I’ve never considered myself a runner. Sure, I’ve been jogging off and on since I was a kid. But that’s because it was a low-commitment form of exercise - 30-60 minutes a day, any weather, any time, and the only technical gear requirement was a pair of running shoes. I knew some people who ran because they loved it. I ran because I thought it was good for my health, but I didn’t love it. That attitude, combined with the monotony and high impact of running on pavement, kept me from enjoying running.
Moving to Walnut Creek changed that. Now I lived within half a mile of the dirt trails that lead to Shell Ridge, at the foot of the mighty Mount Diablo. Suddenly this twin-peaked behemoth, for 10 years visible in the distance from my former hometown, was practically in my backyard. If I stretched my neck, I could see the summit from my living room window. It beckoned me.
Between my passion for hiking and distaste for pavement and cars, it seemed perfectly natural to run on the many surrounding trails. It was sometimes painful at first. I got winded on the hills to the point where I walked up most of them. I had to increase my agility and awareness as I ran, to find sure footing on the rocky and rutted trails. I became intimately acquainted with the clay-based soil so generously spread around Walnut Creek. Rainy days proved perilous as my running shoes gaining four inches in height as the mud clumped up on the bottom. My body wasn’t used to these types of demands.
Within months, I made a few minor adjustments, got into better shape, and felt more comfortable on the trails. I found myself more and more eagerly anticipating my morning run. In the first half mile of my standard loop, I run along sidewalks, against the flow of cars heading downtown or to the highway. I wonder, sometimes bemused, sometimes sad, why I am running to nature and they are all driving away? By the time I hit the dirt, I am alone. My head is clear and at peace. Ideas flow, solutions appear, and I return home with energy and ambition.
My transformation into a runner is complete.
I, like most people, am goal-oriented. Running every morning is wonderful in its own right, but what if I could work up towards something bigger? If forced to do something really difficult, then I would have to improve my training. Most runners aim for a marathon, but 26.2 miles on pavement sounds absolutely miserable. And boring! Since I love trail running, why not enter the Diablo Trails Challenge 50k? It’s right in my backyard, so I can familiarize myself with the route. It raises money (and awareness) for Save Mount Diablo, a non-profit that works to improve all of our lives. The race is held at a perfect time of year - April 21 - when the flowers will be blooming and the grass still green. It’s late enough in spring that there is only a small chance of rain, but early enough in the year that the weather won’t be too hot.
I have the option of running a 5k, 10k, half-marathon or 50k (31 miles). I know from backpacking that I can walk 31 miles in less than 12 hours. So, it seems feasible that I can run that distance (even if I still walk up some of the hills). I’ve never run more than 10 miles before, so this would be a huge personal accomplishment. If I can do this, I’ll also have the bragging rights that I didn’t just run a marathon, I ran an Ultra-Marathon.
Consider this an open invitation to join me on this wonderful challenge. There is still plenty of time to train, if not for the 50k then for the 5k, 10k, or half-marathon. There is still space available for all of the race distances. Help support Save Mount Diablo while at the same time pushing yourself to a new limit.
[Danny Milks has a blog, Trek Together. This is the first article in a short series about racing the Diablo Trails Challenge 50k. The next article will outline some tools and techniques to help you enjoy trail running while preparing you for your own ultra-marathon.]