I don't know too many people who haven't lost their way at some point in life. Maybe they were on the right path and got derailed. Maybe they were on the wrong path and just haven't found the right path yet. Sometimes the right path is in front of us and we just can't see it.
I was recently reminded of this about six weeks ago when I went on a grueling trail run with a group of fairly serious runners. I wouldn't consider myself a trail runner, but I had some trail running experience in my distant past. I didn't really know what I was getting myself into when I hit the trail which was probably a good thing.
This run was close to 12 miles which would be no problem on the road, but on the trail (and this trail in particular), it was far from a walk in the park. There's a level of focus and concentration required on the trail that just isn't present on the road. Every footstrike can potentially lead to disaster and on more than a few occasions I came close to wiping out.
As the run progressed, it occurred to me how LONG it had been since I had done any kind of serious trail running. Perhaps it was the marked fatigue in the quads that triggered this thought or the wheezing while running uphill for more than a mile that did it.
In the latter miles, I could already feel soreness creeping into muscle groups that were simply never used on the road. I knew I'd be feeling this run the next day....and probably the following day. Four days later, I was still feeling residual soreness/fatigue. It was as if I had run a marathon.
Clearly, I had taken on something that was totally foreign to my body...or was it? As I spent some quality time foam rolling and rubbing arnica gel on my wrecked legs, I found myself waxing nostalgic. I moved to California (Marin County, specifically) just prior to my junior year of high school. Shortly after arriving in Marin County, I discovered trail running and fell in love with it.
Interestingly, my best year of running was perhaps this first year in California when I was a junior in high school. I won every cross country race I entered with the exception of one which was a real surprise to me as I had only won '1' race in my entire running career prior to moving to California.
My senior year arrived and admittedly, I lost my way to a degree. I wasn't training as much with my cross-country team which meant I was logging miles on my own. I frequently would just log miles on the road rather than trails because it was more convenient.
My final year of racing was pretty lackluster and I found myself losing the passion I once had for the sport. Nearly 20 years later, I realized the lack of trail running may very well have been the reason for a mediocre season.
With these thoughts in mind, I gave myself a couple weeks to heal before hitting the trails again. I felt compelled to give it another shot because I had been so humbled the first time around. This time around, I was wearing shoes better suited for the task. I was sporting a decent headlamp (the beginning of the run requires this). I also knew how taxing this would be.
My second attempt at conquering the beast went much better. The muscle groups I had taxed so much the first time around clearly had adapted and while it had been awhile since they had been used in any substantive way, they vaguely recalled the day nearly two decades ago when they had been called to active duty.
In the weeks following this second attempt, I discovered something interesting. Running on the road was easier. I was running faster with less effort. I felt stronger and more balanced. This revelation triggered another more important revelation that hitting the trails on a more regular basis simply was the answer I had been looking for. It was the right path for me...and perhaps always had been.
There's only one last serious racing goal I have. This goal has been tantalizingly close numerous times, but for a variety of reasons has slipped through my fingers time and again. I take nothing for granted, but I can't help thinking I may have found the answer to achieving this goal...and it was right in front of me the whole time.
The experience of discovering a possible answer to achieving my goal has reminded me once again that achieving any goal in life often requires exploring a multitude of paths. It is those willing to explore the most paths undaunted by failure that will have the best chance of finding the right path.
So, I keep running because the right path is out there..