I think I'm in love with Trail Running. Or maybe it's just a jumbo-size crush ...time will tell I guess. A younger man would just let loose and follow his heart, be a romantic. I'm more rational than that; I like to analyze and make lists. Pros and cons, that sort of thing.
Here are the pros:
1. Unlike my last affair, trail running doesn't hurt! Not sure why, but maybe it's all the different positions and geometries. Up, down, bumpy, smooth,... Lots of variety so that nothing ever gets worn out or broken. Which also means you get more of a full-body workout! The sense of blissful fatigue after 90 minutes on trails is much more satisfying than 90 minutes on the road (well, I think it is... can't say I've ever successfully run 90 minutes on pavement without blowing up prematurely).
2. And what a heart-pumping experience it is to run all out up a 30% slope. Few things scream, "I'M ALIVE!!!" like that organ pounding against your rib cage at 170 beats a minute. Such a fine line between pleasure and pain. But for whatever reason, I cannot go that hard on the road--other systems fail way before my heart maxes out.
3. I'm also smitten with the mental side of trail running. Your brain goes on hyperdrive as you hurtle downhill on a twisty single-track covered in rocks and roots. Every footstep is subconsciously calculated to keep you upright and moving forward quickly. So many factors... will your shoe grip that boulder, or will it slide off? can your knee handle the drop? is your ankle strong enough? what's under those leaves? etcetera, etcetera. Of course you're not really aware of all that thinking--it just happens instinctively--and it's a rush, a powerful mix of stress and exhilaration. Much different than plodding through the motions when running on pavement or even pedaling a bike.
4. Trail running is oh so Au Natural. Our ancient relatives did it, though not so much for fun as for survival. Eat or be eaten! What else can you do in the modern world that has such a basic primal connection? Does the forest look or feel any different for us today than it did for a young Chumash boy or girl 5,000 years ago?
5. Once a week I do it with a group. They're smart, fit, genuine people. Men and women, mostly all younger than me. No one person dominates, and we all take turns being in front or behind. It's been five weeks in a row now, and we always rendezvous in a new place or run a different trail. Loving the variety!
So, are there any cons of trail running? What about breaking an ankle, getting bitten by a snake, or eaten by a mountain lion? Those are the obvious things, but the risks actually add to the thrill. The bigger issue, however, is what this fling will do to my 30-year relationship with bike racing! Is there room for another activity? Is there enough passion to share, or will performance suffer? Could the two relationships possibly be complementary?
I'd like to find out. I'm going to do some of these in 2011.