Trail run – 1, Johnson – 0


It started out like this…

I awoke one Saturday morning in September, rolled over, grabbed my phone, and checked the Crossfit workout of the day.

“I ain’t doing that shit,” I believe were my first words of the day.

I’m not proud of the language nor do I condone my poor use of grammar. One eye was still closed and clinging to sleep.

Here’s the deal. There are some things I believe I’ve earned in life due solely to longevity, and one of those is the guilt-free right to decide NOT to do a Crossfit WOD based on what’s programmed.

I admit it. Somedays, I just ain’t gonna do that shit.

So I brazenly announced to my do-gooder wife, Holly, that I would forego the WOD in favor of a trail run — my first ever — at Percy Warner Park in Nashville. (I invited her to join me, but she hasn’t earned quite as many guilt-free years as me, so she opted for the WOD.)

An hour later, I dropped Holly off at Crossfit Barefoot and drove away, slumped down in the seat with the bill of my cap pulled over my eyes.  I headed toward Belle Meade.

It was one of those perfect late summer mornings that draws the pretty people of West Nashville out of their palaces the same way that salt pulls moisture out of a country ham. Belle Meade Boulevard appeared to be the setting of a 5K charity race, but in fact, there was just that many people out running. The four-lane road ended at the spectacular Percy Warner Park, and there were roughly 48,000 BMWs, Mercedes, Saabs, Cadillac SUVs, and Jaguars crowded into every available parking space. I timidly turned my un-Belle Meade-like Nissan minivan into a nearby grass overflow lot. I parked between two gleaming late-model vehicles and could feel them refusing to fraternize with my utilitarian van as I walked away.

All around, people were pushing strollers, stretching, and checking their Garmin GPS watches. Matching outfits abounded as groups of 40-something women chattered in pink groups. It looked like a Lululemon factory had exploded.

I asked someone where to find the trailhead,  and they pointed up massive hill adorned with stone steps, like some Mayan ruin. This, I decided with the brashness of a true Crossfitter, would be my warmup. I’ll just jog up those steps.

I made it up about 20 steps and decided that was enough warm up. I was warm. I casually walked the rest of the way up, trying to conceal my gasping as Lululemon women passed me going the other direction.

I reached the top, caught my breath, and was told that the 2.5-mile “white” trail began just through the woods.  Two-and-a-half miles? I though to myself.  P-shaw!  That ain’t nothin’!  I routinely run 5Ks.  I do WODs that would give an Olympian the nervous poops.

The first part of the trail was fairly level and I took off with vim and verve.  I was running — no, bounding — through the woods like some wild thing.  This is great!  Birds sang in the lush canopy as my shoes padded along the trail.  I zipped past some people who were merely walking, nodding hello with the smugness of a true Crossfitter.  I felt like Daniel Day-Lewis in “Last of the Mohicans,” flying through the primeval forest in pursuit of some whitetail buck or, perhaps, the dastardly Red Coats.  The wind whipped through my flowing locks (across my bald head) as I lept over fallen logs and across stone outcroppings like some woodland ghost.

That was the first 30 yards.

Me, the first 30 yards.

Me, the first 30 yards.

Then the trail angled up sharply and my fantasy took on a decidedly different feel. See, in my limited running experience, I’ve ALWAYS been on table-top level pavement. Now, I was navigating roots, rocks, and branches, and running up a hill so steep, I expected to encounter Sherpas and empty oxygen canisters.  Out of sheer stubbornness along with the fact that the walkers I’d passed a little ways back were now gaining on me as they strolled and conversed, I managed to run (if you can call it that) to the top without stopping.

That was the next 30 yards.

To put some distance between myself and the walkers, I took advantage of a severe downward slope to dash ahead, but soon realized that running down was only slightly better than running up.  I careened down the path, nearly launching myself off the trail and into the underbrush like an 18-wheeler that had lost its brakes.  It began to dawn on me that I hadn’t laced my shoes tight enough, and my toes were banging against the end of my shoes.  Sweat poured into my eyes and I struggled to see my feet.  I became aware of a strange, high-pitched wailing — like that of a goat — escaping my mouth as I stumbled along.

Instead of Daniel Day-Lewis, now I was Jerry Lewis, hands splayed out wildly,  knees knocking, and making weird vocalizations.

At the bottom of the hill, I paused for a breather, hands on knees.  That’s OK, I gasped to myself. You’re 47. You can’t be expected to…

Suddenly, light footsteps approached.  I looked up to see a gray-haired man probably in his mid-50s fly down the trail, say a perfectly calm “Good Morning!” to me, and dash past.  He was shirtless and built like some impossible Greek statue.


I chased after him in mad determination.  We were again on level ground and I kept him in my sights.  I was actually gaining on him.  I wasn’t going to let this geezer outdo Johnson the Fire-Breather!  And then, a steep, rocky slope appeared ahead of us, and I watched in horror as The Geezer actually increased his speed and sprang up the hill, leaping roots and fallen trees, and sped away.

Remember when Wiley Coyote almost had the Roadrunner in his grasp, only to see his ultimate goal disappear away in a fiery blur?  Remember how Wiley’s slack lower jaw fell to the ground in astonishment?

... and ended up like this.

… and ended up like this.

That was pretty much me.

Some 20 minutes later, I completed the loop. The walkers had long since passed me as they discussed “Downton Abbey.”  I was drenched in sweat, heart threatening to burst forth like Alien out of John Hurt’s chest, and limping on a fat new blister on my big toe. I screamed at the birds to shut the hell up, which disturbed some nearby parents and their startled children. Lululemon women stopped to check on me, concerned.

Trail run – 1, Johnson – 0.

Takeaway?  Avoid feeling like either Jerry Lewis or Wiley Coyote during a trail run.

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15 Responses to “Trail run – 1, Johnson – 0”

  1. Melanie Gao says:

    What a great story! My first trail run was at Percy Warner as well. I was with an experienced trail runner and in an effort to keep up with him, I ran all the way up those god-awful steps. And at the top of the steps I had to admit that I was done trail-running for the day. It was humiliating but hey, we live to run another day. 🙂

  2. Daniel Day Lewis to Jerry Lewis – that is so funny. Enjoyed this story! Each time you try it, it will be easier. Like riding a bike – you start out with 5 miles, add a couple/few every time, and before you know it, you can do a century.

  3. Uncle Buck says:

    I, too, dispize those Olympic built Geezers

  4. Terry Mullen says:

    I loved it Mark. I ran my first 5k Mud Run a few weekends ago. First let me say that regular work-outs on an ab-lounger may give you a six pack but it will not get you in shape for a 5k. Especailly if you have not run, or walked, in three years. However, I am stubborn and undoubtedly mildly mentally chalenged because I was hell-bent I was going to run the entire race. In an effort to define running…my legs were moving, my heart was pounding and I could barely grasp for breath. I found that this does not necessarily equate to speed in any way, shape, form or fashion. The only thing I could brag on when I finished was the size of the blister on my foot.

  5. Dave says:

    As an avid trail runner, turned avid CrossFitter (and occasional trail runner) this just jumped out at me, “I became aware of a strange, high-pitched wailing — like a goat — coming from my mouth as I stumbled along.”

    Been there.


  6. Mark Johnson says:

    Hahaha! Glad you liked it, Dave. I really, really enjoyed writing this one.

  7. Chris says:

    Awesome article. As a fellow 43 yr old cross fitter I dread the runs. I dread them so much I was praying for cold weather so we wouldn’t have to run. Much to my dismay now that it’s cold we row… I equally hate rowing.

  8. Alexis says:

    Thank you for sharing! So entertaining to read! I, too, CrossFit. My very first ever trail run was a half marathon trail event — elevation climb nearly 2700 ft. I cried and whined the entire time. 🙂 A far cry from running a flat road with a few small rolling hills — Burning lungs; burning legs. Although I prefer road races over trail, i continued running trail events as part of my training.

  9. That was hilarious!!! I especially liked the part about yelling at the birds!

    • Mark Johnson says:

      Thanks, Matt! Not a single part of that story was exaggerated. I’ve been “off the wagon” for several months, so my next trail run will probably be much the same, unfortunately…

  10. LISA FELDER says:


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