I am reposting this story today after reading about the teacher in Montana who disappeared on a trail run almost one year ago this week. I am reposting it because I want runners, not just women, to understand that we are not powerless. Yes, running alone can be dangerous and bad things can happen if we drop our guard when out on the trails, but that doesn’t mean we should give up something that brings us such joy. So, I am posting this and asking you to read it, pass it on and keep on running. But I would be irresponsible if I didn’t tell you to take precautions. Let people know where you are going to be. Pick paths that are less secluded. And most importantly trust your gut. If you head down a path and get that little nagging in your belly that says, “Turn around,” do it. There will be other runs and maybe you will feel a little silly for a little while but it is better to feel silly now than to berate yourself later with, “I knew I should haven’t been there. I had a feeling that that was the wrong path today.” Be careful out there but don’t give up the joy. Don’t let anybody take your run from you.
I am a trail runner. Before I even knew there was a name for it, I was a trail runner. The first time I can remember running on a trail I was eight years old. My family had moved out of the city into a trailer park in the country. Other kids would roller skate or ride their bikes around the circle of trailers that was our neighborhood. But not me. Circles were not for me. The minute I saw the trail leading between two trailers into the woods and heard that it lead to an abandoned railroad track and had trails leading off of it into the woods I abandoned my bike and headed into the woods. I remember the other kids warning me about the Maco Ghost and the hermit who lived in the woods. But I wasn’t scared. Somehow I knew I belonged there, running on those trails. I went every chance I was given. I tried to talk my friends into joining me. I found new trails with every run. Some were clear others were not. I would come home pouring sweat, legs covered in blood from the blackberry brambles but I didn’t care. I had found a home. A place I belonged.
Today, thirty two years later, I still love the trails. I can’t resist them. I hunt them out. I am a trail runner even though the warnings are still there.
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Don’t you worry about being attacked?”
“Didn’t you see the sign about copperheads?”
“What if you fall and break a leg?”
I laugh and explain that no, I am not afraid. I have a better chance of wrecking my car on the way to the trail than being hurt on them.
As I have gotten older I have learned to take more precautions. I always carry a cell phone. I go at times when I know a trail is going to be most populated and I let my husband know where I am going to be. But I am not scared.
In a strange way I think this fearlessness was a gift from my mother. Way back then, when I first became a trail runner I was scared. Not of the hermit who lived in the woods or the ghost we all claimed to have seen but of my mother. I was scared every moment of every day, until the day I found those trails. On those trails I found a peace I had never known. I ran into those woods to escape a life of fear. I was running away but I was also running to something. I was running to the athlete I would become. I was running to the beauty life has to offer. I was running to a world of comfort I didn’t have at home.
I run on the trails now for different reasons. I run to let go of the stress of parenthood or to feel my body responding to the ups and downs of the ground. I run to feel my heart beating faster and the burn in my legs. Often, I run just to see what is down a particular trail. Will there be a stream, or a railroad track or a dilapidated house beside a manmade pond? But I never run without a sense of gratitude for the trail and where it has lead me or the gifts of peace it has given me. I am a trail runner and I am not afraid. I am a trail runner and I always will be.
Previously published in Trail Runner Magazine’s eNewsletter, Inside Dirt May 2009