I spend most of my running time on roads. Last week I was running with a buddy who does all of his on trail, and I was on his stomping ground so we did the trail thing. It is much harder than the smooth flat road and there's definitely no barefooting it, I ran in minimalist trail shoes.
The thing about the trail run is that it's constantly changing. There are hills, rocks, creeks, turns, tree branches, roots. I fell once and tripped about 60 times on each run because I wasn't used to picking up my feet and when you get tired later in the run it's easy to get sloppy. The hills really beat me up, but by the 3rd run I had some strategies in place to keep me moving.
The last run we did was about 3hrs and even though it was harder than most of my runs to date, I look back on it and realize it was really more rewarding than most of my other runs to date as well. I guess this should come as no surprise, that the hardest or longest or most extreme is the most rewarding, but the length or distance isn't what struck me, it's more about how the terrain variety kept me mentally on my toes. There was no spacing out and no relaxing into a steady rhythm, it was all alertness and focus. The rhythm I fell into was less about cadence and the steady beat of my stride, and more about staying alert to the downhills so I could catch my breath and relax a bit, saving up for the big uphills and rougher terrain where I'd have to be really awake.
Uphills when you've been going for a while can tax your will to continue. When I ran the T-Rex 10 miler in July I kept cracking up when I'd get to a hill. On a trail you can hear the people out front and the people behind, but you can't always see them because they are around a bend over on the other side of a rise. On the other hand, when a big hill was coming up I'd hear a series expletives from runners ahead as they came up to it. I'd let one out and then I'd hear the same chain of curses behind me as each runner came to the hill. It was hilarious.
The game I played this time was called "I love hills". Every time I came to one of these technical sections or big hills, I'd crack a big ass smile and chant I love hills, I love hills, over and over until I was at the top. I won't claim it's necessarily true, but looking back at the run this really made a difference. Early on I dreaded the hill. Once I got the game going the hill just passed under me while I played chess with my internal quitter.
Games I intent to play in the future:
-I love to run on hot days
-I love hills
-I love tired legs
-I love tired days
-I love my inner quitter