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Grounded By Home Trails

Ultra Marathon Blog | Grounded By Home Trails

Written By Michael Moran

I’m not lost.

I’m grinding to the top of a pine-lined logging road, only 2 miles from the trail head and I know exactly where I am. I’m not a thousand miles away, reading an upside down topo map tea stained with sweat, wondering if I have enough water for for this casual 5 miles to turn into some sort of mountain-rescue-fun-time.

I’ll gladly save a mountain summit for another day. Instead of hiking to the top of a climb I had no idea would be so difficult, at an altitude I had no idea could turn my lips to beef jerky and my skin to salted cod, I’ll get to hear the crunch of familiar leaves.

Today, my mind is working through a passage from a book I read over 16 years ago: Njabulo Ndebele’s collection of short stories called “Fools.” You don’t need the context of the story for the lesson:

“You see, when you are improvising you are free. Completely free. But I’m telling you, you’ve got to learn to be free. You’ve got to struggle hard for that freedom. You see, if I can give you this trumpet and say to you: play something, you’ll soon tire of playing anything, because your playing will have no direction. Unlearned freedom frustrates; nothing elevating and lasting ever comes of it.”

I’ll find a turn I know will appear suddenly on my right, which would easily be missed if I didn’t know the shortcut well. It’s just me and this tired old trail I feel I’ve personally maintained with my 190lb frame, beating it down a few times per week, all year long. No pictures need to be taken; no vistas requiring moments of appreciation and a just-right amount of reverence beckon.

Just contemplation and work.

I’ve appreciated these trails quite enough, they’re good. I feel free on these home trails.

“But I’m telling you, you’ve got to learn to be free.”

The passage turns over in my mind. On these trails, I’ve learned how to RUN on trails and how to slow down sometimes. I’ve learned that walking sometimes saves your legs and you will be able to open up and haul ass later. I’ve learned that a mile on a flat trail is different than a mile in the mountains and to respect that difference. I’ve learned that I can be tired and depleted, but somehow come back to full power again later. I’ve learned to drink and eat more than I think I need. I’ve learned about which pain to allow and which pain will end a run: Freedom to explore my limitations.

I’m not lost.

I move slowly from within familiar experience toward its boundary and expand from there. It’s a nautilus shell of growth. I won’t have the freedom of a heart-pounding mountain run without logging many miles on other trails and roads. I’ve had to train hard for years. You’ve got to struggle hard for that freedom.

I can’t just show up at the trail head and expect my body to run incredible vert and distance, over technical terrain, for a whole day. The trail deserves more respect than that.

Unlearned freedom frustrates; nothing elevating and lasting ever comes of it. Running can feel like a guitar solo. The adrenaline, the familiarity, the riff on the melody; It has direction and technique. It isn’t random. It relies on years of training to get into that AC/DC level of shredded lettuce guitar solo.

It’s the same with running.

For me, the magic comes from hundreds of hours on my home trails, doing the same runs over and over, with some variation in distance and approach. That’s the melody. It’s daily work and I never get tired of my trails. I challenge myself to grow sustainably and get stronger here.

I’m earning the freedom to explore the world I travel with my two feet and a strong heart.

We want the glory of the finish line, summit view, or arpeggiod guitar solo, but we need the daily work to get there so we don’t just eat shit and die.

The ability to improvise, with direction and purpose in our lives, on the trails, in our career, and in our relationships stems from the base we create: our home trails. They represent the daily work we put in while we follow our passion. They are a place to meditate and contemplate.

I’ve made it over the pine lined hill and I’m on my way back to the familiar trail head. Other days will be better for exploring the unknown and trying something new, but for now, I’m grounded.

I’m not lost.

Written By Michael Moran

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