On Trails


Without trails our sport would not exist. Sure there are road ultras and many “trail” ultras entail portions along fireroads, tow paths, running tracks and, gasp, even pavement. But if you look at the most popular and iconic ultras, they all include some epic trails. So yes, we need them.

But it goes way beyond that.

Trails are vital to my happiness and ability to cope with the world. Trails take me away from the stress of life and into pristine places of natural beauty and wonder. Sure nature can be brutal, but I find peace, harmony and refuge in the wild places that only trails can lead us to –
sanctuary from cars, concrete, development, electronics…and people.

Trails also take me to special places on the inside too. Moving my body and feeling the ground under foot engages my senses – the sights, sounds and smells of nature take me to the primal state of just being a human animal. Traveling under my own power on earth strips away expectations – shoulds, shouldn’ts, worries – and allows me to be truly free and tap into the essence of who I am.

Sometimes after a long run on a remote trail my body becomes one with the trail. The animal inside of me takes over and the running is effortless. At those times my spirit seems to separate and float along above my body. Everything melts away and I’m not even captive to time anymore. I am not religious but these times are the closest I come to experiencing God.

That doesn’t happen when I run on pavement.

Now I am feeling bad for pavement. Pavement, we need you too. And I enjoy running on you as well. But it is different than trail running. Pavement running allows (forces?) me to engage with all that “stuff.” Like achieving goals, pace per mile, splits, PRs, racing myself and others. All that competing is pure and has its place too.

But in the end, maybe the best thing about trails is just knowing that they are there. That however tough things get, there are trails out there that I can take to my happy places. Without them I might just go crazy.

In this issue we shine a light on trails with features about the history and issues facing our public lands, which contain so many of our trails. We also look at trail stewardship and maintenance, which is much more than just an important duty. Trail work can also be incredibly rewarding and fun. If you are moved by this topic as much as we are, let us know what you think about trails and running on them.

May your every run be a great one!


About Author

Karl Hoagland has been the Publisher of UltraRunning Magazine since June, 2013. Hoagland is a former investment banker and hotel entrepreneur, having worked at Goldman Sachs, Montgomery Securities and Larkspur Hotels & Restaurants after graduating from Brown University in 1987. Since running the Quad Dipsea in 2003 Hoagland has been obsessed with ultrarunning and everything about it, especially the community and new friendships he’s made. Karl especially likes to take on challenges and strive for improvement. Ultrarunning is the perfect platform for such endeavors, and his big goals are to encourage others and help the sport grow.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent article Karl. Coming from years of doing trail maintenance, stewardship and volunteer work, I’ve received so much more satisfaction, pride, and joy running the exact trails I’ve worked and run on. I think all runners should feel what that’s like sometime in their life. Thanks again.