Searching for New Motivation on the Trails

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The eucalyptus leaves on the towering trees look gray, not silver-green, to me; the windswept hillsides appear more brown than golden.

Running these familiar trails in a regional park above Berkeley, California, doesn’t feel particularly hard, just boring. My passion for trail running has hit a patch as dry as this route.

The opposite of love’s indifference, goes the saying woven into some lyrics running through my head. Only months earlier, I had enthusiastically talked about training and racing the way new parents talk about their babies.

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Maybe if I try something new, I’d fall back in love with everything familiar and natural about this sport. What could I do that would be radically different and challenging?

An idea pops into my head. It’s the antithesis of trail running: something that’s indoors, urban, loud and surrounded by others. It would involve moving in ways that runners normally don’t. It would make my teenagers cringe.

A week later, I enter a women’s-only dance studio in downtown Oakland, avoiding eye contact like a new kid in school. My gaze takes in a life-sized cardboard cutout of Beyoncé and a disco ball. Being Macarena-challenged, I wonder if I’ve made a terrible mistake.

A lithe Millennial with dreadlocks struts across the room and says, “Welcome to Shimmy Pop, ladies! The glitter bar is open. Come on over!”

I approach with feigned normalcy, as if I get glittered all the time, and she dabs my chest and cheeks. My skin zings with a little thrill, the way pinning on a race bib sometimes feels.

Some 20 women fill the studio, and I’m relieved they don’t look like they belong on American Idol. They’re as diverse in age, ethnicity and body type as Oakland itself. I find a spot in the back between a heavyset Latina and a graying hippie Boomer.

Pulsating music—the kind that rattles cars in parking lots—comes on. The instructor assumes a wide straddle stance, rapidly shakes both legs while standing, and shouts, “Come into your shimmy by moving your knees and letting your butt follow along! What does your shimmy tell you about yourself today?”

My shimmy tells me I’m as rusty as a weather-beaten hinge.

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Everyone starts quick-stepping and gyrating to songs with lyrics like, “Get Down and Dirty,” by bands whose names this erstwhile Deadhead doesn’t know. (Later, the ladies clue me in to Little Mix, Lil Jon and Ca$h Out.)

Unable to follow the instructor’s moves, I try to emulate the two women at my sides. Yet they, too, are out of my league. They jab their elbows, thrust their hips and roll their shoulders in perfect synch, as if already backups for Beyoncé.

My feet fumble while my arms freeze in midair; I am unsure of whether to move them up or down. Clearly, I am the least coordinated, most awkward, most wack person here. It doesn’t matter that I can run up mountainsides and cover 100 miles in a day.

God help me, barely 10 minutes in, we’re supposed to twerk. Just as some people never learned to skip, I never learned to shake my booty. I assume the twerking position—squat down, hands on hips—and try to thrust my pelvis as fast as the cadence of a sprint. But my shoulders are hunched and my mouth hangs open, so when I glimpse myself in the mirror, I look as if I’m dry heaving.

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I’d look like more of an idiot standing still. The coach in me says: Go for it, and let loose! Take it step by step. Like the Hardrock motto, be wild and tough!

I get through it—and begin to get a few steps at a time. Finishing this class rekindles the feeling of my first-ever run, 23 years ago: exhausted but energized and actually wanting to try it again.

Shimmy Pop feels a little better each week, and so do my trail runs, now more fluid than forced. When you feel burned out and stuck in a rut, it helps to shake up your routine, to add a little glitter and music and a few new moves. I doubt I’ll bust a move on the trail, but I could.

Sarah Lavender Smith is a contributing editor for Trail Runner. No photographic evidence will ever exist to support the veracity of this story.

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