I'm an old trail running campaigner. I know lots of jokes about roadies and their injury- obsessed clubs which seem to have more politics and social bullies than parliament. And I regularly ask cyclists if colour co-ordination is compulsory and whether they always exercise sitting down.
I am passionate about trail running and have been for many years. I feel like I was born on the trail and will be very fulfilled to take my last steps on this good earth there (and if I don’t, my daughters know on which path to scatter my ashes).
With selected exceptions, I don’t often take part in “organised trail running” as it is something of an oxymoron to me. I think you’re supposed to get lost.
I stopped running the Puffer when it got on every road runner’s checklist (although I do that route on my own or with a friend on a different day in the year when you don’t have to listen to people discussing ITB, nutrition and other popular running- club-addict topics, and I might do the TufferPuffer again one day).
Doing the Otter Trail in a day lost its appeal when it became a structured event. There was something about the upset khaki- clad bosbewaarder with his 5cm pocket knife that made it more thrilling, I suppose.
Being alone, or with someone really special to me, and not knowing exactly where I’ll go or how long it might take, is all part of what my relationship with the trail is really about. It’s an adventure – physically, emotionally, spiritually.
I’ve learned that things happen when you don’t follow where someone else directs.
Also, I run close to minimalist – I don’t know how to turn a GPS on, generally shun hydration backpacks, seldom wear a shirt, use cheap old shoes, am experimenting with bare-footing, and don’t know why all these hairy grown men are wearing those ridiculous looking Pippi-Langkous stockings in various bright colours.
I tell you all of this because I’ve got a confession to make – I’ve done a couple of long runs with Nordic poles. Now, why would someone as proud a purist as me do that?
I’ll tell you. It started after a small chat I had with an old fella who was doing his
100th 100 miler while I was doing my first. He knew a thing or two. The one was about the weather. The other was about using Nordic poles for trail running and many stats about how much impact they take off your knees, hips and ankles which matter a bit to me because I want to die on the trail, remember, and I’d rather be on my own pins when I do it than in a wheelchair.
There’s no doubt that the poles have added to my trail running experience for longer outings, and I was interested to hear dear Darrell Raubenheimer reprimanding those who arrived without them at this year’s Baviaans Run.
I don’t think that you work any less while trail running with the poles, because more of your body gets involved, but your quads and joints certainly take less strain, especially on long, loose downhills. I have a fairly lightweight pair, with clips rather than twist joints, which have served me really well. With a bit of practice I’ve learned to stow and retrieve them easily and to adjust their settings and how to best use them on different types of terrain with minimal interruption to my ungainly gait.
So, this development in my limited equipment store has got me re-thinking specialised trail shoes and kit, hydration backpacks, navigational aids, compression stockings and even organised events. They all make the experience faster (sometimes a good thing) and / or safer (always an excellent thing). That’s why we use them, I suppose.
Yet, we don’t all use all of them – we pick and choose. But according to what criteria? Hopefully it’s what fits best for you, in your own estimation, and not what your local running club “guru” thinks.
A true trail fanatic (rather than a roadie who is cross-training) carries a particular gene called “Find Your Own Way”. We run trails to get close to ourselves in Nature. That gives us a clear sense of our own personal values – of the things we hold precious and the things we need to avoid at all costs if we are to be true to ourselves.
We’ve learned that discovery begins where definitions end. That is why we trail run!
It’s both an expression of who we are and a means to keep our relationship with our own lives clean.
So, Friend, welcome to the trail, welcome to yourself...