Hurtling through trees and bouncing off rocks: a slow journey to becoming a trail runner (sort of)

The most active part of my childhood was probably from age 9 to 12. I competed for a very short time at tennis, which meant lessons on more days than not. I also enjoyed setting out at 7:00 some mornings to run down the road and through the woods before school. Running was a way to let off some steam – things weren’t all perfect at that time – and I found my outlet in getting out and hitting the nearest hill.

I kept running through the early years of secondary school, doing a few miles a week at the school running club and an occasional 800m or 1500m at sports day, but gave it up to try and give my hypermobile (read: weirdly bendy) joints a break.

For the next 11 years, I hiked a lot but didn’t give running much more thought. Then in Autumn 2016, just like years before, I wanted to burn off some energy and get out of my head. I ran once through the woods and loved the freedom and the speed. I kept at it a couple of times a week as leaves reddened, fell and were covered by snow.

I’m not very good, I’ll emphasise that now. But I love it. I love bouncing off rocks and tree stumps, dodging branches, and seeing how fast I can go downhill. I love occasionally escaping work in the late afternoon and heading up Harder Kulm, the local hill. At 1,321m, it just about qualifies as a mountain.

I don’t struggle to motivate myself to run, but I can struggle to do it for the right reasons. I’m quite hard on myself. I can endure a lot of discomfort and push myself to thresholds that are just plain silly to others.

I set the hardest goal then work out how to reach it. Or, I find the most talented person I can and use them as the benchmark of how good I can be (curse you, Strava). Being so competitive is a good way to keep improving, but it can diminish the fun aspect of sport somewhat.

I have most fun on the downhill. I love the speed and the ease of it. While I feel the pressure to improve and feel stronger than before when running uphill, going downhill is just an added extra. The pressure is off and I can relax into it while singing under my breath to whatever I’m listening to. That, plus trying not to trip over tree roots, stumps and rocks, means little headspace for anything other than pure enjoyment.

I’ve been getting stronger, something all too obvious in my calves getting even bigger. But I can live with that. I want to keep enjoying the altitude and feeling thoroughly done afterwards. With its mountains, trails, and beyond beautiful views, Switzerland’s a great place to be for that.

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