A new trail runner finds joy in jumping and hopping over roots – Juliet’s Journey

People find it strange when I say that, for me trail running (or running in general) isn’t about “exercising.” In fact I joke often that I actually hate “working out. Trail running is fuel for my soul. It rejuvenates and replenishes my energy. Juliet sums it up well in this week’s blog post when she says movement is “a chance to heal and restore body, mind, and soul” and being in nature gives us “peace and a sense of freedom.” Even as a new trail runner Juliet is already experiencing the transformative impact of trail running.

Juliet at Lake Needwood in Derwood, MD

Tell us about your running journey.

I’ve been a runner for the past 5 years (mainly pavement and roads) and started running on trails a year ago. I found trail running as I was exploring new neighborhoods and routes. My desire to run was sparked by a combination of factors. I listened to David Goggins’ audiobook, Can’t Hurt Me which encourages pushing oneself beyond one’s limits. I’m also inspired by Mirna Valerio and Courtney Dauwalter.

I also started to appreciate the fact that I’m from Kenya, a country of world class marathon runners, and started to think about the fact that I had never challenged myself in this way.

I joined the Montgomery County Road Runners Club and registered for and ran a 5 mile low-key race in January. I was one of a handful of women of color all alone while everyone seemed to know each other. Even though I felt like a fish out of water and unprepared for the unspoken competitive atmosphere, I still ran my fastest, as I struggled to the finish line.

What do you enjoy the most about trail running?

The landscape and the scenery. I always stop to take pictures, and admire and observe trees, plants, root systems, etc. The lessons learned are numerous and unparalleled and I look forward to being in nature each time. Nothing can beat the fresh air, nature sounds, peace, and sense of freedom. Running on the uneven, though soft terrain on trails, is more challenging than running on pavements or roads, however it is great because of lower impact on my joints. It is a fun workout jumping, hopping, and tiptoeing around root systems, stones, hills, puddles and fallen limbs. It is never boring! Each experience on a trail run is different even if I run on the same trail repeatedly.  I use the hashtag #keepmoving on my posts on Instagram and Facebook to encourage others to keep moving however they like to do so. I am living proof that movement is therapeutic. A chance to heal and restore body, mind, and soul.

I was inspired to run more in colder weather in the Fall and Winter – but candidly, the jury is still out on how much cold weather running I will continue to do.  

What’s been the most intimidating aspect of trail running, and how, if at all, have you overcome it?

I love solo runs; however, safety is important to me especially as a woman.  I am very conscious of my surroundings and always on the lookout not only for animals but also cautious of other human beings. I make a point to run when it’s safe or with my husband who has recently been joining me on my runs. On occasion I carry pepper spray and a personal alarm.

Your husband seems to be very supportive of your running, tell me a little more about the impact that his support has had on your running? Was he at any point hesitant?

My husband is very supportive of my running. He loves the outdoors as much as I do, if not more, so it was a no brainer for him to join me. He usually swims and exercises at the gym but with the pandemic, he now runs with me over the weekend. He is a great pacesetter. He runs faster than I do in the beginning, so it challenges me to pick up my pace and catch up with him.  Runs in the neighborhood and on roads are not his preference so when I came home raving about the trails, he was curious and joined me and has been running with me ever since. His support is very valuable to me. We have carved out time to spend together.

As a newer trail runner, what, if anything, would have helped in getting you to try trail running earlier

Access and availability of trail running information and the existence of a trail running community. I did not know trail running was a thing! Where are the trails? Who are the trail runners? Is there trail running etiquette? What do you need to run on trails? I didn’t know about the extensive network of trails. If there were more people in my circle of friends who went on trails, I’d definitely join them sooner. I stumbled on the trails around Brookside Gardens and Lake Needwood and ever since I’ve been curious, and I am still figuring it out. Exploring nearby trails, reading about trail running, and watching videos about trail running.

What’s on your running “bucket list”?  What would you like to accomplish over the next few years related to trail running?

To run as many trails in the DC Metropolitan Area as possible, and in every city or country I visit. I would like to complete longer runs. My longest runs are about  6 or 7 miles. Maybe one day I’ll register for a long trail run.

What’s your favorite trail?

Lake Needwood in Montgomery County, MD! I am biased because it was my first time running on a trail. It is near home, so I run there often. I have a love/hate relationship with Lake Needwood though because those hills can be unforgiving on one day and a piece of cake on another day. I also enjoy running around the Wheaton Regional Park and Brookside Gardens; and on the Matthew Henson Trial, and Rock Creek Trail, some of which have pavement sections, but the scenery is spectacular.

What is your favorite trail running gear and why?

I am still figuring this out! For the summer, I have recently enjoyed running in long loose-fitting shorts. They are the best! For colder weather I have learned the importance of a base layer and not overdressing with heavy layers on top of that. I have not figured out shoes yet either, but I’ve enjoyed running on trails with a Merrell barefoot trail running shoe and Enda Iten (a Kenyan brand). The flip belt is a must have for my short trail runs to carry a couple of belongings and a small bottle of water.

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