Like most neophytes, I found instant appeal in the terrain, camaraderie, buffet style aid stations, and post race feasts. Trail running has given new meaning to the Once a Runner phrase "trial of miles; miles of trials." I have found the camaraderie that miler John L. Parker Jr. described. "As with shipwreck survivors, hostages and others in dire circumstance, duress fosters familiarity" (11). After sharing so many miles enduring the elements, taxing terrain, and fatigue, trail runners form a bond comparable to those who share a foxhole in battle. This bond is something that transcends age, geography, ethnicity, and social class. It is the kind of bond that forms on the best teams, but it is often what is missing once one graduates to the world of paying bills, putting on weight, and trying to squeeze a run in between work and family time.
|Ryan Bak, Jacob Puzey, & Brad Bogdan|
Photo by Long Run Picture Co.
For example, just this past weekend at the Hagg Lake 50K, with only a few miles to go, a guy who hasn't broken 2:40 in the marathon (Yassine Diboun) passed and almost beat 2:14 marathoner Ryan Bak. To add to the excitement, neither was leading for the first half of the race, but rather Bradley Bogdan, a Boise State Graduate Student with a 30:39 track 10K to his name, took to the trails at a torrid pace. While Ryan and Yassine pursued him, I was left with the realization that the only way I would see them again is if someone BONKED, got injured, or took a wrong turn. (This was not a wish by any means - you don't wish that upon a comrade - but simply a realization based on previous experience that it was certainly possible. Last time I ran with Ryan I was leading and took a wrong turn and last time I ran with Yassine he helped me through a rough patch when I bonked).
|Yassine Diboun worked his way through the mud to eventually overtake the leaders.|
Photo by Kevin Smith
The unique part about the sport, and this band of brothers, is that we each took different paths to get to the same place. Yassine played DIII basketball, Ryan was a DIII XC & Track National Champion, Brad ran for DI Cornell and Boise State, and I was a walk-on at a JC and finished up at a small DII school. Ryan signed with Nike after his marathon debut at CAL International, Yassine is between shoe contracts (but ran for team INOV8), I have a little deal with Brooks (because the high school team I coach is pretty good), and Brad represents Pulse Running and Fitness out of Boise. Each of us works or goes to school full time (or both), yet each weekend the trails beckon and we respond by showing up looking for the opportunity to meet new friends, share a few drinks & laughs, and slug through a long run together. In the interim we prepare for these rendezvous by doing the bulk of our weekly mileage on our own.
|Ryan Bak slogging through the mud en route to victory at the 2012 Hagg Lake 50K|
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama
Trail running has returned the sport to its primal roots. Like Quenton Cassidy, we are relearning that, "It has not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprise the bottoms of training shoes. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials" (210).