“I run because I can. When I get tired, I remember those who can’t run, what they would give to have this simple gift I take for granted, and I run harder for them. I know they would do the same for me.” — Unknown
To write about a single run that I’ve had is an oddity for me, and not something I do that often, but occasionally it feels necessary, as in this instance. On a sunny but chilly Friday afternoon, I ventured out to my local trails to go on what was supposed to be a half hour run. I’d be lying if I said my hamstrings weren’t incredibly tight and sore from the deadlifts the night before, but I knew I wanted to run, and have a good one at that.
So there I stood at Pine Grove’s trailhead, taking those first few steps into the woods and feeling excited about the run to come. It’s funny, for as long as I’ve been running now (11 years), I still get giddy when I lace up my shoes. That may sound funny, but I truly believe each run and the ability to even move in such a way is a tremendous gift. On top of that, I feel incredibly grateful to be able to run on beautiful and secluded trails just five minutes from home. I’ve always been more of a trail runner than a road runner. The feeling of actual earth beneath your feet will forever be better to me than the impact of striking the unforgiving concrete.
The run itself was intended to be a longer and thus, slower paced activity. I have a propensity to run faster in settings where I know there are people around. I know it sounds silly, but I do fully admit to wanting to run faster km splits when I know people are watching. It definitely stems my competition days in track and cross country. All of that to say that, when I find myself on trail runs, it’s nice getting out of that mentality and running purely for the sake of it, without being fixated on my pace or on who’s watching.
Venturing south east to start, the first few hundred metres immediately immerse you in the middle of a grove of tall pines and it’s hard not to be happy while running by them. As I began to find my stride, the sun’s warm glow hit me, filtering through the rapidly growing, yet still thin canopies. The woodpeckers were pecking, jays were singing and the forest was teeming with life. This, in stark contrast to its dull, almost lifeless state, just a few weeks ago.
Running past the large pond about a kilometre in, I eventually came across my favourite section of the trail – a gently undulating strip of soft earth sandwiched between the forest’s tallest pines. No matter how many times I ran this route and no matter how tired I may be at this stage of the run, I can’t help but feel elation. The ground is gentle and forgiving, the air smells strongly of sweet pine and the tall trees sway gently in the breeze. The air in your lungs has a different quality to it. The tiredness you’d normally dwell is but an afterthought, not even garnering any attention. The forest is alive. And you feel as alive as ever.
I keep running, reaching the end of my favourite section and for the first time ever, veering to the left into unchartered territory to me. I quickly come across Hawthorne road, which I cross, and immediately find myself in the thick of the forest again. This portion of Pine Grove is different. While the trail, at times, is just as wide as a fire road, the surrounding area feels much more rugged and untouched, as if hardly visited by people.
The paradox in trail running is a funny one. Trails are typically flooded with all sorts of obstacles and features to be cognizant of – gnarled roots, large rocks protruding from the ground, and overhanging branches, among other things. As such, you’re basically required to keep your gaze fixed at the ground ahead of you so as to prevent a fall. At the same time too, trails can take you through some of the most picturesque and beautiful places, which you want to take all in with your eyes. This said, at times, out of necessity I’ll walk or stop my run so I can have a few moments to truly appreciate the natural setting around me.
Reaching a junction, I continue straight, opting for the long way. I was somewhat familiar with this portion as I had recently hiked it with Audrey and Paddington the pup. The last time I was here, parts of the trail were overflowed with mud and water. This time around? Even worse. It evoked memories of my time spent running cross country back in high school, with mud plastering my feet and calves. Jumping across the mud pits had me feeling like I was running steeplechase in track again, and despite my aversion to wanting to get excessively muddy and dirty, it was actually fun. There were instances, however, during which I feared that I’d lose a shoe or two, in mud so thick, it felt like quicksand.
Praying for this swamp-like portion of the trail to end, I finally reached a junction and found myself due east towards Ramsayville road. This route was supposed to take me back to this portion’s trailhead, however, with the rain and strong winds that struck the area lately, I missed the turn and found myself out of the woods, its shade and shelter, and road side on an 80kmh road. Initially, I was a bit disoriented but getting my bearings from the sky and using the compass on my Garmin I found the right way back.
The rest of the run on this portion was smooth sailing, consisting of jumping over fallen trees on the trail and taking in the sights of the many blue jays and other beautiful animals in the area. There was one section of forest in particular that was stunning. Massive conifers lined a section about 300 metres long. Their dark green boughs shaded and cooled the area and the forest seemed almost mystical here. It honestly seemed a bit ethereal to me and I didn’t want this section to end. Oddly and unexpectedly, I came across an old and somewhat decrepit looking house at the end of this trail that unnerved me. Seeing this, I sped up as I didn’t not want to be there anymore.
Back onto the main portion of Pine Grove, I told myself to go for it and complete the full route as my legs were still feeling strong and fresh and blisters had not yet developed.
From this point on the run was uneventful, I took care to control my pace while taking the sights in. I felt vast appreciation for what my body was enabling me to do while also feeling gratitude towards the natural setting I was so lucky to be running in.
Even 10km in as I began to push the pace a bit more, I still felt that euphoria, the feeling that I could go on forever, that I couldn’t be stopped. It was a wonderful feeling and I was giddy with elation. I was free and happy and oh so grateful.
This is why I run.