The moment I decide to start trail running is around 4:51pm on a Friday, my body tepid from four hours of sleep and sunset crawling over the horizon by the minute. Armed with a muddy pair of tennis shoes and no headlamp, I set off for Griffith Park after work, promising myself that, no matter what, I would not slow my pace below a run for the entirety of the six mile trail.
Steady your breathing; find a rhythm. My insides fill with phlegm, and I find myself hacking up mucus jello and narrowly missing tourists at the observatory as I spit out what feels like a tonsil into the parking lot. It eviscerates my lungs.
I allow myself to devolve into messy animal, monkey mind swirling in obscure thoughts as the pounding of my sneakers begins to settle against the ragged in and out of my breath. “1, 2, 3… crunch, step, crunch,” is all I can focus on to avoid the unbearable feeling that my chest is not large enough to hold all the air my hungry flesh desires.
Ambient light smears its way up the wide ravines and valleys of the hillside, rendering the need for a flashlight almost nonexistent. Lost in the hypnotic rhythm of my feet grinding against moon-drenched gravel, I hit an imperceptible divot and am sent tumbling. It makes me bleed.
I shake myself off, determined to keep my head high and my heart rate up. My palms sting as though exfoliated by iron wool, but I press onward, feeling stronger than ever as I throw my mind back into my breathing and shut out the pain.
As my pulse soars, my overactive imagination begins swimming in fears of redlining or not being able to breathe. Determined to keep the pace at a canter, I hone in on the myriad of tiny things my insides are adjusting to keep me alive and moving forward. The phlegm clears up, my breathing deepens, and my eyes adjust to the cool wash of moonlight rising over the cityscape.
Something about throwing my body into the firestorm of uphill running on uneven ground sends my nerves to war and forces me to surrender in a way I haven’t before. My face contorts as my body struggles to maintain an embarrassingly slow jog up the slanted beginning of the fire road. There are moments when I am tempted to stop and take a breather after cresting the last sprint up a steep slope, but I fling the gravity of my determination out front, praying my body will magnetize to it and keep moving. It feels incredible.
Once my legs readjust to a more even incline, I feel a surge of power commingled with peace, as though my body is an engine finally revving up at the sight of the open road. I smile, breathing a sigh of relief as I float above the rocky path on gnarled soles of rubber.
To run is to sit firmly in the seat of your power, but only after pummeling your organs and your expectations and your ego with the mirror-clear reflection of what your limitations are. Running activates your solar plexus, your source of inner motivation and self-esteem. It shocks your system and forces your body into a new normal with the weight of its fire.
I feel like I have finally found something that will best me on even my most self-destructive days. I am hooked.