Thoughts from My First Trail Training

Yesterday, I tried my first trail run. In all honesty, it turned into a hike. During the two hours that I was out on the trail, I learned a lot about running, about myself, and about life.

trail run

Reality Didn’t Match my Expectations

There is a certain poisonous snake in the area that I have heard far too many stories about, and I just knew that I was going to run into several on the trail. There were none. I figured that, since I was running a couple of hours earlier in the day and also in the shade, that the trail wouldn’t be that much harder than the running to which I’ve been accustomed. Wrong. I knew there would be some differences on my body in running a trail rather than hitting the pavement, but I wasn’t prepared for how taxing a trail can be.

I think I tend to have the same kind of attitudes toward life. In some ways, I am proud of the hard knocks that I’ve taken, and figure they have prepared me far beyond what I’m really ready for. Even when I can see new trials coming my way, I figure I’m prepared enough to get through without much trouble.  It’s just not true. Even when I’m going through something similar to events in my past, there are differences that knock me down. I have learned to survive life by spending a lot of time on my knees in prayer, trusting my Heavenly Father to be able to provide what I lack.

My Preparations Helped me Survive, but I Still Wasn’t Happy with my Performance

Had I not been running for a couple of years, and had I not been trying to train for a half marathon, I’m not sure I would have survived walking the trail. At least I was spared the embarrassment of having to ask total strangers to help me back to the trail head! I had planned on running at least half the distance of the trail, but I was only a mile or two in before I gave up really trying to run at all. It’s amazing how demoralizing tripping on a couple of roots and not knowing your area well enough to guage how much farther you have to go can actually be. I kept trying to tell myself that the second time would be a lot better, but it didn’t take away the disappointment that I was really more of a hiker than a runner on the trail.

I have high expectations for myself in everyday life, too.  I have always tried to hold myself to accomplishing as much as other women in my church who have the blessing of being stay-at-home moms — even though I hold down a full time job as a music teacher. I garden, I try to write music, I volunteer to help people as much as I can, and I keep myself running from the time I get up until the time I drop into bed exhausted. Even so, I often hear myself telling my fiance that “I really didn’t get much done today.”

Of course, that attitude carries over into my trials, and I hold myself to standards of strength that I’m actually a little embarrassed to admit. It follows the though pattern that if God allows a struggle in my life, I should be able to call on Him for strength, square my shoulders, and “rock on.” No acceptance of my humanity here! Then I buckle, I cry, I even sometimes lash out at the people who care about me the most — and feel like I have let myself and everyone else down.

It Would have Been Easier if I had Taken a Friend Along

I drove out to the trail with all the confidence in the world that I would be fine. After all, a friend who has biked the trail many times was supportive and encouraging. If she felt I could do it, no problem! Her advice: stick to the trails that are closest to the lake. Armed with that information, I set out.

I was less than an hour into the trail when I started worrying that I was going in circles. That started me worrying that maybe I had been out on the trail a lot longer than I had expected. That’s when I had to slow down and conserve the sports drink left in my hydration pack. That’s when I had to over-think every fork in the path. I was grateful for any stranger that passed, even though I recognized that they might be on a slightly different route. At least I knew I was in about the right area. The relief when I saw that I was almost back to the parking lot was nearly indescribable!

If I had taken the time to call around and see if I could come up with a running buddy that knew the area, I would have been spared a lot of the angst that crippled my running. I could have moved with more confidence knowing that I was with someone that I could trust to get me back where I wanted to be. They would have helped me run a little harder than I could alone. Even if I had gone out with someone who had never seen the trail before, I would have felt more confident knowing that there was ready help at hand if I got into too much trouble.

Obviously, anyone who has placed their faith in Christ knows that they do not have to walk through mortal life alone. Even so, there are times when it is really nice to have a mortal friend at your side, cheering you on. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to talk over your problems with someone who has had similar experiences in life.  Sometimes, just having a sympathetice ear attached to a patient heart is enough.


My Attitude was the Deciding Factor

By the time I had also mowed the front yard yesterday afternoon and then spent about 2 1/2 hours fulfilling my rotation duty to help clean the church, I was nearly in tears from the aches in my legs and total exhaustion in my body. (I was totally grateful to be assigned with families who are diligent in fulfilling their duties, as well. I’ve had rotations where the work was left to me. That would have been a nightmare!) Even so, I could have run harder than I did yesterday morning.  My body was ready. It was when I began to doubt that I was following the information correctly, worry that the workout was taking too long, focus on how much harder trail running is than street running, and all sorts of other things that I no longer had the strength to try to run.

I find myself doing this in real life, too. I don’t call on friends when I could use a hand because of the worry that I’m going to be seen as simply looking for crises to get attention. I don’t want to intrude — they all have busy lives, too. I start trying to weigh exactly how much I “need” help, or if I’m just getting a little too soft and need to tighten my boot laces and keep on marching. Most of the time, I decide to tough it out alone.

That has given me plenty of opportunity to examine how much my attitude affects my everyday performance. On the days that I’m inclined to wallow in self-pity and count all of the things that are currently wrong (and even dredge up ancient history if I can’t find enough evidence in the present), I’m miserable and make very little headway on my goals. All of my energy is being spent fighting my emotions. On the days that I can shake the mood off and just chalk it all up to life, I’m reasonably happy and content.

What I do in Between Trainings Has a Huge Impact

I am one who throws myself into my current passion with abandon. It’s amazing that I can live and function anywhere close to normal.  I keep a blog, I try to write music in my “free time,” I work pretty much year round (I love what I do with the local YMCA in the summer), I garden, I’m active in my church (LDS), and I do what I can to stay connected to the people who are important to me. This past week, I was running between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the days I didn’t work, and would then go home and do as much yard work as I could squeeze in. The afternoon temperatures last week were in the 90’s, and the summer humidity has set in — full force. I often get less than six hours of sleep a night, and it’s normal during the summer for me to eat two meals (or one meal and a snack) during the day. (Fortunately, I was prepared this summer and stocked up on nutrient-dense food.) I switched to lifting for 20-30 minutes and then running: six days a week. My body wasn’t happy, and it let me know. My running performance has suffered, and I’m going to have to back off and rebuild.

I think life tends to be the same. There are times in everyone’s life (including mine) of relative calm and peace. What I choose to do during those periods has a huge impact on how ready I am for the next proverbial storm. On one hand, I can get lax in prayer and scripture study. I can focus on the things that “make me happy.” That would be like not fueling my body well, not getting enough sleep, or making other choices that would leave me weak. The only difference is that one is physical and the other is spiritual. It’s just as harmful, though, to always be looking over my shoulder trying to guess what’s coming and “preparing” for anything. I will be so spiritually and emotionally worn out that I’ll be ready to crumble as soon as things start to get harder. It’s ok to appreciate the calm and peaceful times, and to enjoy them as a gift from God. It really does refresh the soul.



A friend emailed me this week and told me how excited she was for me that I was training for a half-marathon. She said that she learned more about herself during those times of training then at almost any other time in her life. I couldn’t relate until yesterday. Yesterday, I began to understand a lot.