The first of November is the official end of the trail running season and the first of December is the official start of the Nordic skiing season. November serves as a transition month. (In theory, at least. Depending on the weather, I may find myself running well past the holidays, and I have been Nordic skiing as early as Halloween thanks to a freak ten inch autumnal snow storm.) I am starting my transition activities this November with a look back at the year’s trail running, and have come up with the Ten Universal Laws of Trail Running.

  1. The Law of Relentlessly Increasing Work. Over any given time period or distance, the hills get longer, steeper and more frequent.
  2. The Law of Diminished Recovery. Over any given time period or distance, the flats and especially the downhills get shorter and less frequent.
  3. The Law of Biting Insects.  Over any given time period or distance, biting insects will tend to increase in size, number and aggressiveness. (A corollary is that biting insects will tend to prefer you to your running companions.)
  4. The Laws of Unstable Weather. This is actual a family of laws, most notably:
    • The amount of shade is inversely proportional to the heat and humidity.
    • The amount of wind protection is inversely proportional to the amount of wind. (This is also an important law for Nordic skiers who have long known that the proportion of trail in the shelter of the woods is directly related to temperature and inversely related to wind speed.)
    • The weather where one makes clothing decisions is unrelated to the weather on the trail.
    • The wind will tend to shift to face the runner, except in hot and humid weather when it will tend to stop entirely.
  5. The Laws of Sanitation.
    • The length of the line at the Porta-Potty is directly proportional to your need to use it.
    • The need to use the Porta-Potty is inversely related to its cleanliness or the availability of toilet paper.
    • The need for a bathroom during a run is most intense in high visibility urban and suburban areas and tends to disappear in the woods, except when the trail is crowded or surrounded by poison ivy.
  6. The Laws of Perverse Equipment (LOPE). The variations of this law are nearly infinite, reflecting a nearly unlimited set of equipment options. Some of the most common and distressing include the following:
    • The older and more worn the running shoes, the harder it is to find a pair that fits in a local running store.
    • The more bugs there are, the more likely one is to have brought the empty bottle of bug dope.
    • The closer one is to finishing a race in the top five, the more likely one is to have shoelaces that repeatedly come untied. (There is also a version of this that relates untied shoelaces to the presence and aggressiveness of biting insects.)
    • The hotter and drier it is, the more likely it is that the water bottle will leak or fall out of the fanny pack and be lost.
    • Injury is most likely in areas where cell phone reception is poor or absent.
    • The most important piece of equipment is usually the one that was left at the trailhead by mistake.
    • Leaving sunglasses at home for a late day run in cloudy weather is associated with having the weather suddenly clear during the portions of the run when one is facing west.
  7. The paradoxical relationship between benefits and opportunities. The older one is, or the more that running is essential to managing personal health issues, the harder it is to find time and energy to run and to remain uninjured.
  8. The Calendar Effect. Interesting and exciting events occur on dates when the runner is on call or has other obligations more often than can be explained by chance. It is unclear whether this is an a priori effect (events can sense your schedule and migrate to impossible times) or a post hoc effect (the inability to enter an event enhances its desirability). 
  9. Image Distortion Effect. During the cold winter months the mirror in the bathroom tends to minimize the visibility of fat and sagging. As summer approaches (but too late to serve as an effective warning), the mirror increasingly shows and emphasizes fatty tissue and sagging muscles.

Some items to be noted but not achieving statistical significance include:

  • Lost keys. The likelihood of losing one’s car keys on a run is inversely proportional to the number of people in the area who can give you a ride.
  • Migrating wet spots and trail work. Wet spots and trail maintenance crews tend to migrate to the areas of the trail one runs.
  • Pager timing. The pager is most likely to go off when one is in a hurry to meet someone at the trailhead, or at the place in the trail where phone reception is worst.
  • Law of Large Groups. The larger the group, the less likely one is to find a compatible companion.

Some people with whom I have shared this have commented on its negativity. “What a dark outlook.” “Wow, are you ever the pessimist.” “It’s a good thing you have bad luck or you’d have no luck at all.” “Remind me never to run with you.”

On the contrary. This is indisputable proof of my indestructible optimism. Despite all the potential for problems, I continue to run regularly. What’s more, I continue to love running.


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