Trail Running For Road Runners: A Humorist’s Take

Trail Running For Road Runners: A Humorist's Take

Six mile cross country run of South Atlantic AAU at College Park (Photo: Library of Congress)

Please welcome my good friend, trail runner and humorist S.H. Carlyle, who is contributing to for the first time! In October 2013, he took over my Twitter feed while I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon with a comedic look at the race. Now he’s back with his take on trail running. I apologize in advance to my Australian friends. Enjoy!

Trail Running: An Introduction

By S.H. Carlyle

If you’re an experienced road runner (which I am not) who knows a great deal about race strategy, pacing, and hi-tech fabrics (which I don’t), then you’ll no doubt be skeptical, but intrigued, about trail running.

Much like NASCAR or Australia, trail running was invented by criminals. Its genesis lies in old cross-country races when runners would attempt to cheat by taking shortcuts through the woods. While many early adopters were mistaken for wild game and shot, the sport soon took hold as a viable and fun alternative to road running.

Trail Running: A Humorist's Introduction

A Fight With a Grizly [sic] Bear, circa 1850-1860 (Library of Congress)

The biggest challenge for road runners moving into trail running is the transition to varied terrain and the difference in ambient variables. As most people know, forests are filled with murderous bears. Note that you do not have to outrun a bear, you simply have to outrun the person next to you, which is why trail running encourages runners to trip fellow competitors and push them down in the case of bear attacks.

As important as the setting is the character of your fellow runners. Trail runners love the outdoors, so you may consider exploiting that fact. If you are caught in a tight race and are unable to shake the runner behind you, reach into your pocket and start throwing garbage around. Plastic wrappers, bits of rubber: anything offensive to nature lovers. Your pursuer will be torn between the race and the preservation of the forest and will often stop to collect your detritus. You will also have the added benefit of experiencing the rush of excitement that comes with littering.

While you’re considering strategy, you may also consider how you are going to deal with all the ghosts you run into. Ghosts are a big part of the trail running experience. They enjoy haunting the woods because of the fresh air and heightened sense of terror. While the ghosts can’t hurt you directly, they can startle you, causing you to, say, fall off a cliff or run into a tree. The best approach is to treat them like Australians: pretend they’re not there and run for your life.

Trail Running: A Humorist's Introduction

Animal Locomotion by Eadweard Muybridge, circa 1887 (Library of Congress)

Unlike road running where you’re running past crowds of encouraging spectators and flashers, a trail race is only punctuated by the panting of your fellow runners and the screams of bear/ghost victims. You need to learn how to draw energy from your surroundings. When you feel yourself flagging, imagine the trees are cheering you on, holding up their branches in support of you. You should also load up on amphetamines before the race as trail running organizers are fairly lax about drug testing.

As with every new sport, it takes time to develop your own style and comfort with trail running. Whether you fashion yourself a pusher or a screamer or a pant pooper/thrower, you’ll eventually settle on the mode that makes you feel most comfortable. Just remember the most important thing: your life is in danger.

S.H. Carlyle


S.H. Carlyle is a humor writer whose work has been featured on McSweeneys Internet Tendency, American Public Medias The Dinner Party Download, and various other places. He likes running then vomiting then running some more. Follow him on Twitter at @HouseOfCarlyle.


10 2014

8 Comments Add Yours ↓

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  1. 1

    LOL. Very funny.

    I read somewhere that Ashtanga yoga was for criminals too.
    Elle recently posted..Ask RouletteMy Profile

  2. 3

    I was a big fan of Mr. Carlyle’s work during your Toronto Marathon and this certainly did not disappoint!

    And now that I work at an environmental conservation non-profit I have to say I found the “littering” section hysterical! I mean seriously, I literally agonize over putting things in the trash at work, I feel like I have to run through a checklist: can this be reused? recycled? composted? can I write on the back of it or use it as toilet paper in an emergency situation?? If I can answer no to all of those questions then, and only then, can I put it in the trash without worrying someone is going to give me the evil eye!
    Danielle recently posted..A New York State of Panic.My Profile

  3. 5

    This is GREAT! Although since I can’t out run anyone, I’m a goner when I bump into that bear. And ummm, I’d be running towards Australians…come on they’re hot and ACCENTS! :)

  4. 7

    I accept your apology. No murderous bears down here! Just angry boxing kangaroos (famous for selecting as opponents, trail runners with American accents). So watch out when competing in down-under trail races – if the roos don’t get you, the brown snakes or venomous spiders certainly will 😉
    Ewen recently posted..The Coffee Club Melbourne 10kMy Profile

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