How Did This Happen?

Have you ever been hiking in the middle of nowhere, or walking through a city thousands of miles away from home, or sitting in a bar with your new-found friends in a foreign country,… or all of the above combined (although I guess it would be a bit rough to find a bar in the middle of nowhere) – and asked yourself:

“How on Earth did this happen?”

And I’m not talking only about going places you have never thought you would ever go to, but about doing things that you would “never ever do”.

I hate running. I don’t use this word that much, I don’t like using it. I usually just say that I “strongly dislike” something. But I want to be real here and so I repeat, I HATE running. But now, please, running addicts, stick with me because this article is going to take one sharp turn (or more, maybe).

I always sucked at running at school (elementary, middle, and high, you name it), I was below average with sprints or 1-kilometer runs, I barely made it through the requirements. Being out of breath and having my ankles and hips killing me with pain wasn’t really pleasant either. It was only later that I learned that my whole lower musculoskeletal system wasn’t exactly in the best shape, pretty messed-up, actually.

But there’s one thing I love. Speed. Since I can remember, I’ve always loved when we drove on a highway (now, “highways” in Czech are something little bit less than parkways in NY and usually pretty broken but the ones in Germany are in a much better shape). I loved riding a horse and feeling the air flowing through my hair. And, even though unbelievably terrified, I love the speed when an aeroplane is taking off.

And it was in 2018 when the totally unexpected happened.

It wasn’t a part of any new year’s resolution. I don’t make these. I think I wrote a short article on why not. If I did, I’ll put the link here.

It wasn’t even planned. I didn’t think about going to run. No way.

But then, slowly, something has changed. I started to run from time to time while walking through San Francisco. Or just walk-skip. Or literally dance through the streets. I started to pick up faster pace during my hikes, allowing my legs to leave walking behind and start doing what they felt like. Sometimes, it meant barely putting one foot in front of the other. But then (sometime around my Christmas trip to Yosemite), more often than that, they started to run.

I can’t exactly pinpoint the point where I ran more than walked. But I can tell exactly when I started to run intentionally. It was when I learned that what I have been doing in the past month or two has, actually, a name. Trail running.

On one Sunday evening in February 2018, an email from REI arrived in my mailbox with the title “Trail Running is the New Double Espresso”.

Monday morning, I found myself borrowing my host dad’s water-and-a-few-necessities-only backpack which hasn’t been used in months, if not years (I have no idea if that thing has any official name but it sits on your back tightly and doesn’t jump up and down when you run like normal backpacks do), getting out of my car at the trailhead and before realizing what was happening, my feet were already passing each other at a steady pace.

I found myself running on the ridge of hills and through a valley filled with shade from redwoods. The air smelled great and the speed felt… amazing. I didn’t push myself, when I was out of breath, I slowed down, when my calves hurt, I stretched them, when my ankles started to protest, I gave them some time to start feeling a bit better again.

Before I knew it, I was back at my car after six miles and feeling just perfect. My heart thumping, my legs all sore, out of breath. But it felt just perfect.

Now, of course, I did not run the whole time. I did take breaks, only walking. I did curse the idea of this whole thing while climbing that horrible hill. Of course, all the problems with my legs weren’t miraculously fixed and it was a hell sometimes, having me have to perform my routine exercise to get them “back on track”. But, after all that, it just felt great.

The next day, I found myself on the trail again. And the day after. The next week started off and continued as the previous one.

Today, after a night full of rain with more rain predicted for the day, I hit another trail. I knew it was going to be all muddy and slippery and that I was probably going to get caught in the next rain shower.

I did curse the idea of going to run once again when my shoes weighed about a ton after all that clay got stuck on them so firmly that I wasn’t able to get it off of them, even with a stick. Or when the strong wind which made my ponytail stick sideways, parallel with the ground, brought a piece of something into my eye. Note to self: bring sunglasses next time even if it’s not sunny.

I’m still figuring stuff out and there is a lot of things I don’t know. I’m doing it just for the enjoyment. And, yes, to prove myself that I can do it, too. Because, after so many years of “You can’t do it” and, after that, “I can’t do it”, I finally see that I can. I just need to find my own way to it and my own pace.

So, now, it’s your turn to go try to do something you “would never ever do”. Maybe you’ll hate it. But there’s this slight chance that you are going to love it. And it would be a shame to be missing out on something you might love, wouldn’t it?

If you hate running like me, maybe I’ll meet you on the starting line of Grand Teton Half Marathon or even The Marin Ultrachallenge, Run, Rabbit, Run or some other ultramarathon race.

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