How is trail running or becoming a trail runner defined?  Is it by the terrain in which you run?  Is a dirt path trail running while a rocky path is a rock running? Could it be defined by the feeling obtained when running between the trees and under a hammock of leaves without a care in the world? I began exploring when I first felt like a trail runner. When I was confident to speak to the miles, I have put in or the hills I have climbed. 


I first defined trail running by an experience I had over a decade ago hiking up Dog Mountain taking the Augspurger Trail. A friend and I were hiking up, thinking this trail was steep and technical, when a runner skirted past us up the trail. I was equally amazed and in awe as I watched. I looked at Olga, who had the same sentiment as I did regarding the trail, and said, “that is the kind of runner I want to be.” I did not know a difference between road runners (which I did) or trail running (which he was doing), only that people ran in different places.   This story had escaped my lips many times in recent years, especially when someone asked when I began running trails, but this was my first exposure to not running on the road and left a lasting impression. 


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Dog Mountain was not my first trail run; I did not return to Dog Mountain for several years only after I heard of another “crazy’ run there.  Shortly after this experience, I was invited to run in Forest Park as a training run for Hood to Coast.  I lived in the area for 5 years and did not know that Forest Park was there, nor did I think running on the trails would help HTC, but I met my friend regardless at the Leif/Thurman gate and began running. We went up Wild Cherry, turned right on Wildwood, down Dogwood back on Leif. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the sun was shining down through the trees.  It was amazing!  It was fun running down the trail skipping over roots, and having gravity help with the momentum.  I fell in love with Forest Park.  I started running weekly after work, planning my routes and meticulously managing the amount of vert I would get (or not get was the goal!). That was in 2009. 


Hopping over roots on Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood.


I spent the next couple of years exploring Forest Park, bringing friends there to run, playing games with the distance because there were no smartwatches or mile markers. (I had not discovered the markers above the blue diamond until many years later.)  I started making a game out of the hills and locations in the park, depending on how fit I felt.  I would run/hike up to Pittock Mansion; if it was the beginning of the run season, I might run on Leif until I gained my endurance to run hills.  Slowly I was getting more comfortable with the trail system, the dirt beneath my feet, and maneuvering around roots and rocks until one day, my run became a cathartic exercise.


I started to seek out races on trails.  My first trail race was Hagg Lake Mud Runs 25k (2013).  Wow!  Just wow at the amount of mud on the course! What a crazy race, and some people ran the double! (50K followed by a 25k.)  That was the first time I was introduced to the concept of someone running more than 26.2 miles, and they called it ultra running. Ultrarunning was intriguing, but I never once felt after a marathon I could go a step further, much less 5 more miles.  I started exploring other trails in places like Mary S. Young, Timothy Lake Half Marathon and opened my eyes to a new world.  But even at this time, I did not consider myself a trail runner.  I was a road runner who occasionally, sometimes with friends, would run trail races. I didn’t hang out after the race and eat pizza or drink beer. I packed my bag and went home. This style of running went on for years. 


Back at the Hagg Lake 25k again, this time with my friend Robin.


In 2018 I decided to transition solely to trail running.  I was finding trails in hiking blogs and on Facebook.  Taking the directions and descriptions as truth, I began exploring..first was Moulton Falls… the next was Cape Horn… I continued to find trails, slowly expanding my exploration further and further into the Columbia Gorge until I was back at Dog Mountain.  Since my initial hike in 2009, I cannot recall where I read or saw it, but someone had done Double Dog Mountain.  This blew my mind.  I made my way back to Dog Mountain solo and began hiking.  This time I did not take the Augspurger trail but went up one of the two main trails. I slowly hiked up until the summit, then ran down the Augspurger trail, then repeated choosing the less hard trail up. After 9 years after my first run on the trial, I became a trail runner. 


Enjoying Cape Horn with Tia


Leave in the comments how you became a trail runner.