Right foot, left foot
I’ve been running for 20 years. I’ve been a marathon runner for 13 of those years. Trail running should be easy for me, right? You just put on your shoes and run on a trail instead of the road. It’s all the same. One foot in front of the other.
Nope. I can’t even describe the level of nope. So much nope. All of the nope.
Every trail run starts the same way for me. I’m geared up and looking instagram fine. I love the trails. I’m eager and ready to go be surrounded by nature. I start running. Within the first mile, I’ve had to check the map 16 times, I already forgot to start my watch, I forgot gum, I’m thinking about the delicious real food that I brought to eat, something that flies and buzzes took a good bite out of me, I twisted my ankle four times, and I think I have to pee. I just cannot shut my brain down. I’ve run .6 miles and I’m pretty sure I’ve been out here all day and good lord how have I not even gone a mile yet?
Every time. It’s like this every single time.
I’m a terrible trail runner. I’m just not naturally good at it. I’m slow and I struggle to keep moving. I like to stop a lot on the trails. I look at things, talk to turtle, and take 100 pictures. I am that kid in class who cannot just put her head down and do the work. I’m over-stimulated. And still, I return week after week to try again. Hoping that each time it will get a little easier. It does. It’s not perfect, but I’ve got a routine down and by the fifth mile, I’m usually ok and settled. It took a lot of work to get to this point. I’m still working on it.
I have trail running friends who lament being forced out onto the road. They find the road painful and boring. I feel like I’m betraying the trails when I get excited about a little road crossing or a few miles on the easy and flat terrain that I crave. I can’t help it. I started on roads and they will always be easier for me. I like to mentally lock in and go. I like to zone out and almost (but not quite) fall asleep at the wheel while I’m running. Sometimes. I am so very jealous of my friends who find the trails easier to run. I truly do. I feel like they are stronger in every way. I want to run trail with that ease.
I’m trying. I’m out there every week. And you know what? It’s getting easier. I’m more joyful on the trails. It makes running feel like less of a chore and more of an adventure. This week, I was forced to run in hard rain, and while it was a total struggle and I had to summon all of my willpower, it was fun. I felt much happier than I would have running in the rain on the roads.
I was glued to my Twitter feed this weekend, following the amazing Courtney Dauwalter’s victory at Western States. She gave an interview and was asked the insipid question, “What’s your secret?” Dauwalter’s response hit a note with me. She responded by revealing that there is no secret. It’s just “right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot” until she found her success. That sounds simplistic, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I expect to be a world class runner if I follow this simple advice, but it’s the most important part of any success. Repetition, practice, consistency. Without this, nothing else matters. You can work hard and have the best plan in the whole world, but you have to implement it. You can’t just sit back thinking about it and dreaming about it. At some point, you have to put one foot in front of the other and just keep chugging along. Success isn’t guaranteed, but if you never put your right foot in front of your left foot, you’ll never know. So I hit the trails. Every weekend. Knowing that it’s hard and knowing that I’m terrible at it and actively failing each week. But it’s getting easier. I’m making progress in that regard, at least. If I do nothing else this training cycle, I’m going to practice “right foot, left foot” until something - anything - clicks.