Hybrid runner

  • This was printed in December of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 81st installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Looking back on my previous columns, I realized that exactly a year ago I went on my

first ever trail run.

I wrote then that I had been disappointed that I hadn’t discovered trail running until that

weekend. I marveled at the fact that we live so close — a 35-minute drive — to the

beautiful San Joaquin River Trail, which can give anyone a total-body workout.

The exhilarating experience of running around in the wilderness, speeding down hills,

leaping over rocks and taking banked turns so fast my body was slanted like a racecar

was one to be remembered — and duplicated.

Since that day one year ago I have run the SJRT so much that I know where every gate,

every downed tree and every unique rock formation is. Yet when I return to the trail each

weekend I am always amazed that it looks and feels a little bit different.

A month ago the trail was dusty; now the earth underfoot is damp and even slick with

mud in some areas. The fall leaves continue to change colors; the trees become barer.

Last weekend the sunrise cast a light on the trail that was unlike any other I had seen. The

trail is always gorgeous, no matter how dry or how wet it is; no matter if it is 7 a.m. or 4

p.m.

As I bounded along the trail with Krystal Rivera, a third-grade teacher, she suddenly

stopped, threw her hands up and said “Wow! Isn’t this amazing?”

I stopped my feet and looked up from the rocky terrain — a trail motto is “look up, and

you’ll go down” — to see what she was gazing at.

It’s impossible to describe the beauty of the sun streaming through autumn leaves and

glistening on the San Joaquin River; words don’t do it justice.

“It doesn’t feel like we’re so close to home, right?” I asked her. “This is a whole different

world.”

We spent the rest of the run talking about how peaceful the trail is, and how road running

compares with trail running. The road is fast, easy and unchanging. The trail is an

adventure.

There are some people who are staunchly trail runners. They remain loyal to the dirt,

grass, rocks and fresh air, never venturing out on the road unless that road leads them to a

trail. They often ignore their pace, instead looking at the data on their GPS watch to

analyze their elevation gain. Some ignore their watch all together and immerse

themselves in the peace and rhythm of nature and the sound of their own breath.

There are some who are equally devoted to the road. They prefer not to run on anything

as uneven and unpredictable as a winding, dirt footpath. Asphalt and sidewalk, the

straighter the better, is their route of choice. Mile times are important; negative splits

(running each mile progressively faster than the last) might be a goal.

As a Libra, I take a balanced approach. I’m a hybrid runner, enjoying my meditative trail

runs just as much as my speed work on roads. My treks on the trail have a significant

impact on my road races, and vice versa. Plodding along on both surfaces makes me a

well-rounded runner.

Whether trail, road or hybrid, no runner is better or truer than any of the others; it’s just a

matter of preference. In the end, we’re all doing the same thing.

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