It happened on the last climb, seven miles into an eight-mile trail run. That whiff of magic, a wave cresting beneath me, tumblers falling into place.
I’ve been running new trails with new people lately, and frankly they’ve been kicking my butt. Where my runs used to be relatively flat at 3,000 feet above sea level, they now often climb 600 to 1,600 feet over the course of 4 to 10 miles—starting from 5,000 feet. I’m working hard just to keep up, and more than a few times I’ve had to beg off and walk up a steep, rocky, stair-stepping incline.
But this day, five weeks after my first foray into this new running world, I was able to run and converse throughout the run. Facing the final climb of the day—a half mile I had walked up a week earlier—my training buddy offered me the lead, and I kept a steady cadence (if slow pace) as we powered up.
Nearing the top is where it happened. Two women on mountain bikes coming down the trail pulled over to let us pass on the narrow single-track, and I picked it up a bit to get by quickly. My feet flitted across a rough section, I leaped sideways to a solid footplant, one powerful push-off lead to another, steps coming smoothly, instinctively—and suddenly I was flying up the rest of the hill, accelerating effortlessly. I felt like laughing. I did dance.
We maintained the increased rhythm going over the top and down the open slope to the trailhead. The effort returned, but the pace felt right. After, we looked at our GPS splits, and they were solid, but not as impressive as they felt. That was irrelevant: I was able to do something I couldn’t just a few days ago, I had mastered this trail so that I could now dictate the pace and enjoy the ride.
These moments of mastery keep luring me out, run after run, year after year. They can happen on the road, track or trail, but they don’t happen by accident. My little breakthrough on the trail was a direct result of the runs where I struggled, of the mornings I woke still sore from new muscles being worked, of days of feeling blah. As Carl Jung said about dealing with problems, “We wish to hear only of unequivocal results, and completely forget that these results can only be brought about when we have ventured into and emerged again from the darkness.”
Even elites have to go through this darkness en route to growth. In his training log and analysis he shared with us, last year’s 7th-place finisher at the New York City Marathon, Scott Fauble, called this week—15 weeks away from the race but deep into miles—“Still a little blah.”
If you’re feeling blah these days because of new levels of training, take heart—it’s normal. Be patient. Be consistent. Wait for it. A touch of magic is right around the corner.
—Jonathan Beverly, Editor