I was thinking about my last few posts, all of which reference “challenges” and then I started thinking about what I define as a challenge. I want to learn new things, but as I get older and older and older, there are things that just aren’t worth my time. I’m not going to go back to school and get another degree at this point, for example–although I might take some courses if that’s the best way to learn something new.
I do, however, like to find just-barely-accessible challenges. In that spirit, I signed up for the five-race Portland Trail series in Forest Park. The series is run entirely on Forest Park trails–which I wanted to learn more about but have been intimidated by–and it also meant a long hard run once a week for the five consecutive weeks. I always plan to do long hard runs, but really, I kind of wimp out. But I know myself well enough to know that if I pay money for something… I’ll show up.
The challenges of trail running turned out to be both more and less than I thought. More challenging? Staying on my feet. I fell hard and got bruised the first two weeks. You really have to watch where your feet are when you’re running trails. Roots leap up from the base of trees and attempt to catch hold of your shoes. That one moment where you glance up at the gorgeous woods surrounding you… can mean you’re lying in the dirt the next moment. More challenging? Running downhill on steep downhills. I was sure that would be easy, based on my running on the Mt. Tabor trails. I guess those aren’t as steep, or maybe it’s that I go slower when it’s not a race. Downhill is hard.
Less challenging? Showing up. Finishing. The Portland Trail series is well run and the people running it are nice. They welcomed me, the oldest runner most of the weeks, and actively encouraged me. When I said my goal was not to be the last person, they cheered me to my first finish with “you’re not last! you’re not last!”
I’ve learned a lot about trail running in the four races. Watching for roots and low spots is part of it. Learning to go back and forth between a fast walk and a slow run on the uphills is another skill. It turns out that I can walk uphill pretty quickly. Running downhill? It takes a rhythm and a bit of a spring. It helps to know that you can “paperboy” downhill to avoid the high impact on the knees of a straight downhill run. (“Paperboy” is bicycling slang for going back and forth across a hill–as if you’re delivering newspapers–to make an uphill ride easier.) I’ve gotten a lot stronger over the four weeks, too.