Thoughts on the Trail

Today I went out and ran on the trails after seven years of road racing. When I first got into running in 2007 I also hit the trails. I think this cemented my overall love for the sport. Trail running put together two of my favorite things- running and the mountains. I was a mountaineer in college and some of my most cherished memories were  moments spent in the outdoors, scaling and exploring terrains of varying altitude.    I also grew up in the mountains of Baguio. Perhaps this also explains the affinity. The mountains are home to me.

So when I hit the trails again, it felt familiar and I could sense old feelings of excitement bubble up. But it also felt new and uncertain. I was very tentative at the start. I did not trust my footing and felt too cautious and awkward. The first three kilometers inside the forest were very technical and I let people pass, asking them to go ahead since I didn’t want to stall their pace. Surprisingly though, fellow runners were not in a hurry. Everyone seemed to take their own time, having their own pace. Of course there were fast runners but you could sense that they were not rushing and that they just genuinely enjoyed moving at that pace. There was no mad scamper as everyone just quietly plodded on, with only the rhythmic  sound of footsteps on dry leaves. It is more of a solo sport but at the same time people also watched out for each other as they called everyone “ma’am/sir” (this is how mountaineers addressed each other when they meet in the mountains). I love this solitary nature of trail running, appeals to someone like me who needs to be alone to reset. 

Finally I got into a nice pace that I was comfortable with and I just let my thoughts flow. I realized that I could take the distance and the uphill climbs but am very much daunted by the downhill. You can make me run very long distances, go up varying levels of elevation and brave the changing temperature. I’m that kind of a work horse- steady and ready for the hard stuff. But I dread the downhill. I clam up at the thought of letting go of control. A yoga instructor once told me that I seemed to have trust issues. I guess underneath the warm, accepting, dependable person who seems to say yes to every experience lies a scaredy cat who is not comfortable  not being in control. The people closest to me would attest that I am Miss Matatakutin.  Hard to imagine from someone who thrives in adrenalin -pumped activities. Losing my sense of control and just plunging into the unknown scares the shit out of me. I guess this is because it was during those times that I let go when I was most hurt and vulnerable. There is huge discomfort within me and I constantly struggle and tense up. But it was also during these leaps of faith that I felt happiest and most fulfilled. Heeding the call of the uncertain leaves me feeling very much alive. Hence the tattoo I got says exactly that- l’appel du vide which literally means “call of the void”. It is the temptation to take one more step past the edge of the known resulting to an inexplicable feeling of exhilaration. It is the perpetual “what if ” that beckons within. 

With these thoughts racing through my head I finally relaxed into the run. I became genuinely present. As soon as I settled into this steady quiet pace, I eased up and let go. Here in the mountains, no one was judging anyone, no one was rushing to do the next thing, there was no other appointment but to embrace the summon of the trails. So like a giddy kid in a huge playground, I ran and crazily laughed as I raced downhill. I must’ve been smiling like a mad woman because some runners I met past the 16th kilometer quipped “buti pa si ma’am smiling all the way”.

So I pray for courage that I may continue to open myself up this way. As I uttered this silent prayer, I am reminded of something from Rilke:

“We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it. That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter.”

Till the next run, see you on the trails:) 


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