us ran three trails in the South Cumberland area of Tennessee for a total of 60 running miles, plus the driving miles between the trails. The trails were some of the hardest trails we have in the area and we all knew at some point ‘it would get real’. We called it the South Cumberland S#!t Show. We started later than we planned, because when its your thing do you really want to start at a race director’s 5:00 am imposed time? It took us until 11:45 pm to finish that night, just beating our self-imposed one day deadline.
Then there was the Taco Bell Ultra. Thirty miles of road running with ten Taco Bell stops along the way and a different menu item at each stop. Yeah, ridiculous is an art form. You run a lot, you might as well have good stories to tell people in the office that spent their weekend installing wainscoting in their dining room. Now if I can just convince someone to see how many miles they can run around a track while listening to all of Justin Bieber’s albums on their iPod…
The vast majority of runners measure themselves through races. We measure each other’s abilities by their 50K PR, marathon PR, number of 100 milers finished, etc. We even measure our current fitness by our race schedule - “how many weeks out until the next big race?”. There are a myriad of reasons why we race and there is nothing wrong with any of them, but I suggest that you don’t be controlled by the race. The beauty of the land, the strengthening of friendships, the sense of accomplishment can all be found in the wild without a formal start or finish. Find the adventure in the wild and maybe even put a little wild in the adventure.