There’s a reason I tend to favor trail running over massing together with a horde of other runners on the road, and it’s a simple one; camaraderie. You can pop open a thesaurus and use whichever word you’d prefer to in its place, but, as the title says, I like this one.
There’s no reason you can’t make friendships on the road, and you may be able to point to people in your current running circle who you met at a road race. But, for me, that’s a no. The crowds and masses send me into a momentary panic as I try to harness the powers of the wallflower that helped me through my school days. On the road, I just want to be done and home.
It’s different for me in the woods. I feel safer on a trail twenty miles away from a road, five miles from an aid station, and ten miles away from the last time my legs actually felt like holding up my body. It’s out here, far outside the typical comfort zone that I find myself overly willing to be comfortable with whomever cares to share a mile or two with me. In these moments I’ll be happy to tell you every hope and fear that has scoured my brain from childhood to now, then ask you if you’d like to share yours. I don’t need to hide out there. I don’t need to be afraid out there.
And that’s where camaraderie comes in. You build trust with someone, someone you may have never met before, and may never see again when you are willing to bare your soul with a smile for no purpose other than to make a friend. Maybe it’s because you know your vulnerable this far out. Maybe the instincts of our ancestors surge forward as the trees close in and the modern world disappears beyond the pack that’s strapped to your back (if you even brought one).
I’ve laughed, cried, screamed, bled, and dined deep in the woods as the world meant nothing beyond getting to the next spot. And although I haven’t done all of them with one person, I’ve shared in each with numerous others (you’ll see someone’s true grit when they start throwing up twenty miles in, breathe deep, then ask you if you’re good).
To be clear, this isn’t everybody’s slice of pie. But I’m not everybody, and I don’t want to try to be. Backwoods trail races are considered large if they have a few hundred runners, compared to the several thousand lined up at start lines on the roads. There’s no denying where the majority of runners find their peace and comfort among others, and I’m not going to try and go after the heart of road running because it serves a great purpose for many. I’m just here to pick off those wallflowers who find themselves pulling inward and getting short of breath as the walls of society close in on them. I’m here to tell you that you are a little weird, you are a little different, and you are a little out of place.
But, if you’re tired of running away from those feelings, and you’re ready to embrace them, come out to find a place among the scattered segments of trail runners smiling their way through the mud and mist, maniacally maneuvering their way toward one another, and the finish line.
Don’t be afraid to get a little dirty, and come join us in the woods.