Do you know what other people do while you’re out running trails? Some people sleep longer. They roll over and relax into high thread count soft Egyptian cotton. They dream of one day stepping out of the ordinary and exposing themselves to adventure. Sometimes they have the same dream for twenty years without taking one step.

These cheap dreams undermine their ease and so, after more hours of less quality sleep, they wake tired.

Other people watch TV. They see people doing adventurous things in extreme sport programmes which they watch with incredulity. “Who are these people?” they ask, not realising that one lives next door. It would terrify them to discover that another one lives inside their own chest. It would liberate them too. “I’m no Bear Grylls!” they prefer to say.

Yet others exercise in gyms that look like hotel dining rooms. Their personal trainer measures their sweat output so that they know exactly how much organic lettuce they can have with their expensive mineral water.

Only a small percentage of the world’s population exercises outside. Most of these cycle, swim, or run in neatly organised groups in domesticated spaces. More energy is spent on club politics than in actual sporting activity. Supposed to motivate them, it actually depersonalises them.

Same route, same people, same inane conversations and social games. They begin to wonder whether they can exercise alone. “It just isn’t safe!” they tell themselves and each other. Exactly.

Amongst these outdoors exercisers, there is a rare group of people who go outside each day, into natural spaces, to be alone even when they are with others. They expose themselves to the outer elements and to their inner fears in pursuit of authenticity. We carry these genes.

Some cycle on trails and dirty their equipment and themselves. They hose off cleaner than when they started. We commend these seated cousins of ours, and sometimes we join them, but theirs is not our first love.

 Others swim in open water, like a Mr Cohen who was attacked by a shark off Fish Hoek beach. Said shark spotter Monwabisi Sikweyiya, “If he wanted to swim, he swam. We warned him often that he was taking a risk, but he always said ‘If a shark takes me, then blame me, not the shark.” We salute you, Sir.

And then there is this small sampling of sweaty humanity that we belong to. We have little in common but that which drives us, sets us apart and defines us. We have a hunger that we must feed, a deep

thundering undertone that forever calls us out. We run trails.

Some of us wear scientifically adjusted shoes, others wear none. Some prefer long, colourful socks, others wear old little ones with holes in the toes. Some choose running tights, other shorts. Some wear wick-able tops, others run exposed. Some wear peaks, others buffs. Some carry backpacks with hydration bladders, others muddy their knees drinking from streams. Some use sophisticated navigational equipment, others don’t even wear a watch. Some of us run in indigenous forests, others on obscure tracks behind the obvious skin of urban jungles.

But in all of our differences, this one thing unites us – we love getting dirty running trails. We know that it gets us clean.

When we put ourselves onto an untamed piece of the earth and, carry our own weight over the obstacles it presents us, the trail reminds us that we are animals. It reconnects us with what really matters and leaves us feeling alive.

So I appeal to you to guard this precious common love for trail running: keep it clean while you get dirty.


Do no harm

Don’t hurt the earth with litter, or take short cuts that erode. Don’t hurt other people through gossip. Rather consider what it is that this person is mirroring that you need to deal with in yourself (and if you really must belittle others while running, join a r**d club). Lastly, don’t hurt yourself. Allow the earth to receive your pain, fear and anger. Let it remind you that you do belong and don’t have to fight.

Express gratitude

Please understand that you are, indeed, amongst a very privileged group of people. Not only do you know of the incredible gift that is trail running, but you have learned to open it. You are focused enough to prioritise it, entrepreneurial enough to organise it, and physically able to do it. Be grateful on purpose.

Take responsibility

Trail running gives you a precious opportunity to make your tomorrow different from your yesterday. By stimulating your dreaming while feeling your body work in nature, trail running invites you to align your actions with your imagination. When you take responsibility for facing the necessary discomfort today to make your life what you want it to be like tomorrow, yesterday becomes history that does not repeat itself.

Trail running is a simple, difficult sport. It requires that you liberate your body and discipline your soul. It is this dual task that is the real genius of those born into this family.

You are welcome! Sweat well, Friend.

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