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Choose Your Adventure

“The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected.… This is the story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained – well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.” – J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

One thing about trail runners: They’re not like the old Bagginses. They have adventures. That was one thing I loved as I started running trails. The sense of adventure. Where does that dirt road lead? What’s on the other side of that hill? I wonder what the view is like from way up there? How far could I go on that singletrack? Well, the trails say, “Come find out.”

In the last issue of Run Utah, I listed a bunch of local trail races. Entering races like those is a great way to get introduced to some of our wonderful local trails, and can be very motivating. But one thing I’ve learned about trail runners is that many of them enjoy “adventure runs” of their own creation just as much as official, organized events. No registration form, no entry fee, no race bib or T-shirt or spectators. Just you and your friends. The wild. Something new and exciting.

One day a few years back, when I was just starting to run trails, a much more experienced trail-running friend shot me an email: “Wanna run a trail marathon this weekend? I’ve mapped out a cloverleaf-shaped four-loop course for just a few of us. It’ll be sort of a ‘fun run.’” I remember thinking how odd it was to see “marathon” and “fun run” appearing in the same sentence. Up until that point in my running life, “marathon” had always meant months of carefully planned workouts for speed, distance, and recovery, with lots of pain and pavement-pounding. But I also remembered that there had been a time, further back, when I couldn’t have conceived of “fun” and “run” appearing in the same sentence, when just that one lap around the junior high track was a dreaded exercise in pain and humiliation. I looked at my friend’s email. A marathon on trails, this weekend? I’d been logging some good miles, but hadn’t followed any official training program or tapered or any of that. “Sure,” I replied. Like Bilbo Baggins, I found myself doing and saying something altogether unexpected.

Early that Saturday a small group of us met up, and after a quick look at a map, headed out on our mini-adventure. My friend’s van, parked at the intersection of the four dirt loops, served as our one “aid station.” The morning air was cool and clear as we moved along. The sunrise slowly changed from purple and gray to bright orange. A few times we heard coyotes howling at us from the desert. Of necessity I took my time, a surprisingly nice change of pace from chasing the clock for some age group placing or Boston Qualifying time. I still hit that inevitable low-energy point around 20 miles, but just in time I pulled in for one last stop at my friend’s van, where I discovered the wonderful bonk-busting effects of Mountain Dew. Finished the course running fast, feeling strong and pain-free, not at all like I usually feel at the end of racing a road marathon.

For me, that was a great little adventure, one that reinforced the great message that running teaches us all: we are capable of much more than we think. (A nod to Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World for that wisdom.)

But it was a small adventure compared to what some trail runners are pulling off. There are amazing, hardcore runners here in Utah who blog about adventures like running across the Grand Canyon from rim to rim (R2R), doing double-crossings of the Grand Canyon (R2R2R), traversing Zion National Park, running the Uintah Highline trail, or bagging repeated ascents of Mt. Timpanogos. Want to read more? Check out these sites, for starters, and browse their blog rolls for even more sources of adventure stories:






From time to time trail runners will throw out an invitation for others to join in one of their loosely-organized fun runs. You might catch word of one of those opportunities for adventure from blogs like these.

The great thing about trails is that whatever your running level, you can create your own adventure. Find a trail, grab some friends, and get out there. You’ll love it. Of course, you’ll want to be safe. There are some “adventures” you don’t want to have, like getting seriously lost or dehydrated or hurt. Just follow a few simple rules. Let people know where you’re going. Study a map or talk to someone who’s been on the trail before. Go with friends. Take water and fuel, and a light if there’s a chance you’ll be out there after dark. In short, be wise. Just don’t be an old Baggins.

For me, with very limited time and many responsibilities in life, I keep it close to home. Thankfully, there are hundreds of miles of trails close to home that I’ve barely begun to explore. My favorites are up Corner Canyon in Draper and along the western slopes of Mt. Timpanogos in Utah Valley. Even a relatively short run on some of these great trails gives me a sense of adventure.

“The Rockies … have the extravagant beauty of youth, the allure of adolescence, and they are mountains to be loved.” – James A. Michener, Centennial

Now go have an adventure.

Mark Ellison has been a runner for over 23 years, ever since the day his college roommate said, “Hey, let’s go run around Kiwanis Park!” In the years since then, he’s run road races from 5K to marathon, duathlons, triathlons, relays, and ultramarathons from 50K to 100K. He says he’s an average runner, although years ago he did win two very poorly-advertised 5Ks. (“It’s all about properly selecting your race,” he advises.) He and his wife Lauren have five children and live in Saratoga Springs, UT. Mark helps lead Saturday morning group runs for the Fleet Feet running store in American Fork: http://www.fleetfeetamerfork.com/

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 17th, 2011 at 5:11 pm and is filed under Trail Running. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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