I run because I need to. When I don’t run, I don’t feel great. I need the exercise, I need the exhaustion, but most importantly, I need the time alone. I’ve found that I don’t love running with other people. I’ll do it because it makes me better at running and introduces me to new routes and possibilities, but I’m happiest when I run alone.
I run because it feels good. I’m pushing 40 now and my achilles and ankles take a few minutes to warm up. I feel them when I take those first few steps down my driveway. I know that the little aches and pains will go away within 10 minutes. I’ll be just over a mile away from my house by then, and happy to have at least another hour ahead of me. A good run for me takes about an hour and a half. That’s when the little bits of pain start to return, but in different places. I’ll feel it first at the bottom of my feet. My heel will get a dull ache, and then that bony ball below my toes will join the chorus. This is when I know I’ve reached the outer limits of my running fitness. It usually comes after about two hours.
I run because it’s fun to explore. I enjoy not knowing exactly where I’m going. When I discover a new route, I set out in a general direction uphill, figuring that two sides of a ridge must connect to a trail or road somewhere. I’ll consult my Strava app’s heat maps to make sure I have some hope of finding a loop, but once I’m out there I mostly rely on instinct. I did this a month ago, trying to turn the eight miles back from a park where my family took holiday pictures into a twelve-mile mostly trail run. I set on Bollinger Canyon Road, noting that after a few miles it appeared to dead-end into a trailhead. However, a neighbor told me there’s a bunch of No Trespassing signs and some folks who aren’t used to having visitors.
Deciding to trust Google and Strava more than my neighbor, I turned up that road and sweated my way to the end of it. I ran past dirt driveways and gurgling streams, through oak forests and grassy fields. Finally the road ended at a gate and a couple of dirt driveways. I met two guys there who looked at me inquisitively.
“You ran all the way up this road?”
“Yessir. I’m looking for a trail.”
“Well, there ain’t no trail past here.”
I didn’t believe him but I didn’t push it. I ran back down the road, knowing that just on the other side of the ridge to the north I would find the network of trails on my map. When those guys were out of sight, I headed up a dirt driveway and followed it as far up the hill as I could before it turned into a much more private road close to someone’s house. Seeing no semblance of a hiking trail anywhere, I turned around once more and headed back to the main road.
About a quarter of a mile down, I decided to try again. This time it was a fire road that went straight up a steep grassy hillside in exactly the direction I needed to head. I set out, hopped a railing and climbed up to another cattle gate. Beyond it was the ridge, and on the ridge, I saw another trail heading toward the neighborhood of my daughter’s elementary school. I figured I would be able to get back on a road over there.
At the ridge I looked to the north and west. It’s another world. A small ranch and pond, another ridge with a few houses overlooking the valley. Clusters of oak trees and waves of green, flowing grass. I smiled on the inside.
This is why I run.