By Ellen Miller-Goins
Pioneer Canyon in Red River is my old friend, a path I have run (and walked) ever since I began to run in 1978, my junior year of high school.
Despite having grown up in an outdoorsy, athletic family, I was a wimpy, accident-prone child. I broke my left-arm twice, my right arm once, my left-collarbone twice, my right collarbone once – all before I was out of my teens. This does not include innumerable stitches and trips to get X-rays for what was inevitably nothing more than a twisted knee or a sprained ankle. Once my dad John joked they should just go straight to the A & W to get me a milkshake and skip the hospital – and the X-ray – completely (a smart man, my dad).
I was klutzy, not terribly popular and woefully unathletic the year Questa High School added a track program. A failure at basketball, volleyball and most other sports (OK… I could ski), I thought, ‘Track! I should be good at this. I’m tall.” (Kids are so funny, aren’t they?) I was not a sprinter, hurdler, shot putter, high jumper, long jumper… I elected to do the mile and ½ mile. I was so terrible, my teammates had to walk me around the track after my first race. (Hey, I didn’t come in last and other racers dropped out.)
In the winter while the athletic girls played volleyball and basketball, I ran laps around the gym. When the snow melted, I rejected the track in favor of the dirt roads behind the school that went nowhere but snaked around the high desert terrain.
I ran on the highway only rarely. This turned out to be fortunate the time I huddled by the side of the highway with my dog Jenny while a thunderstorm raged all around me, with simultaneous lightning strikes and thunder claps, until dad and mom picked me up and offered warm clothes and rescue.
Pioneer Canyon was my favorite, though. I was a “trail runner” even though I didn’t know what that was. The Western States Endurance Run, widely considered the first trail running race of the modern age, was in 1977.
So what if this was not the way to become a track and field winner? (The best I ever did was 2nd place in a race that had a competing race the same weekend. My track coach gave me a “Most Improved” award my Senior year.)
I was not cut out to be a great runner… then or now. Now I have the added indignity of running while packing more pounds on my frame than ever before. Now when I run, I am careful to alternate a steady jug with walking. I have a “Zero to 10K” app that measures my time in a slow build-up to actual running. Now I don’t so much run or even jog, I slog. I slog my way up and down Pioneer Canyon listening to Flogging Molly and other zippy tunes while a pleasant, encouraging female chimes in periodically to tell me when to “slow down and walk” or “run.”
Stinging nettle brushes my ankles and I think, “Just don’t touch it, it will go away. Just don’t touch it, it will go away.…” A bit like a mantra.
I stop to pick wild raspberries. Fresh raspberries trump an app every time. I stop to let my dog Yuki drink glacial water from Pioneer Creek. I stop to untangle my headphones from the tree branch that rudely yanked them from my ears. I stop to take in my surroundings, wondering if a smart phone photo can do them justice.
Wikepedia states, “Because of the natural or serene setting, trail running is viewed as a more spiritual activity than roadside running or jogging.” As the wildflowers fade and a chill announces the impending arrival of fall, I think, that’s right, isn’t it? This isn’t about being great, it’s just about being.