Why Trail Running? Because.
Because comes from the Middle English: from the phrase by cause, influenced by Old French par cause de ‘by reason of’
Why? This seems to be the quintessential question we all get asked…
Every ultra-trail runner has heard it.
Why trail run?
Aren’t you afraid of tripping?
Why go so far?
Why would you do that alone?
Why DO that to yourself?
I even ask myself these very same questions. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting on my couch in a pool of anxiety wondering why this weekend I am going to go run 31 miles in the mountains with more elevation gain than I’ve ever attempted in a day, in a race setting with cutoffs and time limits. I mean, I could just go do that myself, at my own pace, with less stress. So why?
Curiosity? Peer pressure? Stupidity? Adventure? Community?
And then with my fingers that have found their way out of that anxiety pool, I start clicking on races that are happening later in the year or looking up routes through the mountains that look intriguing. That 50 miler… what about 100 miles? That route looks fantastic, I could totally go 40 miles in a day unsupported…
I find myself chatting with friends about things like planning a traverse of the Wonderland Trail. “It’s only 93 miles and 22k feet of elevation again! We could do that in three days with some support….” And I start reading blog posts about other people who have done this very same thing. It’s really quite popular.
Why would I do this?
Because I love the mountains, and they feel like home.
They make me feel like I don’t need anything else.
I’m happy when I’m out there.
They fascinate me.
And by learning about them, I learn about myself.
Because I can, and I want to see how far I can go.
I meet incredible humans out there, with this same crazy passion I have.
And of course, because of the views!
What started this spark, that has turned into an ever-present smolder of wonder inside me? I have to consistently feed it to keep it alive. It keeps me alive.
I was raised in a very secluded place in the mountains. When I was really young, I remember being terrified of being outside by myself. I guess that’s normal for a kid, right? That passed quickly as my parents chose to not feed that fear, and instead reassure me that they loved me, they would never let anything happen to me, and it was totally normal to be out in the wilderness for hours on end.
I was homeschooled, so as soon as my homework for the day was complete, I would go outside and explore. I was sheltered in so many ways on that mountain, but I was FREE. I’m still not quite sure how it all worked out, being sheltered and free, but it did. Just because, I guess.
My parents taught me to listen, and to appreciate. “Leave no trace” was our way of life. The wilderness was home, so there was nothing to fear. I was taught to respect, not to be afraid. To this day I’m still so comfortable in the wilderness, I have to remind myself that there are things to fear out there. Or better yet, to respect with the highest level that there is.
I grew up running on deer trails. I’d explore and bushwhack around our property, stumble across a deer trail, and just start running to see where it would take me. I even named the trails. I’d take those little 3×5 notecards, write down a name for the trail, and hang them on the bushes at each trail crossing. Our property was next to tons of forest land, so I literally had over a hundred acres I could explore in my back yard. I learned that land like the back of my hand.
What’s so funny is, I didn’t know that maintained trails for humans existed until I moved to Western Washington as an adult. When I discovered all these trails, all I could think was “Wow, isn’t that cheating?” I remember a friend asking if I wanted to go on a hike… and my first thought was “Oh, go walk through the woods, sure!” We arrived at a trail head, and what came to my mind was “This isn’t hiking! Someone already made a trail here!” Then it hit me. There are trails. Miles and miles and miles of maintained trails that lead through endless mountain ranges, caress lakes, and skirt along streams and rivers.
That’s when I got excited and realized I could run the trails like my heart had been trained to as a child. With awe, wonder, excitement, and passion. I remember the first time I heard a hiker shout “we’ve got a trail runner!” as I was barreling down a trail towards them, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
I didn’t even know that “trail running” was a thing. It made sense to me, but I never expected other people would enjoy running on deer trails also. All of a sudden, I wasn’t the odd one out, and I discovered this whole community at my fingertips that shared this passion, offered support, and had an unconditional love for the mountains.
Trail Running to me resonates with everything I strive to focus on in life. Independence, strength, curiosity, minimalism, adventure, and community.
Those six words right there are for a different blog entry, or maybe even six, but that is why I run. That is what drives me through the mountains, step after breath, breath after step, day after night, until the day my body won’t allow me to anymore. That is my because. What’s yours?