Before I even knew there was a name for it, I was a trail runner. The first time I can remember running on a trail I was eight years old. My family had moved out of the city into a trailer park in the country. Other kids would roller skate or ride their bikes around the circle of trailers that was our neighborhood. But not me. The minute I saw the trail leading between two trailers into the woods and heard that it led to an old railroad track, I headed for the trail. I remember the other kids warning me about the Maco Ghost and the hermit who lived in the woods. But I wasn’t scared. Somehow I knew I belonged there, running on those trails.
I went every chance I was given. I tried to talk my friends into joining me. I found new trails with every run. I would come home pouring sweat, legs covered in blood from the thorny blackberry brambles. But I didn’t care. I had found a home, a place I belonged.
Today, 32 years later, I still love the trails. I can’t resist running them. I hunt them out. I am a trail runner even though people constantly ask:
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Don’t you worry about being attacked?”
“Didn’t you see the sign about copperheads?”
“What if you fall and break a leg?”
I explain that I have a better chance of wrecking my car on the way to the trail than being hurt on them.
As I have grown older, I have learned to take more precautions. I always carry a cell phone. I go at times when I know a trail is going to be most populated, and I let my husband know where I am going to be. But I am not scared.
In a strange way I think this fearlessness was a gift from my mother. Back then, when I first became a trail runner, I was scared—not of the hermit who lived in the woods or the ghost we all claimed to have seen, but of my mother. I was scared every moment of every day, until I found those trails. On those trails I found a peace I had never known. I ran into those woods to escape a life of fear. I was running away, but I was also running to something. I was running to the athlete I would become. I was running to the beauty life has to offer. I was running to a world of comfort I didn’t have at home.
I run on the trails now for different reasons. I run to let go of the stress of parenthood, or to feel my body responding to the rolling terrain. I run to feel my heart beating faster and the burn in my legs. Often, I run just to see what is down a particular trail. Will there be a stream, or a railroad track, or a dilapidated house beside a manmade pond? But I never run without a sense of gratitude for the trail, where it has led me, and the gifts of peace it has given me.