“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb
There is a duality to trail running. For all those miles spent alone in the wilderness and often times the dark you manage to find yourself in the company of, and connecting with, some of the most amazing people on Earth. This post is for each of you that I’ve met along the way in my own journey, and for those I’ve yet to meet,and for those I’ve drug along the way. My life is richer because of you.
The only person I knew at the first trail race I ran was my wife, who had both graciously and begrudgingly agreed to come along. Every training run leading up to that morning had been alone. Of the friends I had none were runners. I was still growing into the idea that I was a runner myself. I hadn’t even started running until I was in my 30’s, and only then out of desperation to get my body and health back where I knew it needed to be. It wasn’t until my first trail run that I realized what I viewed then as a loathsome but necessary task could be something more. It wasn’t until after that first race and the first people that I met that I began to realize how much more it could be.
It didn’t take long for the kid that grew up not knowing what social anxiety was but knowing exactly how it felt to figure out that this was a different tribe. The ratios were different. People you didn’t know didn’t treat you like they didn’t know you. The energy was higher. The smiles, the encouragement, the high fives. People being genuinely excited for people they’d never met just because they were doing the damn thing. I knew I had to get more of this.
Soon some of those connections start to grow. More races and more faces. You recognize a face or, *pause*, someone recognizes you. You start going to the same shoe guy long enough and he’s not your shoe guy anymore he’s your friend. Then he’s dragging you up Coosa Bald in June and you’re questioning that friendship most of the run. You go on a group run with people you’ve never met, then you go on another group run and some of those same people are now people you’ve met. You follow each other on Instagram and friend each other on Facebook but the real connecting is happening when you’re slogging out the training miles talking about your struggles in high school. That’s when the magic happens.
I’ve read that the reason children form such easy and lasting friendships is because they are in a time in their lives when they’re going through shared experiences and struggles together for the first time. These new experiences and challenges help weld the bonds of youth, connecting children and young adults in ways that become harder and more difficult as we grow older. The shared experiences and struggles start to dwindle giving us fewer and fewer opportunities to connect in such a way. Trail running is that shared experience, that shared struggle, made very real and tactile. Run Woody Gap to Swinging Bridge with someone and I guarantee regardless of your acquaintance you’ll leave knowing each other on a higher level.
Trail running has changed my life by bringing so many awesome and amazing people into it, but it’s changed it in another way as well. It has helped me deepen and appreciate friendships and relationships I already had. From crewing me at races to hanging out with my kids while I trained I’ve felt the love and support of the people around me in an entirely new way. It’s helped me develop a deeper and more meaningful appreciation for what family and friends can mean, and encouraged and motivated me to want to be a better person for each one. This post couldn’t stand without a special thank you to them. You were there from the start.
That’s all I’ve got. Thanks as always for reading, and to all my friends and family, and especially my trail running family, a major shout out and thank you to you. I go further because of you all. Peace.