Mar | 21

How I Got Into Running: The Trail Runner

The trail around Greenlake in Seattle was where I discovered I was a runner.

The trail around Greenlake in Seattle was where I discovered I was a runner. Photo via punkjr on Flickr

March is a great time to get into running. The weather is warming and races are right around the corner. Whether you are gearing up for an upcoming 5k, or starting to train for a half-marathon or marathon, now is the time to begin your journey. Pick up a new pair of shoes, lace up and hit the trails or running routes in your area.

Thinking of all the people starting to run this spring make me reflect on how I first got serious about running four years ago. While I have been active throughout my life–rowing crew in high school and weigh-lifting in college–and have always run short distances for fitness, I never considered myself a runner. It wasn’t until I was 26-years-old that I starting running for the sake of running. My inspiration to put in long miles came from the most of unusual of places: motorcycles.

How I Became a Runner

Inspired by my friend's motorcycle adventure and the move Long Way Round, I found my adventure by running.

Inspired by my friend's motorcycle adventure to Alaska and the movie Long Way Round, I found my adventure by running.

It was September 2007, my buddy Anthony was visiting Seattle, a stopover as he geared up for a motorcycle adventure to Alaska and back. He planned to stay in Seattle for about a week as he ordered more parts for his single-cylinder Buell Blast and prepared for his trip north. As his departure dated neared, Anthony charted out his course through the Canadian Yukon on a huge wall map. It was excited to see Anthony’s Alaskan journey take shape. However, secretly I was envious. I wished I was going on an adventure, especially after watching the motorcycle mini-series The Long Way Round.

On a Sunday afternoon in August when Anthony was out buying the last of his supplies for his trip, I was inspired to head to Greenlake, a popular running route in Seattle. I planned to go for a light jog around the 3-mile loop. While I had run this route before as conditioning for other sports, I had never managed to go beyond three miles. This was, as I had thought, because ‘I’m just not a runner’. I would soon prove this wrong.

As the sky misted a light rain, I laced on a pair of broken gym shoes and started to jog around Greenlake. Slowly I made my way around the trail and tried to enjoy the fresh air as I swung my arms. As I rounding the last turn in the three-mile trail, a thought shot through my head, “maybe I can do another loop or two?“. This could be MY adventure!

One step after another, I made progress. I wasn’t running fast and my feet began to hurt, but I kept going.

At half-way through the second loop, the rain started to let up, and I was happy for the reprieve. This was the farthest I had EVER ran… 3.5 miles, 4, 4.5. I just kept plotting along. To my amazement, I didn’t stop!

As I finished my second loop of Greenlake (six miles!), I realized two things: First,  I felt that I could go farther–that surprisingly, I still had energy to keep jogging.  My second realization was that having not worn real running shoes (this was before I joined Brooks and discovered how to Run Happy), my feet were suffering incredibly.  The middle toe on both of my feet was taking the brunt of the force as each foot slid forward in my crumbling shoes. I guessed that I’d lose my toenails when the day was done, but I didn’t want to stop to check.

Despite the pain in my feet, I kept chugging along. And this little train had more to go.

As I started my third loop of the lake (nine miles), I decided try to run the length of a half marathon, 13.1 miles, or basically four times further than I’d ever run before! That meant two and a quarter more loops around Greenlake, beyond the two I just completed. This was hard, but I was thrilled by the challenge.

Surprising myself, I kept going. Mentally, I kept envisioning the idea of an adventure and chuckled at the idea that we all have opportunities to test ourselves right before us. We just need to set a goal and give it a try.

Soon enough, miles 8, 9 and 10 slipped by, and I was facing my final loop of the lake. Visually I was a mess. My arms were flapping, my nipples were brutally chaffed from my shirt (novice, I know, but this was my first time running for real) and my stride was falling apart into a stumble from one step, to the next.

Making It to 13.1

A photo from a recent run on the Wonderland trail on Mt. Rainier. I never would have guessed I could do before that fateful day at Greenlake.

A photo from a recent run on the Wonderland trail on Mt. Rainier. I never would have guessed that a run around a lake in Seattle four year ago would inspire me to become a trail and road runner.

Luckily, I didn’t stop, and finished the 13.1 miles, just as the sun was coming out from behind a cloud.

I had just ran my first half-marathon, on the same day that I realized I could run. No one noticed my feat (or swollen “feet”), but every atom in my body was firing. I was elated and energized, like I had discovered a winning lottery ticket that had been tucked under a couch for years. I didn’t know that this power existed in me. I discovered that I WAS A RUNNER!

After I got water, I limped to my car, drove home and inspected my wounded feet. Sure enough, the nails on my middle toes were smashed and dark purple. When my friend Anthony got back from his errands, I told him of my bizarre journey.  After looking at my toes, he both congratulated me on my running adventure and questioned my sanity.

While it was a few days before I tried to run again, this first experience taught me that I WAS a runner and that this was something I could do and something I could enjoy. Within a week I picked up a pair of real running shoes. They felt amazing and sparked my passion for running, and later my career with Brooks. I learned that I did not need to take a motorcycle vacation to find adventure. I learned I could find an adventure anywhere I could run.

Wearing a Hanson-Brooks top and pair of Cascadias, this photo was from my second running of the White River 50 Mile Endurance Race. A far call from my days as a runner, looping Greenlake in Seattle.

Wearing a Hanson-Brooks top and a pair of Cascadias, this photo was at the finish of my second running of the White River 50 Mile Endurance Race--a far call from my days as a runner, looping Greenlake in Seattle.

Since that fateful day four years ago, I have trained for and run over 25 races, including half-marathons, marathons, trail races and ultramarathons. Despite thousands of miles run, my passion for this sport has only intensified. My love of making my own adventures, has only grown. Run Happy!

How did you become a runner? Share your story below.

About Joel
I am a runner in Seattle, Washington. When I'm not at work, I enjoy camping, running trail races and exploring the outdoors.