Trail running camaraderie (and why it matters)

It’s 7pm on a boiling hot Wednesday.

I’m stood on the uphill start line of a fell race with 100 other people. Dartmoor’s expanse falls away either side, rearing up again to the rocky tors of Little Miss, Great Mis, Great Staple and Roos.

We are counted down 3-2-1 and off we go.

Immediately I know tonight is not my night. Legs are lead. Each step is like moving through drying cement.

I look over my shoulder and see the tail runner, the person responsible for making sure everyone finishes safely, is not far behind. Amusingly, he’s wearing a multi-coloured tutu. (This is not unusual in trail running: in a race, I was once overtaken by a Tyrannosaurus Rex).

I throw a mini-strop and chuck in the towel. Why am I doing this? Why can’t I run? I’m nearly last for goodness sake! I hate running. I’m giving up and taking up yoga. No matter I’ve been swerving the Downward Dog/Cobra/Tree poses for years. Dogs and snakes sleep loads and trees only move if they’re felled, the wind blows or they’re growing.

Yes. I like the thought of minimal movement.

I stop. I petulantly pivot 180-degrees and walk back the way I came.

I meet the tutu-wearing tail runner. I’m giving up, I say.

He suggests we pick a way down to the valley floor where there’s a track back to the start line. It turns out he’s done Snowdonia Trail Marathon. We descend while swapping stories.

We reach the river crossing. Mr Tutu tells me I’m over halfway through and well within race cut-off times, so maybe keep going?

I’m thinking: Hmmm, he may have a point. If I quit now I’d be disappointed. And embarrassed. But mostly disappointed (OK, embarrassed).

And I wonder what the view is like from the ridgeway? I bet it’s good.

Giving in seems less appealing.

I turn off my Garmin, the internal twittering and keep going. It’s lovely. Of course it is! I chat to other runners who are also lovely. Of course they are!

I plod across the finish line, legs heavy but light with the elation trail running provides. My husband and sister-in-law are there with smiles and encouragement. Familiar faces say ‘well done’. A club-mate proffers a piece of cake.

I ask myself again: why am I doing this?

I do it because I love my sport and I value the social support even more.

Trail running is more than just setting a personal best. It’s more than a place to seek glory or adulation – after all, running large swathes of moorland, forested tracks or vertiginous coastal paths usually only tempt the hardiest of spectators.

You do it because you want a decent challenge, a decent trail, decent company, to feel good and make sure others do too. You do it because it’s hard. You do it because it’s fun.

You do it because you’re surrounded by people who are like you and who will look out for you. Some may or may not wear tutus. Some offer hugs, others slabs of homemade cake.

You do it because it’s worth it in the end.

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