Forrest Gump’s guide to trail running

I have a confession: I’ve never been a fan of Forrest Gump.

I’ve seen the movie, I love Tom Hanks and I still don’t get it. It’s all right. Judge me. I’m a big girl.

Whatever my personal feelings, there’s no denying its place in cultural references. So, now that I’m about 50 miles into training for the Hyner View Trail Challenge 25K on April 21, I present a guide to distance trail running.

1. You never know

Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. – Forrest Gump

The beauty of trail running is that you never know.

You never know whether that rock you’re about to step on is stable. You never know if you’ve judged the distance over that log correctly until you’re airborne. You never know what it will take to reach the top of that hill without dying. You never know what the next bend in the trail will reveal – a straightaway, a cliff or a mud pit like the one pictured. And despite the numerous times you’ve gone over a trail, you never know when that root will jump up and bite you. See exhibit A.

You never know – but that’s the beauty of it. It’s a risk. But when you reach the end of the trail, you’re covered in mud and scratches and you smell like something the dog rolled in, there’s nothing like it.

At least, I think so.

2. Move on

My Mama always said you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on. – Forrest Gump

Injuries happen when you trail run. They could be minor scratches, a tweaked ankle or bug bites. They could be a knee-exploding ordeal. Again, see exhibit A. Whatever the severity, they happen.

After I wiped out on what should have been an innocuous trail run in 2010, I was close to accepting I might not be able to run anymore. It was same knee I had surgery on three years before, and it was weak. Almost more so than the original rehab.

I recalled the frustrating months in 2007 when my knee swelled up with the merest exertion – and I let that get to me. If it was that hard when I got the treatment I needed, how was I going to beat this?

I let myself wallow. For quite a while, actually. It wasn’t pretty.

But then the doctor told me the MRIs were inconclusive. The only way to know was to start running again. If it got worse, I should come back for a checkup.

I never went back.

Was something physically wrong? Undoubtedly. My left leg’s muscle condition hasn’t been the same since. But a lot of it is mental.

3. It’s all about the shoe

My momma always said you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, where they go, where they’ve been. – Forrest Gump

Let me tell you a story. It’s about a first-time marathoner taking the line at the 2010 Pittsburgh race on a humid morning in May. It’s about a 30-minute downpour that started 10 minutes into the race. And it’s about a blood blister that size of Texas that formed by mile 13.

Gross, but true.

When you run a lot, you get used to the gross, the weird, the crazy. But you should never have to get used to a shoe that doesn’t quite work for you.

I finished the marathon. But only just. I had prepared well, but I hadn’t planned on having shoes that became water-logged weights after a torrential downpour. Even the moleskin I’d preemptively applied to my feet didn’t last.

Last year, I posted I was going to try out minimalist/barefoot running. It was a last-ditch effort to address my knee issues. I figured two major injuries in three years required something – I wasn’t sure what.

Now, I have another problem. My Merrell Pace Gloves may have ruined me for regular running shoes.

As I posted earlier, I experienced muscle soreness I’d never had before, but my knees no longer ached, something I’d accepted as a constant. It took about four or five months to strengthen those muscles and work through the soreness, but it eventually went away.

I’ve also found another benefit: water is fun. At this time of year, as trails open up for the season, it’s wet. Very wet. Once you accept that, it’s a blast – especially with shoes you can throw in the washing machine.

This isn’t to say barefoot running is the only way to take the trails. But know what works for you – and if it isn’t working, find something that does.

4. When in doubt, run

Run, Forrest! Run! – Jenny Curran

I’m no expert. I’m just a rather stubborn person who likes to run.

Are you thinking about starting to run? Do it. Do you run now? Sign up for a 5K, a 10K or a half-marathon. Do you already have some races under your belt? Go for that marathon.

And if you’re really looking for something different, hit the trails. I’m not talking about the smooth, four-car-wide greenways. I’m talking about the twisting and turning single-track trail.

Chances are, you’ll love it.

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