It had been some time since I was nervous about a long run, but Saturday morning I woke up with a solid case of butterflies. I had decided to do my long run at a new place with a new group of people with at least half of it on trails. Oh yes. We were pushing out of our comfort zone. Way out of our comfort zone.
Through the magic of Facebook, I was able to connect with someone I know who runs regularly with a group at Bond Lake, a park in Niagara County. She wasn’t going to be there, but she put the word out to the club members to look out for me. Unfortunately everyone was running on the surrounding roads. I really wanted to get in some trail work, so after some initial direction from the group at the visitors center, I started out on the trails by myself.
It was a beautiful day. While temperatures were a bit cool, the sun was bright. The terrain was a bit hilly and I took my time. I focused on the adventure of a new experience rather than my butterflies. Bond Lake was one of the hiking spots of my youth with my father. And now, I was out running on the trails, enjoying being outside and learning a new style of running.
And learn I did, thanks to my running partner, Clyde. He had heard I was coming to run the trails and just missed me at the visitor’s center, but came out to find me. Clyde is an ultra runner and the mentality of most most ultra trail runners does not really concern speed. It’s about endurance and mental toughness and moving forward. Thank goodness. That meant Clyde didn’t care about my pace and one worry was off the table. Soon, I found I didn’t care about my pace either.
We chatted through our 7.25 miles on the trails. Clyde filled me in on the Bond Lake Athletic Club, which meets every Saturday morning to run and hosts an annual RUT Race in August (which stands for “really unpleasant terrain.” ) He told me stories about club events and tales of some of his racing experiences. A runner his entire life, Clyde found the trails didn’t beat him up as much as road running does. And he reiterated how unimportant pace is during a trail run.
We lamented the lack of trail running in Western New York. Buffalo is a 5K town — people like their PRs and beer tents. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, there is so much more to running than just going fast. Trail running is slower than road running and I wondered if that kept people away. Would seeing those slower times freak people out? Does the thought of being “slow” scare people away? Seems plausible. After all, the fear of judgement (both from others and from myself) on my trail running times was part of the reason I was so nervous before Saturday’s run. And I don’t have much road speed to begin with. But as my Garmin buzzed with each passing mile, I didn’t look down to catch the pace. It no loner mattered to me. This run was not a referendum on race day. The Sehgahunda Trail Marathon is coming up quickly, but it’s not today. No today is about, well, enjoying today. And the plan was to run between 13 and 14 miles with a good amount of trail work in a new place with new people. I couldn’t help but smile. I was having too much fun to worry about pace.
I decided my new mantra is this: I may be not be fast but I am fearless. I texted my newfound expression to best bud Hitch, who is speedy and training to do things like stand on podiums and receive awards. His reply? “Fearless is much better than fast. Much better.” It takes a certain amount of fearlessness to go out of my comfort zone and onto the trails. But it takes another type of fearlessness to leave judgments about time and pace behind and instead embrace what’s in front of you. It might be an uneven trail or a hill or a mud pit. After 13.25 miles, I was ready to embrace the next thing in front of me: A stack of blueberry pancakes.