Becoming a tougher runner

Today I achieved something massive. It was a huge step forward in my running and I’m still a little bit in shock that I did it. It’s something that a year ago would have had me turning back along the path, but today I faced my fears and attacked it head on – and then made it out the other side.

I ran through a puddle.

This wasn’t some tiny pool of water, this was a puddle big enough that I couldn’t tell how deep it got in the middle. It had completely submerged the path and everything surrounding it. My route went straight through the middle of this puddle and if I wanted to keep going, I had no option but to run through the middle of it. Terrifying.

Now believe me, I stood at the edge of this puddle for a good few minutes trying to figure out if there was another way. Could I pick my way through the water-logged greenery on either side? Not really any better. Could turned around and find another route which may have landed me further down the path? Possibly, but I didn’t trust my navigation for that one. The only option was through.


The puddle of DOOM

The puddle got me thinking about how trail running turns you tougher runner. For most of my running life I’ve stuck to the roads, even while my friends started turning their attentions to the trails and lamented about how much better it was off the tarmac. It’s easier to run on roads, there are less hills, and there is definitely a lot less mud!

But slowly over my time in London I found myself getting off-road more and more. Firstly at cross-country, which went from horrible to kinda-fun in the space of nine months. Then I signed up for a trail race and had an absolute blast. Now I’m training for an ultra-marathon and trail running is a regular staple in my week.

Trail running teaches you to be tough because it’s not easy. The paths are not smooth tarmac but riddled with stones, twigs and leaves. They constantly change underfoot which means that you have to be more agile in your running. Sometimes you’ll need to suddenly jump a rock or log, or take a step sideways to miss an awkward footing. The very motion of running becomes less consistent/monotonous on the trails because you need to be alert and respond to your conditions.

Next, you’ll very rarely be running on a flat section of path for long. Trails undulate naturally and you can’t avoid it. There are times when the only option is up a ridiculously steep and rocky climb. Very often you won’t even be able to run these sections. Other times the downhill is so steep that you have to slow down – or learn to throw caution to the wind and trust that you will place your feet well. I’m still learning to have confidence in my strength on the trails, but it is growing with each run.

And then there’s the mud. It’s an inevitable part of going off-road, and cannot be avoided. Sure, you can try and pick your way around it but, as with the puddle, often the only way is straight through. With a decent pair of grip-y trail shoes you shouldn’t fall down (too often), and even if you do – it’s just mud! Everything can be cleaned again, although I’ve long given up on my shoes 😂

I’ve found this new, ‘tougher’ attitude learned on the trails has helped me in other aspects of my training. While I might complain when it rains during a run, I still go out and do the session even though I know it won’t be pleasant. Just as mud can be cleaned, skin is waterproof. I’ve also found that I now view hills as a ‘fun challenge’ rather than an evil slog. Who knew that would ever happen!

And then there was that puddle. Sure, I’m not quite at the point of just charging ahead without a second thought, but you know what? I did it. I splashed my feet through the freezing water and mixed in with the feeling of disgust was a beaming pride. Here I was, having conquered another challenge in my life. Go me!

And then I ran off and squelched through forest mud for another while.

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