I found myself sitting at an outdoor table with a perfectly affable group of folks who had just shared some time running the trails of a wooded ridge in southwest Tulsa when a somewhat familiar feeling began to wash over me.
There were about 10 of us, busily gnawing on burritos and tacos while downing sodas or brews after runs that went anywhere from four to six miles. It was mostly small talk, but it was also the kind of happy conversation that occurs after tackling a challenge outside with friends. Endorphins always make you feel good no matter how dog tired you are.
It’s not like I know these folks that well. I only just started running with them. But they seem like a cool group.
But there is something else to the experience.
I’ve really gotten into trail running lately. The scenery, the difficulty of the routes (not to mention the endless variations of routes) and the absence of things like street lights and pavement invigorate me. Oddly enough, having a post-run meal with people I barely know does not feel that strange.
Last night I figured out why. I concluded there’s a void that local the trail running group helps fill.
Some of my favorite memories are in the hills, struggling with altitude, picking routes on the rock, battling fierce winds. Most of those trips have usually ended with my friends and I partaking in a gorge-fest at a local pizzeria or nearby greasy spoon.
And herein lies my dilemma.
On any given day I’d rather be here:
Or maybe here, doing this:
But the problem is that the vast majority of my life while awake is spent here:
We all have to make a living. Some people love what they do. Some people merely endure it. Most of us are somewhere in between.
But what do you do when you really need that fix, but you’re nowhere close to the place where you can make it happen?
For a while, I just did without. Waited until the next road trip. Stared at photos of mountains and forests and beaches or whatever happened to fit the bill.
But a couple of years ago, I discovered a track that teemed with wildlife, even though it was in the middle of a city. I often ran there alone at dusk. Those experiences got me back into running.
I later moved to a new city and found a whole new trail system, discovering an entirely different experience than what I was used to. I like parks and the streets, but this particular trail system is just wild enough to remind me of the mountain paths I’ve grown to love but see far too seldom these days.
And then I found a trail running group that meets a couple of times a week. Even though I knew no one in the group, I decided to give it a try. They’re all friendly enough, even to a guy like me who is probably the least accomplished runner of the bunch.
Most of my mountain treks have been with other people, so the vibe of a group run followed by a “victory dinner” has a resoundingly familiar ring to it. Like joining some buddies in snarfing slice after slice of pizza after burning 4,000 calories on a Rocky Mountain peak, or chowing on a gut-busting burger after tackling new routes on the rock in the Wichitas.
These trail runs have become a little more interesting in that they help me relive past adventures that seem too distant these days. It’s nice to be able to escape my cubicle life, even if just for a few short hours, to live in a way that reminds me that I’m alive.
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