Monday, June 11, 2012

Lone Wolf or Wolf Pack on the Trails?

I ran alone for 5 hours of hilly Leavitt Plantation Trails on Friday without seeing another person for the entire time. I kept thinking how lucky I am to live in an area where I can get out into the woods alone and enjoy complete solitude and tranquility. This led me to thinking about how different many of my running friends feel about being alone on the trails. There are some who, when shown a beautiful network of trails, immediately say, "someone has to put on a race here! Why is there no race held here?!" as if showing three hundred runners a single track trail system is going to make it a better place to run. These are the types that can tell you their exact pace and distance and elevation change thanks to GPS, but admit that they didn't notice the Red Fox in the field, the newly felled beaver tree, or  the call of the Raven up in the pines above. As long as they are enjoying what they are doing, it's all good.

There are many who want to run the trails in groups, maybe to help pass the time or distract them from the task at hand. For them trail running is social. Their Blogs and Facebook posts read something like this, "Susan and I talked about the benefits of minimalist shoes for the entire run and it was over before I knew it. I didn't even notice which trails we ran on." And it's competitive for some. They write stuff like "Me and Mark ran stride for stride up the first rise, but Tony caught us on the slight down. Luckily, I had something left at the end and took them both before we got to the summit."  I enjoy reading  and hearing about other people's take on the trail experience.

 Then there is the "safety in numbers" philosophy that a lot of female (and probably a few male) runners and hikers go by. On many occasions in the White Mountains, I have been asked by other hikers on the trail if I was scared to be out there all alone. Two women hiking together on the ever popular Hedgehog Mountain even admitted that they were a little worried with just the two of them together. How sad, they are missing out on something special!  And some people just don't like to do anything alone. How many times have I been out with a group and one woman decides to visit the restroom and one or two others feel they need to keep her company?

I carried those thoughts over to the weekend of mountain biking at the Kingdom Trails. I don't have that same love-to-be-alone feeling on the bike as I do on foot. For one thing, I have a history of getting hurt on the bike, so it's nice to have someone with me. I have ridden alone and enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoy riding with Kevin. I have also done a few group rides on the trails and found them to be quite fun. But mostly I just like to ride with Kevin. There is no need to discuss or debate which trails to ride, we are both flexible and open minded about things like that. There is no competition between us whatsoever. Technical stuff? Kevin might gain quite a bit on me and have to wait at some point down the trail. Crazy fast downhill? He lets it rip, and I tap my brakes the whole way down.  Long up hill near the end of a ride? I might finally have to wait for him. But mostly, we just move along together with a smile.  If there is a rider coming up from behind at a faster speed, we pull over. If we come up from behind on someone who is moving too slow for us, we stop and take a break if there is no easy way to get around. We're pretty relaxed about that stuff, even though we're working pretty hard on some of our rides.

There are a lot of mountain bikers on the Kingdom Trails on the weekends, but there is plenty of room to spread out and find your own space. Strangely, some riders instead chose to chase us down and pass, only to stop for a rest as soon as they get by. Or a group of riders will jump on their bikes and start pedalling as fast as they can when we go by, when they had been taking a break until they saw us coming. Others will crank up their speed (complete with grunts and panting) to avoid being passed. One guy in a flashy roadie jersey chased me down after we passed him on Sunday. I swear he was setting himself up to fight me for first dibs on a narrow long bridge! Crazy stuff, and dangerous. I stopped just before the bridge when I heard him huffing and puffing behind me.  Kevin stopped and let him and his two slower friends go by after he got over the bridge. And guess what? We passed them right back again about a hundred yards down the trail without ever changing our speed or effort. It can be annoying, but I don't think any of those riders are being malicious, they are just having fun in their own ways.

I ran trails for many years before I ever raced trails. I ran tons of road races at all distances and my first Ultras were road Ultras. I still remember when, many years ago, Ultra legend KW asked me why I didn't do trail races. My answer without giving it a thought was, "I don't want to ruin trail running for myself." Well, I've done plenty of trail races since that time and enjoyed them for the most part, but I think on some level I still feel like I did back then. Let's face it, I'm a bit of a lone wolf  on foot(although I don't mind running with the pack on occasion.)  And on the bike I prefer to run alone with my partner. Hoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowl!

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