Introducing: Thinking On Your Feet
Pssst, let me tell you a secret. Just by reading this sentence, you’re now part of an exclusive group of runners, one whose number is likely tallied under the total number of Western States 100 winners. You’re one of the lucky few who have stumbled across my first-ever monthly column for the Trails Collective, and I couldn’t be happier that you did!
I’m Vincent Behe (that’s “Bee-hee,” though I’ve heard some more creative interpretations) and I’m a runner from eastern Pennsylvania, affectionately referred to as “Rocksylvania” by local trail veterans–or should I say victims. My obsession started innocently enough back in 2015, when I began using the popular Couch to 5k program as a tool to help me shed weight. It was arduous, sweaty, and miserable. I hated it. I would plod back and forth on small sections of the local rail trail that runs through my hometown of Hellertown, wondering what kind of certifiable maniac would torture themselves like this as a hobby. But as time passed, I began to understand the appeal. I watched my fitness improve marginally but steadily over time; I explored more, pushing further and further out into new trail segments as I upped my mileage; and I discovered a community that was welcoming, supportive, and possessed an infectious enthusiasm, not just for running, but for self-improvement and life.
Despite having close to seven years’ experience now under my belt, I’m still a beginner by most standards. I’ve competed in only a handful of races. I’ve finished just one marathon–the Philadelphia Marathon in 2019. Perhaps the biggest gap in my resume is that–despite my voracious consumption of any and all content related to trail and ultra running, including documentaries, YouTube videos, online publications, and books–I have never toed the line at an ultramarathon. To repurpose a common phrase, my proverbial trail running eyes are bigger than my stomach. Ambitions have been tabled more than once by frustrating injuries, the latest of which–a fractured right navicular bone–I am still recovering from. I think it’s only fair for you to wonder why the hell you should care what I have to say.
My maturation as a trail runner has taken me down some unusual mental and spiritual paths, places I never expected to go. With the generous support and wisdom of friends, I’ve come to realize that it’s not just about the mileage, the vert, crushing the gnarliest trails or having the most epic backcountry adventures. Entertaining these ideas led me down a dark road that staked my identity as a trail runner on the numbers on my watch face. The constant urge to quantify, measure, and compare can be seductive, even as it sours the experience, curdles joy, and takes you out of the present moment. But it taught me the most fundamental of lessons; being a “trail runner” is an experience of the spirit, not of the body. That connection, that feeling of solitude and peace, that feeling of home, or, in the instance of injury, the longing to return–as long as those are burning, that’s all that matters.
Here’s what I want “Thinking on your Feet” to be in three words: Expansive. Reflective. Honest. Much has been written already on how to tame your stomach during 100K jaunts, what exact shoe specs are needed to correct mild overpronation, or why drinking that smoothie 17 minutes and 19 seconds after finishing your long run could make or break your training, and rightly so. These questions define the performance aspect of our sport. But here in my column, I hope to more closely examine what I will call the philosophy of trail running–trail running as it applies to life, and what it can tell us about our own ambitions, insecurities, and humanity. As a self-proclaimed beginner, I don’t want to step too far outside the boundary of my own experience, but I also have no desire to box myself in before exploring a little bit. “Thinking on your Feet” might touch on any number of different topics, from the cultural to the spiritual to the nutritional, but my goal will always remain the same: to help you, the reader, pause and think about trail running in your own life, and hopefully give you something new to take with you on that journey.
So there you have it! If these regular ramblings sound like your cup of tea, I would encourage you to check out my first ever non self-aggrandizing column! “Thinking on your Feet” will be posted the second Monday of each month, if I’m able to stick to a schedule for once in my life. And if you have any feedback (positive or negative! But who am I kidding, I only want to hear the positive), or if you just want to chew the fat, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or to leave a comment. Until next time, I’ll see you on the trails!