Traversing the Landscape

When our family moved to Phoenix in 2005, I decided to become a trail runner. I executed on my new hobby with my usual “go big” approach, running straight up South Mountain from Ahwatukee for 3 miles, then back down, as hard as I could, several times a week. Did I also mention that at the time I was a stay-at-home parent with 2 kids in diapers, and we didn’t know a soul within 1000 miles?

Sometimes it’s not really about the running. I did really like the trails, though.

Three weeks later I was a newly-hatched trail runner suffering from acute plantar fasciitis. I had to re-think my approach, but I was in love. Fortunately my PF disappeared without lingering issues.

I loved the concentration that went into each step. I loved pausing to catch my breath and looking down on the clay-colored Phoenix ‘burbs from on high.  And, perhaps most of all, I loved traversing the landscape. When you run trails, especially out there where you can see the horizon, you feel as though you are really going somewhere. Covering ground. Making tracks. And if you can run one way, or point-to-point, so much the better. Pick a spot on the map and go.

Many of my running friends don’t enjoy the constant focus and attention that trail running demands. And yet, my mind wanders most freely when I’m out running trails by myself. It’s like one part of my brain (probably the constantly distracted part) focuses intently on every step while the other part gallops, unfettered, ahead, often with no destination in mind. Maybe it’s the lack of space for the usual clutter that allows me to do my best thinking when I’m out running trails.

I didn’t run my first trail race until 2008, but the balance of trail:road races has increasingly tipped toward trails ever since.

2 thoughts on “Traversing the Landscape

  1. I’ve noticed the split between the trail running brain functions and higher level thinking as well. But that came only after many early trail runs where I was intensely focusing on not falling down and killing myself. Now, everything seems automatic as far as navigation and foot placement goes, leaving me to free to soak in the beauty of the trail.

    • Thanks, Scott. The first part of my trail runs still trends toward intense focus, and remains that way when I’m trying to push any kind of speed. On my best trail runs, though, I seem to split my focus pretty quickly. Of course, the occasional crash to the ground helps re-focus that edge of uncertainty.

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