Off these feet (part 4): Tough as trails

You don’t go up to the Sierra Nevada to run on roads. You just don’t. Roads can be found anywhere. Challenging switchback trails through alpine greenery accompanied by bright blue skies, crisp air and just about perfect running temperature — those things you can’t find just anywhere. In Truckee, when you ask about a running route, the locals point you to trails. So this summer I took to the trails, and they chewed me right up.

I was a sea level dweller aspiring to run at 6000+ feet. I was also primarily a road runner. And apparently, unbeknownst to me, I was a green-behind-the-ears hill runner. For someone who lives in a city famous for its hills, I had relatively few hilly miles under my belt. That shortcoming was not tolerated on the North Tahoe trails.

I can safely say that of all my summer escapades, the trail runs were the toughest. Nothing quite made my heart jump out of my chest like a 90-minute trail run. Nothing made me sweat more. Nothing made me feel more dejected than the feeling of going nowhere fast because the ground absorbed all my energy and the rocks begged to throw me off balance with every step. And yet, once the beating was over, nothing made me feel more alive. There is something very primal and spiritual about roaming through nature on foot. No road, no cars, no town. Just you, the ground beneath and the sky above. Add to that the determination required to spring up into a jog when normal walking would be challenging enough. Trail running is hardcore.

If you ever find yourself near Truckee in the summer and are looking for an adventure, check out these runs:

Northstar Mountain Run
10.2k and 2280′ vertical to the top of Mt. Pluto. A religious experience not to be missed. Race takes place each year around mid-August.

2012 NSMR trail 1

NSMR view

Squaw Mountain Run
Same concept as the Northstar one but even steeper — 3.6 miles and 2000′ vertical. I haven’t run this one yet; it’s on my list. Race occurs every year in early August.

Sawtooth Trail
A rock-n-rolling 9-mile single-track loop that gives way to some magnificent ridge-top vistas. It is a mountain biking favorite so look out for wheels. Oodles of rocks and scree and tree roots will ensure you stay alert, not to mention give your stabilization muscles a workout.

Something magical happened to me on those trails. It wasn’t until weeks later after I had already left the mountains that I noticed. I had been beaten down, but lo and behold I was also mended. I had come home with prize as unexpected as a winning lottery ticket.

To be continued in Part 5: Take-home prize

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