Victory Stories and Lessons Learned From First-Time Trail Runners

Alison Desir
by Alison Desir
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Victory Stories and Lessons Learned From First-Time Trail Runners

When is the last time you pushed outside of your comfort zone? For members of Harlem Run, a running movement that empowers urban communities to get fit, the answer is easy: last August at the UA Mountain Trail Series event in Killington, Vermont.  

With 30+ members participating and more than 60% of them being first-time trail runners, the group conquered their fears of the unknown and dug deep to find a more powerful version of themselves.  

Here’s what a few members of the Harlem Run movement shared about the experience:

BEING AMBITIOUS PAYS OFF

“I turned 40 this year. And with turning 40, I decided to embark on different journeys through running. I always kept it safe with running road races so when the opportunity to run a mountain race in Killington, Vermont, was presented, I jumped at the prospect of taking on this challenge.  And when it came to choosing a distance, I knew it had to be the 25K because I was in the middle of marathon training and I needed to get in a long run for the weekend. This turned out to be quite ambitious for someone who never did a mountain race.

“Going into this race, my biggest fear was the elevation. Running in New York City, there are not many options to run up in the mountains. Oftentimes, my biggest hill that I have to conquer on a regular basis is Harlem Hill. When I got to Killington and picked up my bib, I saw the mountains. While they were breathtaking in sight, they looked like they would literally take my breath away as I climbed more than 4,000 feet.

“The reality was that this was a hard race. Around mile 12, I fell in the mud. In addition to being caked in mud, the temperature was rising and I was getting fatigued. As I turned the corner, I saw the pink flags for the 10K heading down a hill toward the finish line. I was tempted to quit and go down the hill to the finish line. It took a personal pep talk to get me through the remaining miles. I don’t remember what I told myself, but I pulled myself up by my (figurative) bootstraps and finished the race.”

— KARI ANN 

BUILDING NEW CONFIDENCE

Killington was my first trail race. I signed up for the 5K and went into the woods not knowing what to expect. l made the decision to run without music so l could listen to what nature had to say. The route was nothing l thought it would be and I actually fell midway in the race and hurt my ankle. But l stood up, cleaned the dirt off and kept on running. I crossed the finish line thinking … l am ready for a 10K or maybe more!”

— MAYA

CONQUERING FEARS

“Killington was my first real race ever! I really enjoy the positive aspects of running but just never saw myself signing up for an actual race. One reason I decided to go to Killington was because I knew it would be an adventure — and what an adventure it’s truly was! Spending the weekend in Killington with Harlem Run was like going to camp with all your running buddies. I chose to do the 5K and wasn’t anticipating so many hills; all of my speedwork and stairwork with Harlem Run came in handy. My heart was so full at the end of the race to see my cute little daughters holding signs up saying, ‘Mommy you’re really good at running.’ I cried tears of joy for them being so proud of me and for me conquering my own fears!”

— JANE

PUSHING OUTSIDE MY COMFORT ZONE

“When Harlem Run announced they would be heading to Killington for the UA Mountain Series, it was a no brainer: I knew I wanted to push outside of my comfort zone and try a new experience. The whole weekend brought me back to my youth when I would spend time camping. My biggest fears were slipping on the rocks and encountering unfriendly animals on the trail! Neither of my fears came true — though I did slip a few times. Getting to the top of the mountain was well worth it for the beautiful views.”

— MAX

THE CAMARADERIE (AND BACON)

“I loved the whole experience! From traveling with Harlem Run, sharing snacks and playing road trip games to pass time on the bus, arriving doing our shake-out run through trees just before sunset. Waking up in the cool mountain morning and riding the shuttle with other runners, chattering about strategy and trading tips. Hugging and high-fiving each other luck and then heading off across the the start line!

“Running the 10K was a crazy combination of brutal and fabulous. The trails were lined with flowers and mud, rocks and trees, view after stunning view. The ever-present incline was a gorgeous, breathtaking nightmare! And that bacon! Oh, that woman passing out strips of bacon at the last aid station was my heroine in muddy sneakers. I wanted to hug her, but instead, I shoved that bacon in my mouth and took off running down the incline. Pictures show me smiling as I careened through mud and indeed I was smiling … because of that tasty bacon.

“Crossing that finish line was joyful! Even though I finished last in my group and my time rivaled that of a newborn slug, I was thrilled! I discovered the joy of trail running and will be actively pursuing more opportunities to engage this amazing sport.”
— SARA

NATURE + RUNNING = LOVE

“This was my first mountain trail race and I was inspired to do it because it was a great way to combine two of my loves — nature and running. I also was looking for a race that would be a good challenge for both me and my partner, Gabriel, to do together, for the first time. He’s taller and stronger than I am, and I’m a little faster than him (for now!) but on the trail we were pretty evenly matched. My biggest fear was falling and/or twisting an ankle on the uneven downhills; thankfully neither happened. What I did find was that the race was harder than I expected! I knew there would be some difficult uphills, but I didn’t realize how much I’d have to walk/hike, even at moments on the downhills. But I loved the challenge of the different terrain.

“I can’t wait to do more trail runs in the future! Getting out of NYC with Harlem Run was so much fun. I loved the smaller scale of this race, and the location was just gorgeous.”

LIZZY

FINDING NEW ENERGY

“I grew up running up and down hills and remember how much fun I had doing that. So when my  partner, Lizzy, invited me to do a mountain trail race, it seemed like the perfect fit! To be honest, I was afraid my body wouldn’t be in the condition needed to complete the race. Fortunately, my fears did not come true, and I was able to finish the race feeling good; in fact, I never thought I would have so much energy after the race. The entire experience was amazing, and I personally can’t wait for my next mountain run.”

— GABRIEL

STAYING OPEN MINDED

“Taking on Killington was exactly what I was looking for — something challenging and outside of the norm — but I had many fears. Some of my fears were running related and some were not. I was worried I would fall on the trail. I was not sure if I could finish the course in time. Socially; I was not sure how comfortable I would be with the group. I did not want to be an outcast among them. Who would sit with me on the bus? Who would eat with me? Run with me on the trail? Would someone notice if I fell on the trail? Who would I enjoy down time with? Did the camaraderie continue outside of the Monday Night Runs? Who would be there to cheer for me when I crossed the finish line?

“None of my fears came true. I finished earlier than I expected and did not get injured. The fellow runners were waiting by the finish line and cheered me on as I completed the race. Everyone was always included in all activities. I never felt excluded and had the opportunity to build a personal connection with the other runners. The bus ride was great we played games and the time went by quickly. My fears were an excuse my mind was telling my body.”

— GISELLE

About the Author

Alison Desir
Alison Desir

Passionate about community, mental health and fitness, Alison AKA powderedfeet is an endurance athlete sponsored by Under Armour and a believer that sport has the power to change lives. When Alison isn’t running, she’s working to resolve and speak about issues related to women and girls.

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