Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Awesome People You Meet on Trail Runs

Trail Runner Magazine threw out a great question for their monthly blog symposium - "Tell about somebody awesome you met through trail running." Honestly, it's hard to recall a single race or long run where I didn't meet someone awesome - it just comes with the territory! I am forever astounded by the personal stories that I hear on the trail, and the humility presented when sharing them. So many peaceful warriors.

Upon reflection, however, there was one trail runner that I met early in my love affair with the sport who forever changed the way I experience the trails. Her name is Sharlene Wills, a 5'1" dynamo in her mid-fifties from Southern California who has tackled 40+ marathons and ultras, and who happens to be blind.

Yup, she's a trail runner who can't see anything.

But as she quickly points out to anyone who asks (and she loves it if you ask - here's an interview I did with her in 2005), she can feel the trail just fine. She smells the flowers, eucalyptus, and pine trees. She hears the roaring river as she runs down the canyon trails, lets the cool water quench her thirst, then lets the sound disappear behind her as she climbs up the other side. She can even tell you what the trail conditions are just by running behind you a few steps, and rarely misses a log that needs to be stepped over. She smiles into the sun ALL THE TIME. She is amazing.

I run the trails with all my senses wide open now. I take lots of stops to listen to the wind, taste the fog, and my hands are constantly reaching out to the moss, ferns, and branches around me. As tempted as I am to say "she really opened my eyes to trail running", the truth is she introduced a whole new world by showing me how to do just the opposite.

You are incredible, Sharlene! Thanks for being an inspiration.

[BTW - I know you are dying to see a picture of Sharlene, but doesn't that defeat the message? Gotcha!]


  1. It is people like Sharlene that remind us how much is possible. Last year I told a guy in a race to "suck it up, buttercup." because he was being such a whiner. My kids thought I was just mean. I thought I was giving him tough love. There are people out there with bigger problems every day. We should count our blessings that we are able to run.

  2. Michael Jimenez6/04/2013 02:33:00 PM

    Cool post :)

  3. Sorry for off-topic commenting, but where did you take your title and site background photos? So beautiful...

    1. No problem! Those photos are both from Woodside, CA. The background photo is in Purissima Redwoods Open Space Preserve on the Ridge Trail, in spring when the flowers are blooming and the marine layer still takes half a day to melt off. The title photo is a bridge in Huddart Park at a place called McGarvey Flat. If you run the Woodside 50k, you will know it as the beginning of the last stretch of uphill at mile 27 (and hear a lot of groaning). It's DEEP in the redwood canopy, and a great place to take a breather.

  4. Awesome story. I'm definitely going to appreciate my surroundings more during outings. I think that sometimes, we ignore the beauty of the outdoors because it gets to be routine.


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