Mirna "The Mirnavator" Valerio shares an excerpt from her first book.
Are you someone who is afraid to run alone in the woods? I am, sometimes. I always seem to get spooked by some made-for-TV scenario I’ve conjured up in my very creative brain. That said, I love trails and I relish every moment I spend on them—that is, in a race with other people or while trail running with friends.
I’m finding that as I train for what will likely be the longest, most difficult event I’ve ever done the (Trans Rockies Run), that I have to do most of my training on trails if I am to be successful. And much of that training will probably be on my own.
Sure, I have my go-to trails—the ones that are always populated, accessible by foot or a short drive, and fairly easy. There are the ones that are more difficult, though—the ones that may even be near my home, but quickly ascend up a mountainside rendering them relatively remote. These trails may have dizzying switchbacks, or not. They may be technical and somewhat treacherous, or smooth and boulder-free.
Last weekend, I went on an adventure in Pisgah National Forest with some new friends. We met up at a storied trailhead and set off for some tough climbing, 2,400 feet straight up with little respite. It was challenging and beautiful, and the sheer effort it took to keep moving was even spiritually cleansing. We switchbacked, took the peaks and bald head on as the trail sometimes went straight up the side of the mountain.
Here I was, running and hiking these pristine trails with two confident, strong women experienced in these woods; this expansive southern forest in the oldest mountain range in the world. What a luxury it was!
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As we climbed the first few miles, I realized that I would need to spend way more time doing exactly this if I am going to be even remotely successful at Trans Rockies. I also realized that I would have to do a lot of my own difficult trail-training on my own, improving my power hiking, breathing and general ease with being alone in the forest without friends around and without aid stations, medics and race directors to come out and find me when I get injured.
So I’ve decided to do an experiment. Over the next few weeks, I will work on confronting the fear that I have of running and hiking alone in the woods. I’ll run on a variety of trails paying close attention to safety protocols, map reading, what to do if an injury occurs, what to do when encountering wildlife, and how best to take care of myself mentally when I am overcome with fear. I need to do this; I want to do this. I will find a way to be mentally comfortable while I am alone on the trails, and I will share my experiences and any new wisdom I have gained with you over the next few weeks.
Editor’s note: We are always focusing on runner safety on our website, as well as supporting those who run both alone and in groups, and also recommend this article on how to defend yourself if you are attacked on the run.