I think I have gotten into trail running because I got tired of grinding endless miles on the pavement for ironman training last year. The scenery is way better than road running. It's also way tougher and harder on your body.
I found that out when I tripped over a tree root, checking out the trail for the Mesquite Canyon Trail run. The run wasn't as bad as the elevation map shows:
However, I found out that (a) you can run as fast and as hard as you can and you will never be as fast as you would on pavement; and (b) you have to work harder for less speed. Not only that, you have to pay attention to where you are putting your feet so that you don't end up sprawled on the ground with a bloody knee or worse.
The first time I checked out this trail, I was blithely unaware of the danger those little rocks on the trail could inflict. I ran a seemingly easy 2 1/2 miles and turned around and tripped on a little pebble in the trail. I got up with a bloody knee. I recovered and ran down a wash that had a lot of soft dirt that had washed down from a rain storm. Sitting in the dirt, waiting to snarl me was an evil root. I caught my foot in it and slammed down hard on my chest. I had the breath knocked out of me and felt rather battered at this point. I finished the run. It turned out that I had bruised my ribs, which meant that everything I did that involved moving including running, coughing, lifting and generally existing really hurt. The pain didn't really abate until the morning of the race.
I decided to run the race hard, but to be relatively cautious, because I really didn't want to fall. Racing this trail seemed a lot harder than training on it. It seemed the faster you go, the harder it was to avoid the rocks. I got a fairly good pace going, but a lot of people were passing me. I got up to my racing heart rate, which usually makes the right side of my chest hurt. My ribs hurt on the left side, so I had bilateral pain. Fun. I stumbled a few times, but I stayed upright. I had to shorten my gait and pick up my knees. It felt like I was dancing on the rocks.
The turn around passed an aid station. Volunteers checked out your number when to came through to keep track of the bodies. I guess they didn't want to leave anybody out in the desert. The trail goes steeply up for a short while, then you come back down.
Coming back, I spotted the evil tree root that I had tripped over the week before. It looked like they had put some dirt over it. By this time my legs were really getting tired and heavy. The last mile and half, there seemed to be only one person in front of me. There weren't any mile markers, so I couldn't tell how much I sucked time-wise, but I was doing the best I could. I stumbled some more, but I stayed upright.
I hit the finish line in 51:56 for the five miles. I wasn't thrilled about the time, but I was about mid-pack and 3/5 in my age group. Trail running isn't about setting personal records anyway. It's about you against yourself and the terrain. It almost seems more like pure running. Instead of spacing out and running as fast as you can, you test yourself as you struggle against the rocks and the dirt and the hills. And when you are getting weak, you can look at the scenery to distract yourself and know that it will hopefully always be there.