Rebekah Tonthat on Leading Trail Runs

How did you become a trail run leader and what has your experience been like?

I started running with CHRC around December or November. I met a CHRC member at the Staten Island Half, and I thought it would be a good idea to check out runs with different groups. CHRC had one of the most “friendly” schedules for me (7:45 Tuesday stamina night, 11 am Sunday trail run) that felt like I could still have a life and not be rushing to or from work.

I started doing the trail runs, led by Josh, Kay, James, and Joey. Everyone was super welcoming. And of course, Joey’s Wild Bill impression is an unforgettable experience.

I had absolutely no intention of becoming a trail leader. I remember in my early days that there was no set trail leader one Sunday and I showed up at the same time as a couple of brand new people, who all looked at me expectantly. I immediately regretted disclosing any prior knowledge of the run or of CHRC, as they took it for granted that if I knew the course (I didn’t) and would lead the way. I ran off, quite literally, and felt sort of bad… but not as bad as I would have had I led a pack of runners in circles in the woods.

Over time, I became more comfortable with the paths off the main loop. One day I was talking to Liz Marvin about trail running and I offered to put my name down, as I noticed there were a couple of trail runs that had no leaders. I figured that I would be running on Sundays solo anyways–why not with company? I’m not the fastest runner, which worried me, but I figured at the very least, that some people would stick together and some would split up. Without Facebook, it was my way of saying, ‘I’ll be here, if anyone wants to show up’.

A real eye-opener was how much time, work, and dedication goes into organizing these runs on a consistent schedule (which is something I really appreciate!). The CHRC group has made it as easy as possible to be a leader, from checking in about whether I’m still willing to lead after a day of inclement weather, to posting on Facebook for me. As someone who is social media free, I appreciate their tolerance for my quirks.

What’s different about the trail runs?

The Lookout Hill stair repeats. I love running the trails, with or without people. But there’s something special about a light rain or fresh dew, when it’s misty out and the trees are green and you’re leaping up these broken stone stairs that feel endless, that always makes me feel like “Eye of the Tiger” is playing.

It’s also good to mix it up, and I like that this strength training aspect (which you can opt into or out of!) is a part of the trail runs. On a recent trail run, a very nice, if bemused, family gave us a spontaneous ovation on our second round of stairs.

Why should I go trail running?

Because being out in nature is amazing! There’s a small family of (friendly-ish) black squirrels that live by Bartel Pritchards, which are always an exciting sighting.

I personally find trail running to be a little easier on some minor injuries and it’s always an interesting physical puzzle to navigate around obstacles. Mentally, it’s more stimulating and relaxing for me to get into the rhythm of things and really feel in touch with the park. It’s always been a great, welcoming and friendly group of people.

What if I trip and fall?

Fear on technical paths is a real thing, especially in certain races or on new terrain. I still pause when scaling or moving down steep slopes. I have a better sense now of how the ground is going to react, but that bit of hesitation can really hold you back! James Bennett once told me that it was easier to do it quickly and let your body make the decisions for you while I was clinging to some rocks on a hillside– great advice in the moment that I’m *still* completely unable to follow.

Anything you’d like to share with potential trail runners?

Let me know what you’d like to do. I’m always open to new routes, more stairs, or even an extended trail run.

Please know: my greatest fear is losing you. All paces welcome–I’m happy to take it at any speed (except really, really fast. Josh, just go ahead.)

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