Earlier this week I listened to a podcast in which the hosts were discussing the “Trail Gods”. Though trail runners may have different ways of describing the phenomenon, (the term “Trail Karma” comes to mind), there is no doubt that a certain level of respect is due to the roots, rocks, hills and creatures of the trails if you hope to soak up every bit of joy that they have to offer.
Aside from the occasional scraps of TP that I leave (covered over with leaves, at least 30 feet from the trail!), I’m pretty good about the leave no trace thing. So while I enjoyed listening to the podcast and it’s insights, I didn’t think much about how it affected me.
Then the trail gods reared their ugly heads and delivered an open hand slap to the face.
After volunteering all morning at a club road race this past Saturday, my buddy Joe and I went over to Whitehall for a quick 7 miler. The run went great! We started slowly and chatted about the race a bit, and then as time went on, we picked it up a bit and got some good tempo in. Joe stayed in front the entire time and set a fast finishing pace in the last mile. When we finished, my Garmin read 6.96 miles.
Now, back in the day, I would normally not have let this slide. I’d jog a little more until the watch gave me an even 7 miles. I’ve grown a little as a runner though, and nowadays I don’t worry about those kinds of silly details. HOWEVER, a reading of 7.01 miles today would yield me an official 70 mile week on my Garmin Connect page. An accomplishment I’ve only achieved one other time. So I told Joe I wanted to get the extra few clicks by heading back onto the course for a hundred yards or so. He opted to come with me. Onto what, without a doubt, is the most rooty section of trail on the whole course. When I got my mileage in, I stopped to walk back. Joe looked down at his watch and saw the now HE was the one with 6.96 miles on his garmin. Deciding that he also wanted an even 7 miles, he took off like a shot! The next thing I know, he’s in mid-air about 30 feet down the trail. I could see immediately that this wasn’t one of your normal “no biggie” falls that we see on the trail all of the time. I jogged over and saw that he was in some pretty good pain. A Robin’s egg sized bump already forming near his right eye, and a scratched up, already bloody right arm and shoulder. Fortunately, bumps and bruises were the only injuries sustained, if you don’t count the ego. A seasoned runner himself, Joe walked back to the car feeling pretty silly.
I could literally hear the podcast host saying “Respect the trail, and it will respect you.”
Of course it would be a couple days until I would tell Joe that….
The next day I met up with my buddy Mark to get in some easy miles at Callahan State Forest. As we started out down the section that local trail runners call “The Aquaduct”, I started telling Mark the story from the day before, complete with my thoughts about the podcast. As I was telling him the story, we noticed 4 or 5 deer down in the field grazing. It was particularly cool because the singletrack that we would be taking off of the Aquaduct would lead us straight through the spot where the deer were. We turned onto the singletrack, and feeling like being a little silly, I threw my arms out to the sides and sort of swerved around like an airplane as I approached the deer. Mark was behind me chuckling at my infantile behavior, and the deer scattered into the nearby tree cover. Then, all of a sudden, a scream sounded from behind me. As I spun around, I saw a Mark going down to the ground in what felt like slow motion. One hand on his hamstring, and the other up over his eyes, I had immediate thoughts of some horrific, season ending injury. I turned out that he had rolled his ankle over really hard and that his hand on his hamstring was just an instinct. He was able to stand and walk around a bit, but our run was definitely over.
After yesterday, I couldn’t help wondering if the Trail Gods were reinforcing their lesson. This time punishing someone else for my foolishness with the deer.
Both of my friends are fine, and in fact, we may all run together today, but I think there is definitely a lesson to be learned. Respect the trail, and it will respect you.
I’ll always want to be a little silly and have fun out there, but I’ll keep these lessons in mind.