- What is up with all this Trail Running?
by Kevin Tither
Trail running is super epic! Trail running at night truly makes me froth! Many people look at me with wondering eyes when I tell them I enjoy this type of running.
I love pushing myself out the door and finding an edge and pushing a little more until there’s almost nothing left. I like these challenges, and their mental and physical aspects are both super charging for my very being!
I started running with my dad and brother when I was about 9. But I had only ran on roads or the track. It was the only kind of running around. I had something in me that had a longing for running long distances. I ran my first 10 Km race as a 9 year old. I got lost and confused in the masses of adults. Then next one I did I was 10 minutes faster and was made a fuss of at the finish line by local media. I wasn’t allowed to do a half marathon. But eagle eyed an out-and-back route in my Dad’s car on a family beach trip and ran the distance solo.
In my late teens I did a summer in the army reserves I spent the summer in the Central Plateau of the North Island in New Zealand, at Waiouru Military Camp. They make you run everywhere! Many of my fellow university recruited troops suffered but I seemed to keep getting stronger. And we were running in a beautiful part of the world few people get access to! I was smitten!
I was still playing rugby but started running longer distances and I began to fall in love. Coaches wanted me to bulk up but I never could. Running too much! I would be told off for being too fit!
Living in New Zealand meant I was always close to nature so even though I was still running roads I would often be running trails too. It was a way to not have people reporting me to the coach they had seen me running! Rough hewed country roadsides with a lot of trees surrounding them. Running those had left me feeling more connected than just running on a road.
I ran my first marathon after wrecking my shoulder playing rugby. I took my arm out of the sling to do it but that wasn’t the greatest idea. I ran watch-less and purely by feel! The first half was 30 minutes faster than the 2nd half. It was painfully hard! But I didn’t run away from the pain. I kept running towards it!
As I started teaching I did not race much but continued running. The headmaster was a brilliant role model and ran for the boys after school. I would do the before school shift.
I left New Zealand in 2002 and moved to teach in a remote village in Japan. Kyushu was beautiful and needed to be explored! And I did! I met snakes (here’s a snake kit I recommend), boar and the believed mythical creature tanuki on runs on trails and roads that maybe no westerner had ever been on!
Indeed the local reaction to my running was intense! I once caused such confusion to one middle aged Japanese driver when he saw me running on the narrow footpath beside the country highway that he drove his car straight into a freshly irrigated rice paddy!
Again I kind of felt I needed to be seen less as I ran so started exploring even more wildly!
I began to spend more time on trails and quickly realized how in tune I felt out there. In my area there were two runners. On snow days I couldn’t see him as he ran in a white tracksuit. My students would squeal with delight when they saw me. On one occasion a 6 year old girl picked all her mums flowers from the garden and gave them to me. I ran for 15 kms through the area not daring to dump them. And feeling embarrassed by the questions for months afterward ‘who I had stolen those flowers for’
This was what I had wanted to feel with running for so long. I could just unplug and go for hours. It was a way to connect to myself, and everything around me.
And the wildlife doesn’t judge me!
I ran Nagano Marathon when I lived there. Again my arm was the sorest body part. But that was because of the thousands of high fives I had received running through the city. So I am not a road running hater.
I moved to Hong Kong and I returned to more road running for the first 3–4 years. I challenged my running in ways I didn’t know I could be challenged. It has made me face truths I didn’t want to face. It’s made me appreciate what I already have instead of wishing for things I didn’t have.
I run because I already love to move my body, not so I can learn to love it. However, i was thrown a curve ball of amazing gravity about 6 weeks before running the Boston Marathon. I was super fit but one morning I woke up in a state of ataxia and half blinded. A neurological event was causing chaos. I was out in a wheelchair and told I likely had MS.
The body I loved was rebelling. I vowed to fight. I did. My first run back was a 400 metres loop of the local track. I fell over 10 times. I again didn’t really like being looked at but my doctor warned me I needed to stay safe and be seen.
After 2–3 months my health stabilised and I started to run trails to get back a semblance of balance. It worked. The episode has given me the appreciation for my body in ways I never thought of before. It’s allowed me to develop a sense of gratitude that is way beyond myself. It has allowed me to be more myself than anything else.
The move up in distance to ultra trail running was all about finding my edge and having a breakthrough; being told a wheelchair was my destination motivated me not to stop but to go further far further than most.
Life is about challenging yourself and getting outside of your comfort zone. For me that means being with myself and tapping into my thoughts. And doing it in epic places!
It’s helped me to be the bravest person I can be – to shift my thinking; and let me tell you when you’re on a trail for over 5 hours you have a lot of time to ponder.
The storyline you carry through life really matters and running long distances makes me deeply understand me. I have learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and it’s in that place where I find my grace, resiliency and creative thoughts. Unequivocally I see life in a whole new trajectory when I run long. The dull becomes colorful. You swing between highs and lows, but you keep on going proving to yourself and others anything is possible.
Running long in foreign lands creates doubts at times but also unlimited joy. It’s pure passion at its finest. A calming magical experience and I would not change any of it for the world.
My time running on the trails is my time to play. It’s never a dull moment! The best recess possible.
I’ll leave you with some words from a fellow runner and magical author Haruki Marukami (link for his excellent book).
Why do you run?
“When I’m running I don’t have to talk and I don’t have to listen!” It’s just me and nature! Go out and get more. Get into nature’s playground.
Happy trails, you extra folks!