Sometimes I see people running on the road, or on a bike path, and I look at them with the sort of face that’s usually reserved for professional bowlers and darts players. That look that says, “I realize what you’re doing probably took you a ridiculous amount of time and effort to master, but, just, why?”
Why would you run on roads when you’re surrounded by perfectly good mountains in literally every direction? Well, actually, I know the answer to that one; after all, I was one of those poor souls for six years in middle and high school, and earlier this summer I relapsed back into a road run one weekend. And I understand the lack of risk, the safety, the utility as a training tool, the convenience of running to and from your front door. But I also absolutely hate it with a burning passion.
I won’t mount a concerted attack on road running here. Honestly, just talking about it makes my knees hurt. But I do know that after being forced to do it for several years in cross-country, after forcing myself to do it for a few more when my freshman 15 bloomed to 30, that while I’m going to be a runner for the rest of my life, I have no desire to eke out any more miles on roads.
My only exception is if there’s a zombie apocalypse and I end up being chased by some sort of bloodthirsty horde. But honestly, even then, I’ll strongly consider just lying down on the yellow line and getting the inevitable over with before I lace up my sneakers to pound pavement.
Life is simply too short to run on roads. It’s also, as my running partner noted last weekend, too short to run when you’re in a really pretty place. There are better things to do in that situation, like wave your arms above your head while screaming, “Holy cow, look at that mountain!”
I’ll let you in on a little secret here: There are plenty of really, really good places to run that aren’t roads and aren’t breathtakingly beautiful. And if you’re smart you can use those running-friendly places to link together the steep and breathtakingly beautiful ones.
Here is a partial list of great places to run:
• Those flat parts of the trail you have to travel to get from the parking lot to the place where you actually feel like you’re in the Tetons, not just staring at their two-dimensional silhouette from the valley.
• Those parts of the trail where the trees are tight and there’s nothing cool to see and you really want to get this part over with so you can go have a beer at the car, or at least see a cool view.
• Those parts of the trail where you’re just running around the alpine lake that looked really cool from the divide above it, but now is really boring in comparison when you’re standing at its level after taking a million pictures of it.
• Any part of the trail where there are bugs, have been bugs or may potentially be bugs in the future.
• Any part of the trail where horses have pooped a lot and left a stretch of stench.
• The parts of the trail where the tourist families are trying to decide if going back without having seen anything cool is a better call than putting up with their complaining offspring for another mile and a half.
• Literally any part of the trail where you would not want to stop and have lunch and talk about how lucky you are to get to do this.
It’s really simple: Running is like a time travel gadget out of a bad straight-to-TV movie: It can make things feel longer, or shorter, and it’s your responsibility to use it wisely in a way that stretches out the good times and compresses the bad ones.
Here are two examples of responsible and irresponsible use of running as a time-travel tool:
• Jogging up Paintbrush Canyon, over the divide and down Cascade. Responsible use. Running in this situation allows you to speed through all the boring bits (all the flat dusty stuff down low), which gives you more time for the good stuff — Surprise Lake anyone?
• Jogging on the treadmill after work. Irresponsible use of running. In this case you are using running to slow down time in an unpleasurable situation: being at the gym. Jogging for five minutes on a treadmill takes the same approximate physiological toll as 18 years of mountain running or an hour of trying to help significant others with their taxes. That time could be better spent doing literally anything else. Even if your anything else involves eating a TV dinner off a TV tray while watching TV. Geez, even road running would be a better call than this.
There you have it. I’m picky about where I run, and I think you should be, too. So if you want to chase me down in your road-worn sneakers, reflective vest, and little blinky visibility light to teach me a lesson, go for it. I’m not running away from you unless we’re on a dirt trail and there’s some sort of mountain vista to be attained.