Gazelle hits the trail

  • This was printed in December of 2013 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 29th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

My running buddies nicknamed me Gazelle.

I never did ask why, exactly, but I assume it’s because of my speed and my stride — I’m

light on my feet and a ball-of-the-foot striker who tends to “prance” over any obstacles.

As stupid as it may sound, I felt like I became one with my nickname on Sunday at my

first-ever true trail run.

I was a mountain gazelle leaping over rocks, logs and roots. I was taking banked turns so

fast that my body felt nearly horizontal. I was leaping and prancing and flying and having

the best time of my life on that trail.

By my count 22 of us carpooled to the South Finegold Day Use Area at Millerton Lake to

get a good hill workout in. Truth be told, those weren’t hills. Those were the hills’

cousins — mountains. If my Nike+ GPS watch is correct, we started around 600 feet

elevation and got up to nearly 1,300 feet.

I ran about 8 miles roundtrip, leading the pack out of pure excitement. Nothing compares

to trail running, and I’m a little disappointed I haven’t discovered this until now.

My eyes were trained a few feet ahead of me, predicting where my feet would fall and

then adjusting my body for impact. Each step was carefully placed. I was trying as hard

as I could to avoid stepping directly onto loose rocks and severely uneven ground. (All of

the ground was uneven, but I was trying to step where I was least likely to injure myself.)

I missed a few times and rolled my left ankle. It wasn’t too bad, but I’m definitely feeling

the muscle strain this week.

For the first mile or two I was concentrating so hard on trying not to fall that I hardly

noticed the beautiful view. Millerton Lake is gorgeous when you’re looking down on it.

When I reached a relatively flat stretch of the trail where the dirt was clear of precarious

rocks and twigs, I happened to glace toward the water and immediately stopped.

Breathtaking — I have no other word for that view.

I paused my watch, whipped out my cell phone and took a few “selfies” with the lake in

the background. (I’m part of the generation that believes “if it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t

happen.”)

My photo break was long enough to let another runner catch up to me, but it wasn’t long

before I bounded ahead of him. It wasn’t my competitive spirit that drove me ahead of the

group; it was the love of the private experience that I had never had the opportunity of

experiencing before.

I loved running in the wilderness, several hundred meters ahead of anyone else, hearing

only the sounds of my breathing and my footfalls — far enough away to feel alone.

Concentrating on the terrain became second nature and I let my mind drift as I glided

over the soft, slightly damp dirt. As I write this I can’t even remember what I thought

about; I can only remember the semblance of bliss I felt on that run. If that wasn’t

running with God, I don’t know what is.

My body is surely paying for it now — I’m hobbling around as if I completed a

marathon. Every muscle in my body was worked on that run. My hip flexors are killing

me, my quads and calves are burning and my feet, ankles, shins and knees are feeling the

impact of that mountainous terrain. My arms, especially my triceps, are sore — probably

from being so tense while I was concentrating on not eating the trail. My obliques and

abs are tender from trying to stabilize my body during the side-to-side motion I had to

adopt to make it downhill safely.

Trail running is the legit total body workout. Who needs weights, crunches and pushups

when we live a short driving distance from some of the most beautiful trails around?

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