AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Trail running is an increasingly popular sport. It's a mix of endurance and careful footwork that takes runners deep into nature. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann hit the trails and sent us this audio postcard from the New York Adirondack Mountains.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: A few weeks before race day, I meet a young guy with a bright red beard.
TYLER NICHOLS: My name's Tyler Nichols. I live in Keene.
MANN: Keene, N.Y., is this mountain village, a popular hangout for rock and ice climbers that also holds a foot race every summer through one of the wildest corners of the Adirondacks. We're both here to sign up, and Nichols says he's kind of nervous.
NICHOLS: This is actually my first race of any sort of - ever. I know it's steep, and it's not going to be easy.
MANN: Nichols is 31 years old. I'm 52. So if he's nervous, I feel sort of like I've lost my mind. But I love trail running, usually fairly short distances. And I want to see what it feels like to really go deep into the back country.
You made it.
MANN: So far so good.
NICHOLS: Yeah, right.
MANN: So we meet up again on race day. An old school bus takes us to a mountain pass outside Keene in the middle of nowhere. The view above us is intimidating.
NICHOLS: Hopkins Mountain it looks like. It's - but then after that, it's all downhill from there.
MANN: Here's how this works. Sixty-two runners will head out one by one. We'll slog 12 miles over rough trails, climbing vertically as high as two Empire State Buildings stacked one on top of the other.
NICHOLS: And go - all right, Brian.
MANN: It set off. The maple and birch forest swallows me up. The next hour is a kind of meditation. Trail running pretty quickly narrows everything down to the roots and rocks under your feet and the sound of your own breath. You'd think with all the complicated footwork and the struggle to keep from twisting ankles, this would be a terrible way to experience the outdoors, but you actually see a lot - bright flashes of color from wild flowers, washes of sun over fern meadows.
Definitely some funky footwork here, boggy and wet, went in up to my calf in mud.
Near the summit of Hopkins Mountain - remember; this is the big hurdle of the day - Tyler Nichols passes me, his young legs churning. He's grinning through that red beard.
How are you feeling?
NICHOLS: Pretty good. It's almost even starting to be fun.
MANN: It is fun, hard and painful. My middle-age knees feel like the hinges of a rusty gate but still weirdly fun. I break out of the forest onto granite ledges that crown Hopkins Mountain, and waves of summits and river valleys stretch to the horizon. I still have more than four miles of hard running to go, but Nichols is right. From here, it's mostly downhill. Brian Mann, NPR News in New York's Adirondack Mountains. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.