Given our current tell-all culture, I feel obligated to use this forum to update my status. Graham Averill is in a relationship. Yes, I’m still happily married to my beautiful wife, but there’s another in my life. She’s a small forest at the bottom of my neighborhood with a beautiful little six-mile trail system winding through a hardwood canopy. This is where I sneak off to day after day for 45 minutes of sweating and heavy breathing. I guess in the classic sense, you could call this trail system my mistress. But not the sort of cheap mistress that Americans have. She’s more like the mistress of a French politician. The kind you buy villas for and take to state dinners.
Not only are we in a relationship, but I’ll go a step further and say we’re monogamous. I don’t like to run anywhere else. Sure, I’ve had dalliances with other trails. I lust after exotic singletrack just like any red-blooded American runner. Thin strips of dirt winding sinuously through dank foliage. Rocky, rough tread that rises over bare mountains. I’m tempted by skinnier trails. Trails with foreign accents. I’ve been known to ogle glossy magazine spreads. I’m human. When I travel, I occasionally even find myself lacing up my shoes for a jaunt on other paths, but it’s meaningless. It’s just exercise.
A run on my home system, we’ll call her Betty, is more than exercise. It’s a sacrament, like marriage or a Saturday afternoon of SEC football. And though I may lust after other trails, I find myself loyal as ever to Betty, that lovely mix of singletrack, doubletrack, and paved road connectors that completes me.
Where’s the sense of adventure in running the same trail over and over, you may ask. Where’s the sense of discovery?
I may not be notching conquests in my GPS like some other runners, but devoting my running life to the same system comes with its own sense of adventure.
Peruse our history together: This is the trail where I took my golden retriever running almost every day of his adult life. This is the trail that I ran for two hours, crying the whole time, the day that same dog died. This is the trail I ran the day I heard my wife was pregnant. Then again when I heard we were having two babies instead of just one. This is the trail where I trained for my first ultra. I stashed water bottles in these bushes! It may sound boring, but I know every inch of this trail. I can knock out a winter night run just by the light of the moon. I know what stretches are flat enough for speed. I know I need to conserve a bit of energy for that last road climb back to my house. I know Betty’s secrets, the way I know my wife secretly likes trashy vampire TV shows. I know how long she takes to dry out after a rain (the trail, not my wife). I know where she’s expanding from overuse. I know that bizarre tree sculptures are hidden behind certain bushes. I know on Wednesday afternoons, a strange-but-friendly man does tai chi while listening to Bon Jovi in a corner of the forest. I know if I can run a certain loop in under 30 minutes, I’m in shape. If I have to walk a certain hill, I’ve been watching too much SportsCenter.
It helps that Betty is a kick-ass trail system. Monogamy is a little easier when you’re married to a supermodel who can cook. My “one true run” has a little bit of everything. A couple of miles of easy doubletrack, some super-tight singletrack that twists like an intestine, and steep road climbs connecting it all. There’s even a track near the middle for speed work. Please, don’t think me crass when I say this trail system has curves. But she’s not just about flow. She’s complicated too, with algebraic rock gardens and quick pitches almost too steep to run. Even after years of use, a run there can still be exciting. I typically come out of a run even more devoted to Betty than before. It’s like going to church and coming out more in love with Jesus.
With more than half of marriages ending in divorce, an argument could be made that monogamy doesn’t work. Feel free to discuss that with your significant other. But in trail running, monogamy is necessary. Sure, jumping from one hot piece of dirt to the next sounds fun, but look closer and you’ll see it’s actually just exhausting. You summit new mountains, but where’s the deeper connection?
Runners need familiar ground. We need consistency. Running the same trail over and over establishes a union that goes beyond the superficial, a rhythm that you can tap into when you know the ground so well. What I’m talking about here is understanding. My trail and I have a beautiful rapport, the sort of back and forth you can only find in a committed relationship or an Aaron Sorkin movie.
By all means, play the field. Spend some time experimenting with various trails to see what you like. Be promiscuous. But eventually, choose a partner. Settle down. Find yourself a Betty. Run her over and over. Take care of her, and she’ll take care of you.